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Alvan & Ahez, the Breizh touch of Eurovision

Farewell Beatles! The stripes of the pedestrian crossing are in tune with the Gwenn ha du, the flag of Brittany. Paris Match followed this quartet of young talents during the final stages before the competition. If they revisit their regional traditions, it is to better enchant the future. Facing 180 million viewers, they will mix electro-rock sounds with a text evoking the night, fire and female emancipation. The title, ‘Fulenn’, means ‘spark’. An entire program.

Madrid, 1 a.m. The three girls of the Ahez group join their hands and close their eyes. Marine, 24, the youngest, sings a sentence in Breton that the two Sterenns, 25 and 26, take up in chorus. The more the gavotte advances, the more the rhythm accelerates. They finish by skipping, the body charged with energy and the heart of Breton. It’s their little ritual before going on stage. They make the walls vibrate with their incantations. We forget the decor: the dressing room of a nightclub, on the edge of the Manzanares. Last “pre-party” before Eurovision. You have to cross the maze of corridors in full swing to find Alexis, alias Alvan, 29, who, in the backstages, keeps a close eye on his instruments. The accents mix, collide; often gestures replace words. The eccentric outfits of some rub shoulders with the jeans of others. In the midst of this confusion, “the Bretons”, as they are happy to call themselves, listen to a final recommendation from their vocal coach, Léa Ivanne, by sucking on a tablet of Strepsils – the pre-party, in Tel Aviv, having been right from their throats to all. Alvan & Ahez is the meeting of two worlds: electro and traditional song. He had rock star dreams as soon as his mother put a Walkman in his hands: he was 3 years old and he was already recording… At 9 years old, he started playing the guitar, imagining being one of the Red Hot Chilis Peppers. The instrument has since become an integral part of his body, engraved on his forearm: six strings are tattooed. The three of them met at the Breton singing club of the Diwan high school in Carhaix on Monday evening. They shared a passion for music and Brittany, their voices harmonized.

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In Madrid, fans learned French phrases of encouragement

In front of the entrance of the artists of La Riviera, the Madrid concert hall where a dress rehearsal of Eurovision is held.

© Helene Pambrun

One evening, at L’Artiste assoiffé, a bar a stone’s throw from Rennes’ rue de la Soif, Alvan meets Ahez; they decide to meet again very soon, in a homemade studio. From this union is born “Fulenn”, the title which will represent France at Eurovision 2022, on May 14, in Turin. For the occasion, France 3 Bretagne will comment on the competition in Breton. Even if they do not believe in chance, this qualification is almost one. Pushed by the manager of Alvan, Sébastien Arios, the four Bretons send their very young title “Fulenn”, without suspecting that they will pass all the selection tests without incident. “We absolutely did not think we could win,” they repeat. However, in addition to having obtained the votes of the public, they conquered six members of the jury out of ten, including Jenifer, Nicoletta, André Manoukian and Élodie Gossuin, who will announce the points of France on D-Day. Without warning or having the time to realize or celebrate what was happening, here they are propelled into an adventure that everyone describes as “incredible”, “impressive”, even “dreamlike” and “wonderful” for Marine and Alexis, the two superstitious of the group.

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To take part in Eurovision is to agree to lead a new existence, to no longer be in control of one’s time, to live in the heart of a kind of “camp”, they joke, with promiscuity but also the adventures that go with. It is also and above all changing dimension overnight. Alvan and Ahez have a very different take on stardom. For Alvan, becoming a professional musician “isn’t a dream, it’s obvious”. A passionate quest, which he has always led head-on, with the first parts of DJs (Offenbach or Petit Biscuit). Before Eurovision, he was already confined to his music, his “electroworld”, preparing his first album, “Magma”, which is scheduled for release on May 13. For him, aesthetics takes precedence over meaning. He scratches, sings, “screams”, records, dissects and starts again to find the perfect melody and the matching voices, ethnic if possible. If he hasn’t been able to travel a lot so far, he makes up for it in his compositions by mixing Asian and African instruments by rubbing a Velleda pen on the strings of his ukulele. A hyperactive little genius who beats time on the table and launches into a percussion solo on the back of the armchair in the dressing room. The daughters of Ahez, they led a more normal life, in Rennes or Lyon, for Sterenn Le Guillou, who had to take all his leave at once. “The day after the selection, we had to warn our bosses or master’s directors,” she recalls. Since then, they long for their parents, from whom they have never been more than a few kilometers away. For the three of them, being on the front of the stage has a price. Marine admits that the hardest thing to manage is the pressure: “People look at you when you’re no more extraordinary than anyone else. Me, I make music out of passion, and it is sometimes frustrating that the image takes precedence. “Especially when you’re a woman,” adds Sterenn Diridollou.

Accustomed to the scene, they have received no theoretical training. “It’s harder to feel legitimate,” they admit. No need to have done the conservatory to attract fans. A great novelty, too. For the rehearsals, seven hours before the show and under a blazing sun, the crowd was waiting for the candidates, shouting their names. The group is bombarded with requests for selfies, autographs and kind words. Spaniards have prepared phrases of encouragement in French, Breton flags surround them up to the hotel. A daily life of rock stars, punctuated by singing, dancing and styling lessons, make-up sessions. However, behind the professionalism of the second most watched show in the world after the Super Bowl halftime in the United States hides a more “amateur” facet. Arrived in their hotel room, Marine, Sterenn D. and Sterenn LG have less than an hour to get ready. They are expected on the red carpet at 8 p.m. No make-up artist or hairdresser, they share two mirrors and a curling iron, exchange the spray can and the nose-washing horn. In single file, they braid their hair, watching the time very closely. “I feel like I’m in ‘The Queens of Shopping’ and I’m asking for the timer!” jokes Sterenn LG While Marine finishes the smoky make-up Rivals, yes, but with a smile: Alvan & Ahez (standing, centre) backstage with members of other delegations. from his eyelids, Sterenn D. hums the credits of the Ratz, “Pas de panic à bord”…

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It is in the Breton language that France will defend its colors, on May 14, in Turin

Rivals, yes, but with a smile: Alvan & Ahez (standing, center) backstage with members of other delegations.

Rivals, yes, but with a smile: Alvan & Ahez (standing, center) backstage with members of other delegations.

© Helene Pambrun

Their stress is time running out and hair that won’t stay put. For the rest, “we consider that we have already won”, says Sterenn LG simply. Participation in the European competition is enough to dust off the clichés against which they have not finished fighting. Thanks to electro, without marinière or yellow raincoat, they want to be perceived as girls of their time who exchange text messages… in Breton. In their headphones pass the frenzied rhythms of Rosalia. “We don’t have the same fight concerning Breton, concedes Alvan. They saw their grandparents deprived of their language.” For them, speaking Breton was shameful, a peasant thing. Their parents therefore became “passive bilinguals”, as Marine calls them. They had no desire to pass it on to the third generation. “It was by understanding our heritage little by little that we said to ourselves that we had to do something about it”, recalls Sterenn D. These children from Coadout, Argol and Douarnenez asked at certain times, and for different reasons, to join Diwan schools, where classes are taught in Breton. “Breton has traced my whole life,” says Sterenn LG, approved by the other two. Alexis does not have such an attachment. He only knew Breton through songs learned in childhood. He is proud to represent those who, like him, do not speak it. This is the case for the majority of the public tonight, but it is not an obstacle. “Everyone sings ‘Asereje’, Las Ketchup or K-pop”, exclaims Sterenn D. Why should Breton be more hermetic than French? The proof: the four Bretons made the room vibrate, the spectators jumped hands in the air on the whole piece, in an atmosphere as electric as during a DJ set. Leaving the concert, Alvan & Ahez are more eager than ever to face Turin. Chañs vat! Good luck…

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