After a six year hiatus, the Belgian singer Stromaé is back with a newly released single, “Santé.” Since his 2013 album, Racine Carrée Paul Van Have (aka Stromaé) has become a household name not just in French speaking countries but across the globe. He has sold over 8.5 million records worldwide. His song “Papaoutai” (which he wrote in honor of his father who died in the Rwandan genocide in 1994) topped the charts for weeks in countries like France, Belgium and Switzerland and also in the United States, Slovakia, Finland or the Czech Republic which may be less prone to French songs at the top of their charts. His 2015 tour included more than 200 stops in over 25 countries. After his breakthrough, though, Stromaé put his singing career on hold in order to focus on other projects. He later announced that he had suffered a burn-out. In 2018, he explained on the French radio show France 2 that “Even if [he’s] selling people dreams, it’s still a job and like any job, when you work too hard, you have a burn out.”
For non-French speakers, his new single “Santé,” which was released on October 15th sounds quite similar to his previous songs. As the French newspaper, Le Monde, put it: “He seems to have meshed together his two most famous singles, ‘Alors on Danse’ and ‘Formidable.’” It is true that he uses the same mix of electro music and ethnic music — South American Cumbia and the cavaquinho (small Portuguese guitar). He also relies greatly on repetitions, which he did in his previous album as well. “Santé” therefore is classic Stromaé. It is easy to sing, memorize and most importantly, it feels like an invitation to simply let go and to dance.
If we look more closely at the lyrics, though, it appears that Stromaé is doing something completely new. And the pandemic may be the reason why. First, let’s examine the title: Santé means health in French (the link to COVID-19 is quite obvious) but it also means “cheers.” Furthermore, he repeats the following phrase throughout the song: “À ceux qui n’en ont pas,” or “Here’s to those who don’t have any.” In short, Stromaé is asking us to raise our glass to everyday working-class heroes, to celebrate essential workers who kept our communities safe and healthy for the past two years. In the music video, cooks, waitresses, fishermen and security guards take center stage. He also uses more common names such as Rosa, Albert, Céline, and Arlette to reinforce the idea that this is an ode to the common person.
In the song, he also calls out the way in which many people disregard and disrespect essential workers, using expressions such as:
“Toute façon elle est payée pour le faire” (translation, “anyway she’s paid to do her job”),
“Trois heures que j’attends, franchement” (translation, “I’ve been waiting for three hours, are you kidding me”) and
“Appelle-moi ton responsable” (translation, “call your manager”).
Like many artists in recent months, Stromaé is celebrating the true heroes of the pandemic. We should celebrate them too. A recent Brookings Institute study found that in the United States essential workers made up 47 percent of all workers in occupations with a median wage of less than $15 an hour. So, sure, let’s raise a glass to them. But let us also write our members of Congress and advocate for their pay raise. You can even listen to “Santé” while you do it.
Rafaela Uzan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].