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Annonce Goooogle
Annonce Goooogle

A lifelong ambassador of Brazil

Pierre Barouh


11/03/2005 - 

Pierre Barouh will forever be associated with the soundtrack of the cult 60s movie Un homme et une femme, but the French singer-songwriter's career has actually been much more eclectic and wide-ranging than that. Barouh, who set up his own record label Saravah, was a close friend of all the leading Brazilian musicians of the day. Indeed, he played an instrumental role in building bridges between Paris and Rio.

Pierre Barouh is graced with a smile that instantly makes you feel like he's your oldest friend in the world. And when he turns up in Paris and wanders down rue Saint-Benoît you can't help but recall the good old days: the excitement of the jazz age in Saint-Germain, the heady buzz as black and white merged into colour and the period when the Left Bank thrilled to the catchy samba and bossa beats of Brazil.

Pierre Barouh's face first appeared on the silver screen in 1965 in Claude Lelouch's cult movie Un homme et une femme. The film not only launched his singing career (Barouh wrote and performed the film soundtrack with Francis Lai), but also saw him turn up in a series of minor roles, playing Anouk Aimé's husband and a passionate adventurer, mad about Brazil, who dies a dramatic death in a stunt accident. In another sequence of the film, Barouh makes a brief reappearance, singing one of the most beautiful songs of his career, Samba Saravah, a French version of Samba da Bençao (a tribute to the leading figures of the Brazilian music scene of the day penned by the famous Brazilian poet and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes). 

In Un homme et une femme, Lelouch, developing what would become his own unique style of film-making, had Barouh play himself. And Barouh kept his role as close to life as he could – apart from the fact he never actually died, of course! Barouh had a knack for keeping one step ahead of fate, in fact, surviving the traumas of the Second World War, the enforced wearing of a yellow star and, thanks to cunning strategies developed by his family, escaping the regular Gestapo round-ups. In his teens, Barouh shone as a sportsman and was actually chosen to serve on the B-side of the national French volleyball team. This was before music lured him off the courts with its siren call.

Chance encounters

"Once upon a time," Barouh reminisces, "there was a young man with a guitar who was totally passionate about the idea of travelling the world. His head was full of dreams of flying off to Rio de Janeiro to meet his idols, Joao Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, Tom Jobim and Baden Powell. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got a job working on an old cargo boat heading out to South America from Lisbon. I went all the way to Rio in the hope of meeting my musical idols, but I was destined to sail home with my dreams unfulfilled. A few weeks after I got back to Paris, however, I happened to be invited to a dinner party where I found myself sitting across the table from Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell. Since that moment, I've come to believe in the truth of Vinicius de Moraes's saying: 'A vida e arte de encontro' (Life is the art of encounters.)"

As a result of their chance encounter in Paris, the three musicians struck up a lifelong friendship and Barouh went on to play an instrumental role in building bridges between the music scenes in France and Brazil. It was he who introduced Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes to French stars such as Claude Nougaro and Georges Moustaki and, in exchange, the Brazilians opened up sunnier horizons for him. Barouh went on to make several trips to Rio in the 60s, hitting it off with some of the greatest samba musicians of the day such as the legendary saxophonist Pexiguinha, Joao do Baiana, the diva Maria Bethania and Paulinho da Viola, a young up-and-coming singer and guitarist.

Following the success of Samba Saravah and the movie Un homme et une femme, Barouh went on to make his own documentary in 1969. Filmed, to use his own words, "like a hold-up", using a limited supply of reels over a few days, the documentary traces the story of his musical encounters in Brazil. The jerky amateur images provide extraordinary footage of a special time and a special place, capturing the smiling faces of the 'in' crowd of bohemian musicians strumming their guitars against the picturesque backdrop of Rio. Directing proceedings behind the camera, a young and enthusiastic Barouh focuses his lens on hope and collective happiness, asking nothing - and yet expecting everything!

Saravah, a registered trademark

Inspired by his musical experiences in Brazil, Barouh used the money he earned from Lelouch's hit film Un homme et une femme to set up his own record label in 1969. He called it Saravah, adding an 'h' to the Brazilian word "sarava" (meaning "blessing for the living and the dead") to make it resemble his surname (Barouh in Hebrew also means "blessed.") Between 1965 and 1970, Barouh went on to record a series of Brazilian classics, with guitar accompaniment provided (most of the time) by his "little brother" Baden Powell. These included covers of Roses and Saudade (originally created by the Bahian singer Dorival Caymmi), Tom Jobim's Agua de Beber and, later, Chico Buarque's Noite Dos Mascarados recorded as a duet with Elis Regina in 1977. Thanks to Saravah, Barouh's passion for Brazil, the country's popular culture and its inhabitants' positive philosophy, became his signature stamp or, as some critics would complain, his "registered trademark."

Barouh, who today lives a low-key existence far from the glare of the showbiz spotlights in Japan, points out that his career did not begin and end with Un homme et une femme – or Brazil for that matter! Over the years, Barouh's insatiable curiosity has led him to explore several different musical universes and he has uncovered many a new talent in the process. Barouh's label Saravah (now run by his son, Benjamin, based in Nantes), helped launch the careers of more than one highly original French music star, such as Brigitte Fontaine, Jacques Higelin, Fred Poulet and, more recently, the Rio diva Bia. Barouh has also proved his formidable talent as a songwriter. Following the unforgettable Chabadabada (the theme tune to Un homme et une femme), he went on to pen two other lasting French classics: Des ronds dans l'eau (rendered immortal by Françoise Hardy on her 1967 album Ma jeunesse fout le camp) and La Bicyclette (a memorable hit for Yves Montand in 1969).

Keeping things low-key    

Barouh, never completely at ease with the media, has maintained an increasingly low profile over the years. But this does not mean he ever slowed down on the recording front. Far from it, in fact. He made a dozen or so albums from the 70s onwards, including Ca va, ça vient (1971), Viking Bank (1977), Pollen (1982) and Itchi go itchi (1998). Barouh, the prolific singer and songwriter, also found time to act in several plays, taking to the stage for a memorable performance of Le cabaret de la dernière chance (written by his friend, the Chilean political exile Oscar Castro) for which, incidentally, he also composed the musical accompaniment with Anita Vallejo.

Barouh also got back behind the camera, filming a number of feature films. None of them made any significant impact at the box-office but the highly autobiographical Album de famille raised a few laughs. In the course of a famous argument from the film, one of the protagonists declares, "Pierre Barouh's a nice enough bloke, but really, enough's enough! Pierre Barouh's dogs, Pierre Barouh's friends, Pierre Barouh's party, it's all a bit lightweight at the end of the day, not to mention narcissistic! (...) Although, OK, I have to admit I find it pretty funny most of the time!"

Narcissistic, lightweight or just plain stubborn, Pierre Barouh is still going strong at the age of 71. Monsieur Pierre, as his old friend Baden Powell always referred to him, is still filming, singing, recording, producing… and hammering the pinball machine in his local café. After all, the motto of Saravah – "the first real independent French record label" as Barouh likes to point out – is "Always make time to do nothing!"

François-Xavier  Freland

Translation : Julie  Street