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Bwa Brilé, An Anthem for Black Identity

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Learn about Eugene Mona and about the Bwa Brilé song.

Scroll down to see the lyrics and their translation.

EUGENE MONA (1943-1991)

Eugene Mona was a famous Martinican singer, philosopher, and cultural rebel. Although he had many opportunities to become an international star, this proud man from the mornes (hills) chose to stay in Martinique because he was so deeply rooted in his country and wanted to keep his connection with the land, his roots and the spirit of his ancestors. He performed barefoot (and often shirtless.), and thus became known as “le chanteur aux pieds nus” (the barefoot singer). Fun fact number 1: When my daughter was a child, we would call her Mona because she seriously hated to wear shoes... And while I am writing these lines I am wondering if it’s just a coincidence that today she is herself a great singer… who recently moved back home from the United States to be closer to her roots. Should she start performing barefoot? Fun fact number 2: Mona was passionate about wood, and before becoming a famous singer he was a carpenter. He even carved his own instrument, the bamboo flute, what we know in Martinique as the flûte des mornes (flute of the hills). Mona loved traditional Martinican music, but he was also fond of blues and jazz and was a great fan of Louis Armstrong

BWA BRILÉ, the song (1976)

Mona always tried to raise awareness among his fellow Martinicans about the importance of owning their identity. He himself abandoned his former name, Eugène Nilècam at a very young age so that he could own his identity. In Bwa Brilé, he reminds us that black people, including the most famous ones, have white people’s name.

Like many of Mona’s songs, Bwa Brilé is also about the living conditions in Martinique in the post-colonial era. (Martinique only became an Overseas Department of France in 1946.) He tells us about the harsh conditions under which poor black farmers lived in rural Martinique, getting up in the morning to plough the fields that very often they did not even own. He starts by singing mwen ka maré ren mwen (I tighten the rope [the peasant’s belt] around my waist), which is a sure indication that he is ready to face another harsh day, but standing up straight. And the reason why he is able to do so is because he is bwa brilé (burnt wood) – a metaphor for his black skin, that is, black for being burnt but also for having anpil san (being rich in blood.), which makes him strong.

If you want to learn more about Eugene Mona, click on the link to watch this great documentary from Nathalie Glaudon on RFO (Now Martinique Premiere Television): "Sur les traces de Mona"

Listen to the original version here or the beautiful hommage by the collective Léritaj Mona here.

And now, you have the lyrics to sing along (How lucky are you: we translated them for your):


Lè mwen lévé lé maten - When I wake up in the morning

Mwen ka pran bout kod’ la - I grab my rope

Mwen ka maré ren mwen - I tighten it around my waist (I brace myself)

pou mwen ay fè tren mwen - So I can go work on the field

é gadé zannimo mwen - And look after my livestock

Lè'y sizè mwen fini - At 6 o-clock, I'm done

Mwen ka pran gran wou-a - I grab my tools

Mwen ka lévé zyé mwen - I lift my head

Pou mwen mandé kouraj - And ask for courage

"à la divinité " - To the "divine"...

pou i pé ba mwen - ...just so He can give me

an mannyè pou mwen pa sa santi - a way to forget

lanmizè mwen (bis) - my misery.

Bondyé fè mwen pou sa - God created me for this,

I ba mwen an bwa brilé. - He gave me burnt wood

I ba mwen anpil san - He gave me tons of blood

é mwen byen rézistan - to make me strong

Dapré lé esploitan - According to the perpetrators...

man pa bel - ...I am ugly

i pa bel konpan mwen. - my partner is ugly.

Nou pa fèt pou "le luxe" - We were not made for luxury

pa menm pou "le calice" - Not even for the "chalice"

nou ni dwatèt admi - are we allowed to be accepted

dapré sa mwen ka wè, - from what I see

é mwen ka tann, é sa listwa kité ba nou, vié frè - and what I hear, and what history left for us, my brother

"dans les archives". (bis) - "in the archives".

Non nou sé "Bwa Brilé" - We are the "Bwa Brilé"

Tjè nou pa diféran. - Our hearts are the same as yours

Bondyé fè nou pou sa - God created us for this

i ka ba nou dé non blan. - and He gave us "white" names

Otis té "Bwa Brilé" - Otis (Redding) was "Bwa Brilé"

i té ni an non blan. - He had a "white" name

Louis Amstrong té "Bwa Brilé" - Louis Armstrong was "Bwa Brilé"

ité ni an non blan. - He had a "white" name

Chœurs : 

Non nou sé bwa brilé, - We are the "Bwa Brilé"

Tjé nou pa diféran - Our hearts are the same as yours

Bondyé fé nou pou sa - God created us for this

I ka ban ou dé non blan - and He gave us "white" names


Thoughts? Don't hesitate to leave comments to let us know how you feel about Bwa Brilé, now that you know our story!

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