It was a request I couldn’t refuse last July… renowned Canadian documentary filmmaker Magnus Isacsson wrote me to ask if I would create an English version of the rap songs sung in French by young Mikerson “Swagga Kid” Stiverne in what was to be Isacsson’s final film, about young men creating lives for themselves where they could thrive, after rough childhoods and dropping out of school in the poor neighbourhood of Montréal-Nord—where young men of colour have endured a lot of misunderstanding (and even bullets) from the police: My Real Life.
I worked with a written transcript from the French soundtrack made by the production team, and spent a whole week dancing and singing beside my desk, watching the film over and over, letting the pride and tenacity of these young guys and their music and expression enter my spirit too, and feeling Magnus’s pride and tenacity as well.
Sometimes I feel I am sewing words into the fabric of lives when I translate. Noises out of silence that remains silence, for I remain silent even as I am speaking, for I speak the words of another, othered to another.
My favourite challenge was translating the repeated Swagga Kid phrase “pour mieux t’introduire” which is stitched into his song “My Real Life” (a plea to see his life from his view and not to judge him as the police do by his looks and location), and which closes the film in beautiful repetition… in French it reads as introduce/present yourself to new people, but also as “enter into life” to “put yourself in the picture”.