Yann-Fañch Kemener

* 1957  †︎ 2019

  • “Spoken form of Breton was quite important for the language in the past.” - “Quite important indeed! As knowledge had been transferred by the word of mouth. For that reason, there was this immense wealth of songs, stories, lovely proverbs and metaphors. My mother would often utilise those poetic devices of spoken Breton. Fore example, I just love her favorite saying: 'Every word has its own note.' As in Breton, that also means it has its rhyme, that it's accurate. And when someone loses his mind, we Bretons say that he's losing his note. And by this note we also mean like a musical note in Breton. And I find that just beautiful.”

  • “I remember as they started to implement the policy of unifying the land. Sainte-Tréphine was a Communist village where this Stalin's motto had been promoted: 'From Brest to Brest.' So the traditional agriculture had to disappear. Of course there were some changes that had to be done at the advent of mechanization but the policy of unifying the land surpassed all of them by its radicalness. It was indeed a disaster.”

  • “Were there any cars in your village, electricity?' - “ Sainte-Tréphine must have been electrified in the thirties, in the forties maybe. But not every household had been involved. There was this transformer in the village. But the village next to us got its own transformer quite late, in the fifties or maybe even the sixties. I was born shortly after our village had been electrified. We were living in houses with earthen floors – like in the 19th century, maybe event the 18th century.” - “Without running water?” - “That's right. We had to bring water and we surely used much less water than today. There were no more than ten cars in the village. They belonged to the more affluent people, like a baker or a municipal authority chairman, a teacher, a priest, or maybe a mayor. Even the postman didn't have a car, he delivered mail on a bike. And first tractors showed up in the sixties as well, till then everything had to been done just by horses and by hand. As a child I had to work the fields, like all all the children of my age. As kids needed to eat, so they also had to work.”

  • “I found this first book in Breton language as a sixteen, maybe a seventeen-years-old.” - :”So there were no books in Breton language?” - “No. Just books in Breton language about lives of saints and maybe a few hymn books. That was all. So we had no idea there were any books in Breton language.” - “So you were Bretons, yet you couldn't write or read in the Breton language.” - “We couldn't, we were illiterate in our own language.”

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    Trémeven, 08.09.2012

    duration: 01:02:21
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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I am a representative of the last generation of Breton language native speakers

Yann-Fañch Kemener (around 1975)
Yann-Fañch Kemener (around 1975)
photo: archiv pamětníka

Yann-Fañch Kemener, a folklorist, a storyteller and a prominent traditional Breton music performer, was born on April 7th 1957 in Sainte-Tréphine, France. He was of humble origins. His father had been working as a wage labourer doing one-year contracts while his mother had been working as laundrywoman for most of the time. Thanks to his cousin, Eugèn Grenel, and Albert Boloré, his neighbour from a village, Yann-Fañch Kemener began to perform at a folk festivals estoù-noz and at the age of twenty he was already a celebrated traditional folk song performer. Encouraged by Albert Boloré and professor Léon Fleuriot, he also started to collect Breton folk verbal art which he studied extensively. In the early 80s, his promising performing career had been marred after his interview for the Le Gai Pied magazine in which he spoke openly about his homosexuality, unleashing a scandal in the conservative Breton society. In the following seven years, Kemener was banned from performing at the Celtic festival in Lorient. According to Hélène Hazer, a French journalist, Kemener’s coming out resulted in overcoming the hypocritical stance towards the LGBT community in the Breton society and helped the acceptance of gay people in Brittany; Kemener’s orientation also affected his artistic performance, giving it specific degree of depth and empathy. In the following decades, Kemener become one of the important persona of the Brittany’s national revival. He published around thirty records and had also participated on several theatre projects. He did the gwerzioù, a traditional ballad genre, and the kan-ha-diskan, the Breton dance a chant style, but he also participated in musical experiments. In collaboration with Aldo Ripoche on cello and Florence Pavie on piano, he merged Breton chants with Baroque instrumental music; he is also known for his experiments with Didier Squiban employing jazz or orchestral music. Yann-Fañch Kemener performed in the Czech Republic several times on his tours from 2012 to 2016. The significant part of songs Yann-Fañch Kemener collected on his travels through Brittany was published in his book Carnets de route (Travel journals, 1996), he also published his region’s oral stories in an anthology Collecte de contes en Basse-Bretagne (Collected stories form Lower Brittany, 2014). As an expert on folk verbal art collecting Yann-Fañch Kemener had been working at the University of West Brittany’s Centre for Breton and Celtic Research. In 2009, he got the Order of the Ermine for his life long devotion to the culture of Brittany and was awarded the Order of Arts and Letters, Knight grade in 2015. Yann-Fañch Kemener passed away on March 16th 2019 in Tréméven, France.