The musician trying to rip France apart

This is a picture of Fabien Clain when he was a child in northern France:

Fabian schoolIt’s taken from his Copains d’avant page – France’s Friends Reunited.

Back then, Fabien was into rap and basketball, and was a real fan of Jesus (he used to write Catholic raps).

Here’s another picture of him, this time in the ’90s, foot up on a chair like any other moody teen:

Fabian teen

I’d like to post a picture of him today, age 40. I know he’s huge – prone to putting his arm around people’s shoulders and dragging them in when he talks. And I also know he’s got a beard. But I can’t say anything else. Because Fabien Clain is in Syria.

And he’s a member of ISIS.

Fabien Clain is apparently high up in the terrorist group – last week, the French press revealed he’s behind a plot to use child suicide bombers in Europe – but what’s less known about him is he’s also the group’s leading songwriter, a man whose tunes have reached into the heart of France and Belgium.

I’ve made a podcast about him – and the music of jihad, more generally – that’s just come out as part of the amazing music series, Pitch.

It’s on Audible, which means you need to be a member of it or take a free trial, but please do listen by heading here now (Amazon Prime members also get free access).

I came across Clain’s story initially while researching ISIS’ music for my book, hence posting it here, but this clearly takes that story somewhere else.

If you want a reason to listen to something so dark, well, The Sunday Times has just called the episode “utterly riveting”, but I’d prefer you listen because jihadi songs are important. Why else has ISIS released four this year even though it’s on the ropes – shouldn’t it be putting all its resources into fighting?

Al-Qaida’s Indian arm has released 13 songs in the past two months.

If you like it, please check out other episodes in the series. The amazing Laura Snapes has one on the world’s first Cornish pop album and what it says about our sense of national identity; there’s another great episode on the man who makes music for cats; and there’s a fascinating one on a music teacher who turned around a school – and a district – only for his plan to backfire (that could easily be a New Yorker story).

Huge thanks to Whitney Jones and Alex Kapelman, the people behind Pitch, for commissioning me. It was an amazing experience. And also huge thanks to everyone who features and helped me make it.

If you do enjoy it, you should also listen to the New York Times’ Caliphate podcast. It’s 10 episodes long, includes interviews with a former ISIS members and those who have been terrorised by them, and it’s the best podcast series this year: shocking, moving and thought-provoking.

 

What the Marseillaise means a year after the Paris attacks

  
I’ve just written this article for The New York Times on France’s national anthem: what it means to people a year after the attacks, and what those views reveal about life in France.

I’m biased, but it’s genuinely interesting, including comment from some amazing people: from Bataclan survivors to some of France’s biggest musicians (here’s one of Akhenaton’s hits with his group Iam; and here’s one of Zebda’s fun tunes).

The article could easily have been three times as long.

Deep inside, it mentions the Defense Ministry’s Marseillaise contest. Last time I wrote about that on here, I largely highlighted the joke entries it was getting like one that got Google Translate to read out the lyrics. But the winner turns out to great so click that link now.

Time for Corsica to change its tune

Corsican flag celebrations

During France’s regional elections earlier this month, one fact seemed to get missed amid the noise around Marine Le Pen and her Front Nacional: that in Corsica, the vote was won by a party that actually wants independence from France.

Yes, you read that right: independence.

The ‘For Corsica’ party won over 35% of the vote, which explains why their leader, Gilles Simeoni, looks so happy in the picture at the top of this post.

So should the people of the Mediterranean island stay part of the motherland or seize the day and go it alone?

Well, this blog believes there’s only one way to decide a matter of such importance: by looking at whose national anthem is better! And sorry, Corsicans, but your ‘anthem’ is not a shade on la Marseillaise. In fact, it’s awful.

Here, for those who don’t know it [everyone outside Corsica], is Dio vi salvi Regina:

If will hopefully take you all of about 5 seconds of listening to that to realise it’s a monastic hymn and an ancient one at that.

It was written in 1675 by a young Italian, Francis of Geronimo, and is meant as a love letter to the Virgin Mary. Here’s its first verse:

God bless you, Queen
And universal mother
By which one rises
Until paradise

What’s that got to do with Corsica? Absolutely bugger all! But there were a lot of Corsicans in Naples back then and they one day turned it into a bizarrely religious and solemn cry for independence – most likely due to its final verse which asks the Virgin to “give us victory over our enemies”.

So yes, it has been inspiring people for several hundred years. Gilles Simeoni even sung it to celebrate his win. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping. It doesn’t have the excitement of la Marseillaise. It doesn’t have that anthem’s great melody either. It doesn’t even have its gore or its blood. There is no contest. Corsicans, find a new one quick!

Give blood: two words that could save the Marseillaise

The Marseillaise, the French national anthem, is hated by a lot of people in France because of one line:

Qu’un sang impur, abreuve nos sillons!

It means ‘let impure blood water our fields’ and it made sense about 200 years ago when the song was written. France was facing war with most of Europe, and wanted any invaders viciously killed.

But it makes much less sense now, especially given well over 10% of France’s population is an ethnic minority who don’t have fond memories of the country’s colonial past.

So, what to do about it? An answer came to me while donating blood this week, sitting there watching my blood pump into a bag (see the beautiful photo above). How about changing the line to this:

Qu’un sang, n’importe quel sang, en faire don à l’hôpital!

Ok, it doesn’t fit the tune and it’s probably appalling French (I’m trying to say, ‘Got blood, any blood, then donate it at the hospital’), but those problems aside, it might just work!

If you’ve got a better suggestion, let me know. And if you want to donate, you can find out where to do so here if you live in the UK, here if you live in France, and here if you’re in the States. If you live elsewhere, use Google!