They will wear the colors of France and Brittany loud and clear in Turin. This Saturday night, the Alvan & Ahez group will be in the running for the final of Eurovision with their song Fulenn which mixes electro sounds and singing in Breton. A quarter of a century earlier, the Breton language had already had the honors of the competition with Dan Ar Braz who had represented France in 1996 in Oslo with the song Diwanit Bugale (“Que naisissent les enfants” in Breton), composed in 1977 for the creation of the Diwan bilingual schools. Announced as one of the favorites, the Breton singer and guitarist had finished in the depths of the ranking (19th out of 23). But not for the quality of his song, according to him. Rather for geopolitical reasons. He explains this in a long interview he gave to 20 minutes.
How did you end up participating in Eurovision in 1996?
At the time, we had incredible success with The Heritage of the Celts. We had won a Music Victory and the album was already gold. We were with the whole band in a studio in Dublin to record the album Finisterres when I received a call from my manager. He told me that I was going to Eurovision, that France 2 had chosen me to represent France with the song Diwanit Bugale. At first I laughed out loud but my manager told me he was serious. I then answered him: “But what the hell am I going to do there? “.
Did you hesitate?
When I heard the news, I took to the streets of Dublin, rang the bell, and went to drink several Guinesses in a pub. I was alone in my corner laughing, telling myself that all this made no sense. I then remembered France Gall and Marie Laforêt. Finally the little that I knew of Eurovision because is not at all my universe. And finally the idea of singing a language that has long been banned in front of millions of people, of representing the country that had banned it, I liked all that and I accepted the challenge. I, who am also a regionalist, found it interesting to be able to make the regions visible. And then what was I risking? I wasn’t there to sell more records because we were already selling enough.
So here you are in Oslo. But very quickly, you feel that the adventure is off to a bad start…
Yes. You should know that at the time, we were in the middle of nuclear tests in Mururoa. France was then not well regarded at all, especially in the Nordic countries. As soon as we arrived in Oslo, we immediately felt that we were plague victims. I had never felt this in my life before. At the airport, the case of my guitar was thus a little smashed by the baggage handlers. We were also not invited to certain embassies.
What happened next?
We rehearsed all week. Me, I was a little on my cloud even if I was a little frustrated that the whole group was not with us because we could not be more than six on stage. I still felt that things were happening behind the scenes but no one said anything to me, surely to protect myself. The very morning of Eurovision, the Welsh singer Elaine Morgan who was accompanying me on stage came up to me and said in English: “There is a problem, they are sabotaging our song! “.
What do you mean ?
For the Eurovision Song Contest, the voices are live but the instruments are recorded. So we had a soundtrack with our instruments and we noticed during rehearsals that the technicians systematically lowered it to devalue the song. Our manager went to see them and gave a big rant. We thought the problem was solved but they did it again during the ceremony… For me, it’s nothing less than sabotage!
So you think you were sanctioned because you were France’s candidate?
It’s obvious ! Eurovision is geopolitics pure and simple. The bookmakers announced us 4th and we finished 19th while the three favorites finished in the first three places. It was clear that it was a sanction vote. Even the Norwegian press said that our song was the most beautiful. We were completely scuttled.
How did you react instantly?
I realized that I was going to take it seriously. And it did not fail. I heard the next day on France Inter : “How can we win Eurovision with a bald man who has the charisma of a Félix Potin manager? “. Even the deputies argued with each other in the National Assembly. We screwed up the mess but I’m very happy. But when we got back in Brittany, the children of the Diwan schools welcomed us by singing the song. What we experienced there was much stronger than Eurovision!
What remains of all this 25 years later? Anger ? Pride?
It definitely changed me. When I came back, I was no longer the same man, I changed my opinion about a lot of things. But there is no regret or anger no. Neither jealousy nor bitterness. Just a deep sadness that woke up. Because my dream of a Europe of the regions was destroyed that day. But I don’t care now. I just want to keep playing in small venues, make people happy, go drinking with them afterwards and enjoy life.
Are you going to watch the ceremony on Saturday?
No. I haven’t watched Eurovision for a long time. But in any case I wish all the success in the world to our young Bretons. I hope it will go well for them and that they will not take too much in the mouth. The singers have also learned Breton in the Diwan schools in Quimper, it is an extraordinary symbol.
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“They sabotaged our song at Eurovision”, assures Dan Ar Braz
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