New albums revive dying Patois

Laurence Revey is close to nature, and enjoys walking barefoot through the forest. Serge Hoeltschi

Laurence Revey, an actress and singer living in canton Valais, has just released two albums sung in Switzerland's dying Patois dialect.

This content was published on April 19, 2002 - 08:40

Patois is only spoken by a handful of people, mainly older generations in Switzerland. The dialect, which does not have a written form, is used by many farmers.

Despite Patois' decline over the past two generations, Revey - who doesn't speak the language - decided to use it in her songs.

"It was the language I heard when I was a child, but that I couldn't understand" Revey told swissinfo during an interview in Sierre, in canton Valais. "Adults used it when they didn't want the children to understand."

"My wish was to say in Patois things which I couldn't express in French," Revey added. "The subjects of the songs are so intimate that I needed a language which can speak with the heart, and not with the intellect."

Rhythmic remixes

The first of Revey's two recent albums, called "Le Creux des Fées", or "Fairies Hollow", consists of bare, acoustic songs with dissonant voices and discreet rhythms. While some of Revey's songs are her own compositions, others stem from Swiss or French folk traditions.

"For the first album, I really wanted to go deeply in one direction," said Revey. "I wanted to work with something suspended in the air, ethereal; that's also why we recorded it in a church."

The second album contains the same songs as "Fairies Hollow", but remixed by international artists such as London's Transglobal Underground and Switzerland's Mich Gerber. It has a more modern rhythmic approach, and relies heavily on samples and electronic beats.

"The idea was to give the material and really let the artists sign the work," Revey explained. "They had complete freedom to do what they wanted with my work."

Moving with a blindfold

Revey got involved with music in the early 90s, without any prior conception of music.

"I began to hear music in my mind, but I didn't know what to do with it, because I'd never learnt music," Revey said. "I then bought a four-track recorder, put voices together and started to make strange harmonies without having any idea of how to do this."

She first became aware of her artistic potential after meeting Pete Brown, who had been songwriter for Cream.

"Pete Brown once came to canton Valais, and told me I had something special to express and should start writing. Ever since, he's been kind of a mentor."

Revey then had two other significant encounters that led her to sing in Patois. Initially, she met a retired teacher who had spent his life trying to spread the word about that dialect, and really welcomed the idea of using it in contemporary songs.

She then met a former school friend - whom she hadn't seen for the previous 12 years. This fortuitous encounter sparked the "Fairies' Hollow" project.

by Jeff Nottage

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