Rhythmic rebellion of a French writer and rapper

Le jeune noir à l’épée

Abd Al Malik

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A boy from the banlieue is released from prison and tells his story about struggling to escape from street life and hatred, and about police violence and life in suburbs with cheap rental housing. The French writer and rapper Abd Al Malik has been inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s poetry and Martiniquan philosopher Édouard Glissant’s thinking about diversity and globalisation. After his successful L’art et la révolte, on texts by Albert Camus, Musée d’Orsay invited him to create a theatrical concert alongside an exhibition on black models in art history. This led to a ‘rhythmic rebellion’ about identity in the age of globalisation – recited, rapped, slammed and sung to black music, white music, and everything in between. The performance title is a reference to a nineteenth-century painting from the Orsay collection, ‘Young black with sword’.

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background information

On the occasion of its exhibition Le modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse (‘The black model: from Géricault to Matisse’), the Musée d'Orsay in Paris has invited Abd Al Malik to produce a show.

The French poet, rapper, slam poet and essayist’s new work, produced in collaboration with the Burkinabe choreographer Salia Sanou, was inspired by a painting in the museum’s collection: Le Jeune Noir à l'épée (‘Young black boy with sword’) by Pierre Puvis de Chavanne.


Le jeune noir à l’épée is not only a show but also an album and book, with all three set to be released at the same time. Abd Al Malik set his story to music in the form of a long visual poem through collaboration with Bilal Al Aswad (composition), the late pianist Gérard Jouannest (former pianist and co-composer to Jacques Brel) and techno producer Scan X. Le Jeune Noir à l’épée is a mixture of hip-hop, literature and visual art.


Abd Al Malik on his work: ‘le jeune noir à l’épée is an artwork that really made an impact on me when I was looking into the works featured in the exhibition. In that moment I realised I wanted to write a long poem about globalisation, inspired by the poetic language of Charles Baudelaire and the philosophy of Édouard Glissant. The painting was a revelation.’


‘There it was, hanging amongst all the other 19th century masters, all those images where you see the construction of the Other and a collective racial subconscious. Out of all of them I was most struck by Le Jeune Noir à l’épée due to the simplicity of its symbolism and its representation of a black figure. The painting told an emotional story that I was already familiar with, one that took me back to a world of poverty and concrete. I then began to write about a young black man, this time in the present day, who has just come out of prison and returns to the housing estate in the banlieue where he grew up.’


‘It’s a rhythmic rebellion, shouted, rapped, slammed and sung to black music and white, old and modern. It’s also a collage of melodies and various samples, the journey of a young black man in both the past and the present, whose generation I am part of, who was born in Europe but is rooted in his ancestral continent of Africa.’



Abd Al Malik (Paris, 1975)is a rapper, writer, essayist, screenwriter and director of Congolese heritage and grew up in the Strasbourg suburb of Neuhof.

He has won numerous prizes for his four solo albums and in 2008 he became a knightof the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He regularly collaborates with artists such as Juliette Greco, Laurent Garnier and Ahmad Jamal. He received the Edgar Faure prize for his second book La guerre des banlieues n'aura pas lieu (‘the suburban war will not take place). His acclaimed film Qu'Allah bénisse la France! (‘May Allah Bless France!’, also showing at Holland Festival this year) was nominated for two Césars and won the International Critics Prize at the Toronto Film Festival. In 2013, at the request of Catherine Camus, he wrote the show L'Art & la Revolte (‘Art and Revolt') in tribute to the 100th anniversary of the birth of her father Albert Camus. His second solo album Gibraltar (2006) deals with issues of migration and immigration and is a unique blend of hip-hop, jazz and French chanson and is considered one of the most important French albums of the last 15 years. In 2018 Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota named Abd Al Malik ‘artist-ambassador’ of Paris’ Théâtre de la Ville by and co-programmer for the next three years.




concept, performed by
Abd Al Malik
Salia Sanou
Salomon Asaro
Akim Houssam
Vincent Lafif
Bolewa Sabourin
music performed by
Arnaud Fayette Mikano
music performed by
Fayette Fayette Mikano

This performance was made possible with support by