Breton

Music, Sound & Video

The forbidden 3rd


Most breton tunes cannot be played on a piano. Why ? Because they have “commas” (as it is often the case in oriental musiv for example). See the fret setup of a guitar below :

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Fret spacing is regular, whereas if you take a look at a turkish saz :

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Fret spacing is not regular, which enables to play notes with the so-called “commas”, and that cannot be played on a piano for instance (see this older issue for further details : Bağlama’s pitch). In other words, a third can be slightly higher than the minor, but much lower than the major, which means its pitch is somewhere inbetween…

Ok, now what happens if you play a tune on the turkish saz with a high third degree as we commonly have in breton music, together with a guitar ?? If you play a grid with a usual minor third, it may sound like this :

Well, I think it sounds a little bit weird, or even out of tune since a third with two different pitches gets played simultaneously… And especially, Simone doesn’t like to sing when I play this kind of chords !

So, I made a grid, trying to find “3rdless” chords, in order to avoid this “forbidden third”, this is what it sounds like :

I do think it sounds better, but you may find it’s even worse than in the first attempt ! If so, please let me know ! :))

§Yann

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Music

What the hell is the time signature ?


We have already been talking about rhythm, here for example. Let’s go further with rhythm with this song sample that Simone quickly recorded a couple of days ago :

According to me, most parts time signature is 5/8. But what about the middle part ? Any suggestion would be warmly welcome ! You can also here Simone clapping her hands, this might be the right clue to find the answer !

§Yann

Album Songs and Lyrics

O soñjal


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[ lyrics, translation & facts for the 8th song from our album >here< ]

This particular song – and in a way it is funny that it will happen to be the last one I’m translating – might be the true origin of Astrakan Project.

Magic Tree in Saint Servais Brittany

Back to 2007, we were both living in Brittany and playing in various bands, among which in a fest-noz band – basically… Breton dancing music ! Yann started to record parts of tunes so that the other members could practice home – in this song for instance, the rhythm is slightly “shifted” to get closer to what singers actually do. For some reasons, we never got to play it on stage in Brittany, but… Yann had learned that he could bring all the music he had in his head to life !

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When we moved to Istanbul in 2008, Yann started to work on that song again, and it’s one of the first we recorded for our demo in 2009 – and finally his dream come true : we are playing it at every concert !

For me, this song is very personal too, when I’m singing:

O sonjal an devezh, kalonad am e oa bet, me partias d’eus ar gêr”

“Thinking about that day, my heart is full of sorrow, I left home”

I can only but relate to my father that left his home country Portugal when he was only 17, like many young men in his age, before they would be taken to serve the army.

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Music : 1st tune was sung by the famous Frères Morvan (3 brothers among whom 2 are still singing all around Brittany) , the 2nd was composed by Yann in 2007

Instruments : guitar + loops

Rhythm : Plinn (dance from Central East Brittany, around Bourbriac)

[ don’t forget to start the music while you’re reading the translation 🙂 ]

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Ar bempvet devezh warnugent, demeus ar viz genver
Kalonad me am boe bet, sevel ‘maez ma gwele

On the 25th of January
I had a lot of sorrow while I was getting out of my bed

Kalonad me am boe bet maez ma gwele sevel
O sonjal an devezh,  pezhani ’m boe da dremen

I had a lot of sorrow while I was getting out of my bed
Just thinking about the day I’ll have to get threw

O sonjal an devezh, pezhani ’m boe da dremen
Allas a benn pe oe noz, / / me am boe bet anken

Just thinking about the day I’ll have to get threw
Unfortunately when the night came, I was still anxious

Me partias eus ar ger, (na) oen ket gwall diwehat
Ar c’hentan ker a antreen, oa en Sant Nikolas

I left home, it was quite early
The firtst village I got to was Sant Nikolas

Ar c’hentan ker a antreen, oa en Sant Nikolas
Na disdostit d’ar c’houvi, dindan an doen mein glas

The firtst village I got to was Sant Nikolas
Approaching to the halls, under their slates roof

Na pa oamp erru enan, ni oa digemeret
Gant paotred al livitenn, o pe an tokou trouset

When we got there we were welcomed
By guys with hoods and bicornes

Kalonad am me boe bet / E soñjal barzh un devez
Me partias d’eus ar gêr / Kalonad am me boe bet

My heart was full of sorrow / Thinking about that day
I left home / My heart was full of sorrow 

A pa oa lanset an ordr, astenet an drapo
Na da gentan ‘vit koumans tennan ‘reas ar maeriou

And when the order was given and the flag unfurled
Mayors where to first to pick up the tickets (*)

Ha goude e teue war-lerc’h tro ar baotred yaouank
Ha peb hini a denne der ma hae deus a renk

And right after them, the young ones, 
Each was picking up a ticket as his turn came

Benn pa oa erru ma renk evit tennan ar bilhed
Ma c’hamarad ‚denne unneg, me a denne douzeg

When it came to me to pick up one, 
My friend picked up eleven, and I did twelve (**)

Ma c’hamarad ‚denne unneg me a denne douzeg
Soudarded an assurans, partiet e zo ret

My friend picked up eleven, and I did twelve
We were insured to become soldiers, and would have to leave

saint nikolas

A French translation >here<

(*) at that time (probably around Napoleon III wars, end of XIX century), not every young man would go to serve the army, the ones who would have to go were “drawn” among all young men from the same village

(**) we’ve heard the the meaning of this particular sentence could be that being from lower extraction, these two young man and their families had received money in order to pick up more than one ticket – picking up the ones from luckier ones who would so avoid for sure going to the military service.

Notes: As usual, it’s a personal translation, with no attempt to translate the poetic style, it might not be fully accurate, the purpose is more to give an idea about what it is about.

§ Simone

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Album Songs and Lyrics

1932


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[ lyrics, translation & facts for the 5th song from our album >here< ]

1932 as said in the fist sentences of this song is the year it was composed in, but it is also the year 1929’s economical crisis started to really affect remote places like Brittany.

The first tune from the song is a strange rhythm march that we heard from an old singer in Saint Nicodème, Central Brittany, around 2005. You can hear a sample we tape-recorded at that time – bare with the sound quality !

The lyrics were totally different, and funny actually. Our interpretation, because of the lyrics we used sounds totally different :


Music & Lyrics: traditional

Instruments: acoustic guitar

Rythme : 1st part is a march, 2nd is a gavotte rhythm

Me ho ped kozh ha yaouank deuet de selou kanañ
Ur resit kalet meurbet kompozet ar bloaz-mañ
Na vid donet da rimañ ne ‘m eus ket a dalant

I‘m asking you old and young people, come over to listen singing
To a hard story composed this year
I’m not very good at rhyming 

Nor for writting have I had any teaching

Kenneubeut evit skrivañ ‘m eus ket a zeskamant
Met evit reiñ deoc’h da gromprenn trubulhioù ma spered
Ma ya d’ober ma bosubl ‘vit bezhañ komprenet

Nor for writing have I had any teaching
But to lead you to understand what’s bothering my mind
I’ll do my best to be understood 

Dre un devezh a viz Mae e bloazh 32
An amzer a zo kalet, trist a oe ma c’halon
Pa sellan a peb tu ne gavan ‘med hirvoud

One day of may in the year 32
The times were hard, and my heart was sad
Wherever I’m looking around, I only find whimper

Nag an amzer tremenet na n’hon ket ‘vit tapout
Un dra sur, ‘baoe ar brezel, gwelet ‘m’eump bloavezhioù
Nag a laré toud an dud oe moaien da vevo

I know we can’t get back to the past 
But one thing is for sure, since last war [1914-18] we have passed a couple of [difficult] years 
And people were saying it was possible to make a living

Breman ‘zo kalz a dud ‘n eus poan kavet bara
Trist a vez d’ar vugale, kalet d’an tad, d’ar vamm,
Lakaat aneze da gousket ma n’eunt ket bet o c’hoan

Now for many people bread is hard to find, 
It’s sad for the children, and hard for their mum and dad,
When they send them to bed without having eaten

Deus beurzh al labourerien, ne glevamp ‘met klemmoù
Trubuilh, hirnez hag anken e pevar c’horn ar vro

From workers I only hear claims, 
Anxiety and distress from every corner of the country

Ar gomersanted vihan a lare ivez d’o zro
Gwerz a-walc’h a reomp hom zraoù, nemet piv a bevo

Merchants are also saying 
They’re selling, but they’re not enough people still alive

An eost kozh zo koñsomet kasimant holl dija
Ha n’emaomp ket erru c’hoazh nemet hanter ar bloazh

Last harvest are almost already gone
And we’re not yet at half of the year

Ma zastumfomp ket muioc’h barzh a bloavezh a ren
Koulz ar mestr vel’d ar mevel halfe kavet anken

If you don’t harvest more next year
Gentelmen as much as employess will suffer 

Bevañ gant neubeut arc’hant, un dra sur, n’eo ket brav
Nemet gwasoc’h a vez c’hoazh gant neubet a vara

Living without much money isn’t easy for sure, 
But without bread it’s even worse

Pa vez voted ar budjet ‘vez kavet dañ e blaz
Komjoù ar bankeoù pe d’ar industriel braz

When the budget is made, you’ll find there 
Bankers and big industrials’ words. 

This is as usual a personal translation, with emphasis on the meaning than on the exact-correct-official translation

§ Simone

Album Songs and Lyrics

7 Hills


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[ lyrics, translation & facts for the last song from our album >here< ]

This song is a really really famous one, all over Brittany although it is originally from the Vannes area (>google map<). The dance itself is quite simple. The song is usually called by the 1st sentence of the lyrics, du-hont ar ar manez over the mountain/hills. Indeed, the Breton word for mountain may be used for hill as well, they aren’t any huge high mountains, highest point is 380 meters (yes !) at the Mont Saint Michel de Brasparts.

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Yann transformed the initial dance rhythm by adding a 7th beat. To be more technical it was a 6/4 and it was turned into 7/4.

Music & Lyrics: traditional

Instruments : acoustic & electric guitar, acoustic & electric saz

Rythme : hanter-dro dance with an extra beat

In case you had miss it, here is the video from that song that you may listen to while reading further. In case you hadn’t? Well take a chance to enjoy it once more!!!

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The Vannes area has a particular Breton dialect, for linguistics lovers, the stress on the words and sentences tend to be on the last syllable, a bit like in French but unlike the other dialects from Brittany – and for non linguistics lovers, well, it does have a huge impact on the beat and the rhythm of the songs. Some words are also spelt

Du-hont, du-hont, àr ar manez ez eus ur verjelenn
Berjelenn e c’houarn he deñved a sonas ur sonenn.

On the top of the hills there’s a shepherdess
While she’s taking care of her herd, she’s singing a song

Mabig ar roue he selaoue hag he selaoue mat
Na dre ar fenestr uhellañ ‘oe e palez e dad

The son of the king listen to her, and he listens well
From the highest window of his dad’s castle

Sonet, sonet, berjelennig, kar me ‘gav brav ho son
O na raktal pan he c’hlevan e rejoui ma c’halon

Sing, sing young shepherdess, since I like your song ,
And when I hear it my heart is full of joy

Nompas, nompas, denig yaouank, me ne ganin ket ken
Kar me ‘meus ur breur en arme hag a ra din anken

Oh no, young man, I won’t sing any longer
Since I have a brother gone to the army, which makes me sad

Ouian ket mard eo beuzet er mor, pe lazhet en arme
Kaset em eus un evnig rouz da c’houiet e zoare

I don’t know whether he drowned in the see or if he died at the army
I’ve sent a little red bird to hear about him

Mar da ma breur ha dont en-dro me ‘vo-me begulez
Mar da ma breur ha chom en dour me ‘vo-me minourez.

If my brother is to come back I’ll have children
If my brother drowns in the waters I’ll be orphan

This is as usual a personal translation, with emphasis on the meaning than on the exact-correct-official translation

§ Simone

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DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Bağlama’s pitch


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Bağlama, also commonly called “saz” in western Europe has the advantage of having moving frets, which means that fret position can be easily modified until you get the suitable music scale. Moreover, it has extra frets that enables to play notes between the common semitones that you have on a guitar or a piano. Thus, we’re entering the very exciting world of “quarter-tones” and “commas” (you can read this to learn more about this topic).

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My bağlama

But those “quarter-tones” can be very different from one culture to another, or even from one performer to another. I always have the feeling that quarter-tones are very (!) high in Turkish music (more technically, I would say they’re about 50-60 cents above the lower degree, a semitone equals say 100 cents) whereas they sound usually lower in Breton music (I would say 30-35 cents. I have made some pitch measurements on Breton singer old recordings, and it tends to agree these values).

Therefore, moving frets are very convenient for adapting the instrument to the suitable scale, since you can move some of the frets upwards.

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Moving the fret to get the suitable scale

I am pretty happy of the result, you can hear it on this live recording we made in Beirut last year : An Daou Gamerad Fidel

§ Yann

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Musicians' Diary

About Breton language


We get asked quite often WHY we chose to sing Breton songs in the Breton language (indeed, some traditional songs from Brittany are also in French).

Actually, we never chose, it just happened that our music’ lyrics are in Breton. Of course, we could explain why we prefer songs in Breton, because of the rhythm of the language, maybe also because of the particular sounds, because of the stories, but explanations came out afterwards.

teach yourself breton language books
Don’t give up…

The question should maybe then be “why do you KEEP singing in Breton when such a few amount of people may be able to understand you?”. This issue is for sure a meaningful one for us. None of us was brought up in Breton, in my case, because my family is not from Brittany, in Yann’s case, just like… more than probably 99% of people that are our age. In a survey made in 1997, 0.2% of people aged from 15 till 19 were able to speak Breton (source) . People our age.

We have both a good knowledge of Breton, from self study, from paying attention to songs, to road signs, from trying to speak to old people, from night classes… But anyone having learned any foreign language for a couple of years knows how hard it is to make it your language. Despite of that, we both strangely relate to that language as being our language. The one we’re emotionally connected with.

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We don’t sing in Breton to be understood. Nor to be heroic people trying to save their language. We sing in Breton because it is a part of us. We sing in Breton because it is what we like to do. But when we sing in Breton, deep in our heart, you’ll find sorrow, because we know that not many people will understand all the beauty behind the poetry, we know that no translation or explanation can replace it.

§ Simone