“Quand le professeur de Stanford m’a invité, c’était avec un grand plaisir que j’ai accepté l’invitation pour venir à expliquer aux élevés. [When the Stanford professor invited me, it was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to come talk with the students],” Soltani said.
With these words, French singer and songwriter Kerredine Soltani began to explain the long journey that took him from Paris to the Stanford campus and his experiences during his stay, which was sponsored by Stanford’s French Language Program.
During the two weeks of his visit, Soltani visited French language classrooms, gave a talk and a concert, met individually with students and also interacted with the Arabic department. This is the first time that the French Language Program has hosted a guest like Soltani, according to Vera Shapirshteyn, the instructor who first reached out to the artist.
“This was the first time we brought somebody like Kerredine to the program and I think it worked so well,” Shapirshteyn said.“We got a Stanford Arts catalyst grant and also the DLCL [Division of Literature, Cultures, and Languages] helped out, so we were able to purchase a ticket and provide housing for him.”
Soltani is known for writing songs for popular French singers such as Zaz and for his own music. It was his song “Je Veux M’Intégrer” (“I Want to Integrate Myself”) that first caught the attention of Shapirshteyn. The song describes the discrimination that non-European minorities face in French society, particularly in the job market.
“In my teaching I use a lot of authentic materials from Francophone cultures,” Shapirshteyn said. “He discusses very serious issues that everybody in France talks about, that are part of everybody’s lives, and he does it in a very interesting way, always with a lot of humor.”
The political and social messages of his music are very important to Soltani. To prepare to discuss the lyrics, French language students spent the first few weeks of the quarter learning about the complexities of immigration and ethnic minorities in France. Soltani was very receptive to what they had to say.
“I very much enjoy discussing my lyrics with students, being able to explain why and how I compose,” Solanti said.
Shapirshteyn said she was surprised at how generous Soltani was with his time. He exceeded Shapirshteyn’s expectations in his engagement with students and the campus community.
“I proposed a very ambitious schedule for him, which included all types of class visits, a recording on the radio station with my colleague from the Arabic department,” Shapirshteyn said. “He ended up accepting and doing everything that was proposed to him. Not to mention that he improvised a number of songs in different classes and [took] the students on a journey through his creative process.”
According to Soltani, he was just glad to experience American society on a college campus. What really struck him was the ethnical and racial diversity at Stanford. Expressing surprise at having had his first interview in Arabic on a visit to the U.S., “Incroyable!,” he exclaimed.
“In France, there are three dominant ethnic groups: whites, blacks and Arabs,” Soltani said. “But over there [at Stanford] it is much more diverse. Truly, diversity is much more important in the United States. And especially for a prestigious university, in Europe when a university is prestigious…there are a lot of white people.”
When asked if he would be returning to campus in the future, Soltani said “With great pleasure. Truly with great pleasure because I am…like a Stanford student. I have the Stanford t-shirts, the Stanford sweaters.”
According to Shapirshteyn, the French Language Program is eager to have him come back.“We would definitely try to bring…Kerredine back in the future, hopefully with his band, but also other musicians and members of the French community,” she said.
“We’d like to focus more on creating a stronger Francophone community on campus,” Shapirshteyn added. “I’ve actually heard from people who are not even taking classes with us who would like to participate and be informed of the French events.”
Until then, Kerredine Soltani will continue creating and promoting his music in France. Currently, he is promoting his new single Le Verlan, which he released earlier this year, and making appearances on TV and radio stations. At the same time, Soltani will not only continue speaking to students about his music, but he will also continue working with and helping immigrants adjust to life in France. He invites Stanford students to also come to France and see the immigration situation for themselves, as, for Soltani, that is the only way to truly understand the immigration crisis.
“Venir ici, en France, pour voir les choses et vivre avec les immigres. [Come here, to France, in order to see what is going [on] and to live with the immigrants],” he said.
Editor’s Note: The interview with Soltani was originally conducted in French and was translated by Andrea Villa.
Contact Andrea Villa at acvilla ‘at’ stanford.edu.