Slavery in French (Using French Art Song to Discuss Human Trafficking)

I’m finishing up my Music minor in Opera this semester, and my last class is “French Literature and Repertoire.” The final project for my class is to create a program of French art songs on a theme. I chose pieces about slavery and captivity to examine human trafficking. I’ve embedded the entire program into my projects section.

Don’t judge my French translations too harshly–I used my semester of French, 4 years of Latin, and facility with Google Translate equally. All photos and poems are in the public domain. The photos are from the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report and the poems are by everyone from Victor Hugo to an unnamed antebellum slave in the American South writing in a French creole:

Slavery in French Program Pg 9a  Slavery in French Program Pg 9b

It was nice to combine two of my passions for a school project, and even nicer knowing I have the final done when we haven’t hit mid semester yet.

Inspirational Quote:

“Where the grapes’ slow growth lives;
Without fear of the press, the summer vine matures
Drinking the sweet gift of dawn;
I am like those grapes, beautiful and young,
Though my time is trouble and trouble?
I do not yet want to die.”–André Chénier (1762-1794), “La jeune captive,” song by Victor Massé (1822-1884)


  1. I can’t resist a creole translation. Let me take a stab. I did not look at your translation after the first verse so I could try my own interpretations.

    I roamed the whole coast,
    I roamed the whole colony,
    I never again saw a Griffonne there
    To my taste like the beautiful Layotte.

    Jean Babet, my friend,
    If you go up there,
    You will ask the beautiful Layotte
    The present she promised me.

    House domestic,
    who is so angry with me,
    Because of this song,
    I composed the beautiful Layotte.

    References, guesses:
    – Pancor is probably “Pas encore” combined into one word with no liaison.
    – “A mon gout” is a very common phrase for “to my taste” in the sense of preference. The “Qu[i]” in front just adds the meaning “who to my taste”. (The verb in this sentence is also wrapped up in the “qua”, a really correct rewriting in french would probably be “qui est a mon gout”)
    – Griffonne, 3/4 black and 1/4 white woman:
    – mandé is short for “demandé”, but note that the “de” is a later addition to the word so this may be a very correct word for its time. The antique french word for “to ask” was simply “mander”.
    – Yé is probably creole for “you” . I remember my Acadian friend in Québec using something similar.
    – Paraporte is probably “par rapport a” combined into one word, which means “in relation to”.

    Not as lyrical as your translation now that I look at yours, I went for a literal translation.

  2. Hey there, I work with an organization focused on reaching out to the women in Red Light Districts in Germany. For an awareness project, I am looking for songs of slavery throughout different cultures, time periods and areas of the world. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for France or others.

    1. Hey, I would use a snowball approach, so try to find one song by one survivor, perhaps on Soundcloud, then find other survivors who shared or commented on that song, then review their music. There are a number of easy-to-find songs written and performed by supporters, like Mikill Pane and Ed Sheeran’s remix of A-Team: But I strongly suggest finding survivors singing, using their own words, because they will be more likely to touch the women who need your support.

      They will likely be challenging to find, and more complex than the allies’ songs, but that’s because trafficking is both incredibly simple morally (consent is 100% required and people in work and commercial sex against their will is abhorrent) and morally complex (when a significant number of abusers were themselves sexually abused, who the bad guys are gets harder to see). Good luck and don’t be afraid to hang-out on the #sexwork #tag, there is a lot to learn there.


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