Cocanha: i ès ?

July 17, 2018

Eleanor’s Daughters

Listening Post 159. Occitan, mother tongue of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart, had a literary golden age in the 12th century and produced the great singer-songwriters of the Middle Ages, the troubadours and trobarises. It was still widely spoken in southern France in 1904 when the Occitan poet Frédéric Mistral won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but the 20th century was hard on the storied Romance language (nearest relative: Catalan). Though commonly heard today in some villages, ask residents of Toulouse, historic Occitania’s capital, if they speak Occitan and a recurrent response is, “No, but my grandparents do.” Nonetheless, an Occitan music scene emerged in the “Pink City” in the 1980s, just as bilingual French-Occitan schools began opening in the region. Cocanha, three women who sing polyphonic songs—alternately rousing and mesmerizing—represents an innovative revival stage, dedicated to Occitan tradition but ready to tap into rock and hip-hop for stylistic tips, Brazil and Africa for percussion touches. i es ? (Are You There?), their first full-length album, is a collection of Pyrenean, Gascon and Languedoc songs, crafted with generous vocals, string tambourine and caxixi, to engage the ears, feet and heart. The trio has feminist flair, evident in editing male-centered traditional lyrics and on their album’s photomontage cover showing a sculpted clitoris. Feminine agency appears in Dempuèi Auriac (From Aurillac to Marseilles), the ballad of an itinerant laborer and (surprise!) faithful husband (video 1), and in M’an dit Martin (Martin Told Me), with bourrée dancers offering added percussion to a song about what women want (video 2). Progress and its cultural toll drive La Valsa d’Emiliana (Emiliana’s Waltz, video 3), while Se sabiatz/Que son aüros (If You Only Knew) is a short primer on the curse of marriage (video 4). Language revival is a challenge, but Cocanha may just have the formula—not only to inspire but also to edit the answer to that pregnant question: “No, but my children do.” (Pagans)

Cocanha: i ès ?
Maud Herrera: Voice, hands, feet
Caroline Dufau: Voice, string tambourine, hands, feet
Lila Fraysse: Voice, caxixi, hands, feet


Dempuèi Auriac/From Aurillac to Marseille
I worked, I worked well
I went back to the old town/Montpellier, so renowned
While asking for lodging/I hear masons singing/
‘Here is a good city’/I will try to hire myself out
‘I wish you good morning my brothers/Also to you, master of the place
Would you not have a job?/I am Auvergnat, I will do it’

‘Break your bag, take a break/Eat a bit and drink a shot
Then you will earn your cash/And cut me this rock’ 

With the mass, strike the needle/Pique the rock to refine it
The master is happy with the help/He’s found a good Auvergnat 

He calls his wife and eldest daughter/Boasts to them the new valet
‘We would keep him a year/He works finely, he is also adroit’
The girl garnishes the cattail/The Auvergnat turns away
‘Stop, put down the needle/I am rich girl eligible to marry’ 

And I who gave my word/Strike harder without looking at her
‘Thank you much, beautiful lady/My heart is taken, you will not have it
Thank you much beautiful lady/My wife awaits me in Aurillac’


M’an dit Martin/Martin Told Me
Martin told me that you like men/Martin told me that you like wine
I like everything, wine and men/I like everything, men and wine
But forced to choose/I would prefer men/But forced to choose, I would prefer wine
Martin said, do not worry/Take them both, no need to choose


Se sabiatz-Que son aüros/If You Only Knew-Boys Are Happy
If you knew more, young ladies, you would never marry
You would stay single, you would keep your freedom
I got married, and I lost my freedom
I became a widow, and I recovered

Boys who have visas are happy
They are happy sometimes, but not always
Boys waste their time at the custom house
They waste their time and often their money


La valsa d’Emiliana/Emiliana’s Waltz
Here we live in a cursed era/Looks like we’re not happy
We cannot hear, neither night nor day/The singing of love songs
We remember a time/When people were much happier
They came and went from work/They sang all the way home

We could hear the drovers/All singing aloud
Those lovely country songs/That gave joy to their neighbors
We heard the mowers in the meadows/All in their assorted groups
All sang in a lively voice/As they wiped the grass from their feet

We heard the harvesters in the fields/While swinging their sickles
They sang the jealous chorus/About the pretty red wheat
We heard in all the yards/Singing masons and carpenters
Who, after a drink/Always sang one more verse
We heard the shepherds with the sheep/Sing their beautiful songs
The songs of the May cross/That are never forgotten 

But today, in the century of progress/We cannot hear a single voice
We hear only the tric trac/Of machines in the fields




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