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The Skeptical and Belgian Hip-Hop of Stromae

by Bruno Van de Casteele

October 26, 2014

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Donate George Hrab can be considered the skeptical maestro-in-chief. His songs are witty, musically interesting, and the texts have a very clear skeptical theme. He’s also very fond of explaining his first appearanceat The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, where he performed in front of more 1,000 people. Not only that, he managed to get those 1,000 people (including James Randi) to sing along with him. He is rightly proud about it, and I don’t mind he has already told the story multiple times on his Geologic Podcast.

I don’t think the following Belgian artist can top that, especially considering that his theme is not skeptical at all, but he made a good effort. The artist in question is the bow-tie-wearingStromae (real name Paul Van Haver), presenting hip-hop and electronic dance music that gets you dancing and singing along. His topics, however, are quite deep and serious, singing about lost love, racism, orthe difficulty of growing up fatherless in a large metropolis like Brussels as a son of a mixed couple (Rwandan and Belgian).

In the song “Bâtard” ("bastard" in French), he attacks (in a catchy electronic tune) the false dilemma fallacy, that you have to beeither X or Y, but that there is no middle ground. Or, if you are like him of mixed race you get the following insults: "Neither one nor the other / Bastard you are, you were and you remain."

In a long introduction, he enunciates a list of those “neither one nor the other”:

Either one or the other […]
Feminist or “shut up”
Either you’re macho or homo
But are you [geno]phobic or sexual
Miscreant or terrorist
You’re long-haired or else you’re bearded
Conspirationist, Illuminati
Myth-maniac or sell-out

And those two last lines we skeptics recognise. Conspiracy posts are regularly debunked here on the Skeptoid Blog (notably by our very own Illuminato, Mike Rothschild). Stromae attacks the notion that either you believe all those conspiracies and myths, or you have sold out to those “in charge.” Maybe it’s even a sneer to those “Big Pharma” arguments.

Stromae is not just listing things to fill his song, the skeptical reference should be understood as a very serious one. In one of the following lines, he mentions: "But you’re Hutu or Tutsi / Flemish or Walloon?"

The last line is a reference to the (sometimes exaggerated) opposition in Belgium between Dutch- and French-speaking groups, but the first referenceis a very personal one. Stromae is the son of a Tutsi who was killed in the 1994 RwandanGenocide. It shows the profundity of his texts.

He’s attacking those well-off people who do not want to take sides, but still consider him a bastard and are silently racist. Ultimately, by doing nothing, even larger harm is done (as his personal example shows). Or to put it back in a skeptical context, there is a middle ground between believing all those myths and having sold out… it’s the real world, as Stromaeis himself"between two opposites. At the end of the song it even seems he takes the “bastard” insult as a compliment, saying “neither one nor the other, I am, I was and will remain myself.” Enjoy the song:

So how does that match to the dozens of songs and seven albums of George Hrab? One thing: Stromae is extremely popular in Belgium, and when he headlined at the rock festival Rock Werchter in Flanders this summer, 60,000 people went to see him and sang and danced along with his songs. 60,000 people, most of them Dutch speaking, singing in French this song and others, not only negated the point about being either Walloon or Flemish he mentioned in theselyrics, but maybe got some skeptical reflex across, too, by denouncinga much-abused fallacy. Let’s hope it stuck.

Stromae is currently touring, and has done some interviews and performance in the US and Canada, for instance on NPR and NBC(a video of that performance can be found at the end of the linked page). A tourin the USmight be possiblenext year. Andremember, if he ever achieves worldwide fame(and I hope he does): you heard him first here on Skeptoid Blog!

Translations of the French text to English were taken from herebut sometimes corrected by myself.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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