Lily and the baby that is the colour of love

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Displacement, Human rights, identity, Migration, Race, Racism, Songs, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, Writing1 Comment

That song about Lily, the pretty migrant from Djibouti

This is a photo of Waris Dirie, a woman who had a real experience similar to the mythical Lily and who is a campaigner against FGM

Once again on Tuesday evening, the Krama Singers rehearsed the Pierre Perret 1977 protest song about Lily, who came to France in a ship full of immigrants ready to collect garbage in Paris. It’s a song I’ve grown to love as I’ve grown to love France – though I also see its faults! You can listen to Lily here! I have added the English translation below.

“She loved liberty so much, Lily,

She dreamed of fraternity, Lily,”

It reminded me of how I felt when I first arrived in London in 1966. This is the setting for my memoir, When I Was Bad.

 

Dreams and Realities

Street seller of Eiffel towers in Paris

Banksy mural in Paris about migration

Lily thinks that in the country of Voltaire and Hugo everybody will be equal, but Perret points out that on Debussy’s piano one white note is worth two black notes and that’s quite a difference.

Lily finds that hotels only welcome whites. She unloads crates, does all sorts of dirty jobs, and yells out “Cauliflowers for sale!” against the background noise of immigrants working jackhammers.

Lily is smart. When she is called Snow White by racists she doesn’t let her anger show.

A handsome blond guy wanted to marry her but his racist parents say NO!

Democratic America – the land of the free

Angela Davis

So Lily goes to America, believing it to be the greatest democracy, but she can’t believe her eyes when she finds out that “even there Black is the colour of despair”

Fortunately, in a meeting in Memphis, Lily meets Angela Davis who says, “Come, little sister, together we are less frightened.”  So to ward off her fear, Lily raises an angry fist among all those crackpots who hate black people and believe in segregation.

Angela Davis was a Civil Rights hero for me in those days too as was Miriam Makeba.

The colour of love – La couleur de l’amour

The colour of love

“Still, amidst your daily struggle, Lily,

You will meet a good man, Lily,

And the child who will be born some day

Will be the colour of love – that no one can doubt.

 

Pierre Perret

Pierre Perret

Perret grew up in Vichy France during the Second World War, where he worked in his father’s café and there learned a rich idiomatic French. He went to music school in Toulouse though he was in some trouble, because – and this is a guess – he was anti-war. When he wrote and performed “Lily” in 1977 he became the target of abuse, but in 1978 he was awarded a Peace Prize by the League Against Antisemitism and Racism.

You will also be interested to know that he performed with The Platters for several years! Here’s a song from them.

Lily, me, my life and my stories

Well – I guess that it’s obvious why this song gives me such pleasure – all babies should be “The colour of Love” and that should be the only colour that is used to describe any person at all. Do you, for example,  think you are” the colour of Love”?

My three new books explain by implication the very many different ways this song resonates with me and my life. They are only just published and you will hear much more about them soon. They are The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks and my memoir, When I was Bad.

This post is dedicated to all my children and grandchildren and their families – they are all “The Colour of Love”.

 

Here is the translation, not necessarily the best one! – and another version of Lily

LILY

She looked rather cute, Lily

She came from Somalia, Lily

In a ship full of immigrants

Who all came willingly

To collect garbage in Paris.

 

She thought we were all equal, Lily,

In Voltaire and Hugo’s country, Lily,

Yet in our musical language

A white note is worth two blacks,

That’s quite a difference.

 

She loved liberty so much, Lily,

She dreamed of fraternity, Lily,

A hotel owner in the Rue Secrétan

Explained in no uncertain terms

That only whites were welcome there

 

She unloaded crates, Lily,

She held all sorts of dirty jobs, Lily,

She yells out to sell cauliflowers

While in the street her coloured brothers

Accompany her on their jackhammers.

 

And when they called her Snow White, Lily,

She did not fall for the old trick, Lily,

She went along with the “funny” joke,

Though she had to grit her teeth,

So as not to give them the satisfaction.

 

She met a handsome blond guy, Lily,

Who would gladly have married her, Lily,

But the in-laws-to-be declared,

“Though we are anything but racist

We can’t accept this sort of thing”.

 

She had a go in America, Lily,

That emblematic democracy, Lily,

She couldn’t believe her eyes

When she found out that even there

Black was the colour of despair

 

But in a meeting in Memphis, Lily,

She met Angela Davis, Lily,

Who said “come, little sister

Together we are less frightened.

Of the wolves circling the trapper”.

 

So it is to ward off her fear, Lily,

That she too raises an angry fist, Lily,

Among all these crackpots

Who set alight those buses

Prohibited to coloured people

 

Still, amidst your daily struggle, Lily,

You will meet a good man, Lily,

And the child who will be born some day

Will be the colour of love

That no one can question

 

She looked rather cute, Lily

She came from Somalia, Lily

In a ship full of immigrants

Who all came willingly

To collect garbage in Paris.

https://lyricstranslate.com

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