January 9, 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of the anti-Semitic attack at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris during which four hostages were killed by a terrorist: Yoav Hattab (age 21), Yohan Cohen (age 22), Philippe Braham (age 45), and Francois-Michel Saada (age 64). It occurred two days after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. On April 8, 2016, a little over a year after the attack, French artist Renaud released an album in which he sang “Hyper Cacher”, a tribute to the victims of the attack.

Who is Renaud?

That song may have come as a surprise to people who knew Renaud to be pro-Palestinian. In the song “Triviale Poursuite” (Trivial Pursuit) written in 1988, Renaud lamented the situation of the Palestinians, and in the song “Miss Maggie” written in 1984, he referred to Palestinians in the context of genocide. However, the three decades since 1988 have seen many changes in Renaud.

Renaud Pierre Manuel Séchan was born in 1952. In May 1968, he participated in the anarchist/leftist protests that shook France and that influenced the French psyche for decades afterwards. He came to prominence in the mid-1970s with rebellious songs such as “Hexagone” (hexagon, the shape of France, a song in which Renaud lambasts the French people which he sees as superficial and right-wing) and “Société tu m’auras pas” (society, you won’t take me).

Renaud continued writing and performing into the 1980s and 1990s, but his album “À la Belle de Mai” (1994) was followed by a period during which Renaud succumbed to depression and alcoholism, and in 1999, his wife Dominique left him. In 2002, Renaud was back with the album “Boucan d’Enfer” (hell of an uproar) that became his best-selling album to date; in that album, Renaud took responsibility for his wife’s departure in the song “Boucan d’Enfer” and he lamented the 9/11 attacks in the song “Manhattan-Kaboul”. In 2006 he published a relatively mediocre album “Rouge Sang” (red blood), then in 2008 started a new period of depression and alcoholism during which he lived away from the limelight.

In the April 2016 album “Renaud,” Renaud was back again. This time he took an even more significant departure from the past than he had taken with the album “Boucan d’Enfer.” Whereas in the past he referred to police officers as fascists, in this album, Renaud sang “J’ai embrassé un flic” (I kissed a cop) in which he talked about the French unity rally that occurred four days after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo and two days after the terrorist attack on Hyper Cacher, and in which he participated. In the same album, he also sang “Hyper Cacher”.

The power of the song “Hyper Cacher”

The song is powerful not only because of what it commemorates and who wrote it, but also because of what it says.

Unlike much of the reporting on the terrorist attacks, Renaud did not mention the name of the attacker nor his cause. He only referred to him as “Un individu cagoulé suintant la haine de tous les pores” (A hooded individual oozing hate from all his pores). In doing so, Renaud gave no publicity to the terrorist.

Renaud wrote that the attacker targeted those who wore a kipa (“Sur tout ce qui portait kipa”). This contrasts with denunciations of terrorism that are written generically as if no particular group was targeted. Renaud made it clear that Jews were targeted and that the attack was anti-Semitic.

Renaud described the horror of terrorism, “Certains pleuraient les bras en l’air, d’autres se cachaient où ils pouvaient, le sang glacé, c’était la guerre” (some cried with their arms in the air, others were hiding where they could, their blood curdled, it was war).

Most remarkably, Renaud referred to the fact that the families of the four victims chose to bury them in Jerusalem which he called “la terre de leurs pères” (the land of their fathers), and he recognized that Jerusalem is part of Israel when he added “au soleil d’Israël” (under the sun of Israel).

Renaud did not end the song at the burial but rather chose to say “Leur dire qu’ils nous sont chers, qu’on n’oubliera jamais” (to tell them that they are dear to us, that we will never forget). In doing so, Renaud made it clear that although the victims are buried in Israel, their death is still a French problem that France must not forget.

Vintage Renaud

For a fan of Renaud, which I have been since the 1970s, despite an ideological departure from previous songs, this song is unsurprising in the passion with which Renaud approaches the subject and in his courage to bluntly state painful facts; this has been his approach throughout his career. This passion, courage, and bluntness contrasts with the shallowness of the song “Un Dimanche de Janvier” (One January Sunday) sang by French rocker Johnny Hallyday at the official one-year remembrance ceremony for the attack on the kosher supermarket.

In his song, Hallyday (a conservative who once supported Nicolas Sarkozy) said nothing about terrorism, anti-Semitism, Jerusalem, or Israel. Instead, it fell to an anarchist pro-Palestinian artist to write the song the way it had to be written.

Asked about this song, Renaud responded, “The song Hyper Cacher pays tribute to the Jewish victims. While I sang it, I was on the edge of tears. I hope to reconcile with a community that has disparaged me for my pro-Palestinian commitment”, and he added, “I do not support Hamas or Palestinian terrorists … I hate death, I hate violent death, and I curse the killers”.

Renaud’s song and his stand are less a departure from the past than they are signs of the evolution of a complex and talented artist who has always let his heart guide him. He wrote about many causes, usually with clarity and always with courage. In the song “Hyper Cacher”, he used all his heart and all his talent to denounce terrorism and particularly its anti-Semitic variety.

Renaud’s “Hyper Cacher” song

The following is my translation of Renaud’s song.

It was a modest little place
Close to metro station St Mandé
That sold Kosher food
For the local population

A hooded individual
Oozing hate from all his pores
Equipped like an armored van
Came to sow death

Suddenly at the kosher shop
It was hell, it was hell

He shot non-stop
With hatred in his eyes
At everyone who wore a kipa
At the children, at the elderly

Some cried with their arms in the air
Others were hiding where they could
Their blood curdled, it was war
Near metro station St Mandé

And in the kosher shop
It was hell, it was hell

But what is this horrible era?
We have lost all that matters
With fear throughout the world
With hatred throughout the sky

May they rest in Jerusalem
In the land of their fathers
Under the sun of Israel

I want to dedicate this poem to them
To tell them that they are dear to us
That we will never forget

To tell them that they are dear to us
That we will never forget