Ella, elle l’a

Voici ma chanson pour un samedi — here’s my song for Saturday.

The year was 1987. We were living in Toronto when France Gall released this song, written for his wife by the incredibly talented and gone-too-soon Michel Berger. It became a hit in France along with several countries in Europe.

I must have listened to this song a hundred times before I realized what it was actually about. The song, whose title literally means, ‘Ella, she has it’, is a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, the first lady of song, and an anti-racism anthem. Here are the lyrics, with a bit of a translation in English:

C’est comme une gaité, comme un sourire
Quelque chose dans la voix qui parait nous dire “viens”

Qui nous fait sentir étrangement bien
C’est comme toute l’histoire du peuple noir
Qui se balance entre l’amour et l’désespoir

Quelque chose qui danse en toi, si tu l’as, tu l’as

It’s like a joy, like a smile
that thing in her voice that seems to be saying “Come!”
that makes us feel strangely good
it’s like all the history of the black people
that swings between love and despair
that thing that dances inside of you, if you have it, you have it.

Ella, elle l’a, ce je-ne-sais-quoi
Que d’autres n’ont pas, qui nous met dans un drôle d’état
Ella, elle l’a Ella, elle l’a, cette drôle de voix
Elle a, ou, ou, ou, ou, ou, ou, ou, cette drôle de joie
Ce don du ciel qui la rend belle

She has it, the thing I know about
that others don’t have, that puts us in a funny state
she, she, she has it, she has that funny voice, that funny cheerfulness
that gift from up above that makes her beautiful, she has it

Elle a ce tout petit supplément d’âme
Cet indéfinissable charme, cette petite flamme

She has that extra bit of soul
that indefinable charm, that little flame.

Tape sur des tonneaux, sur des pianos
Sur tout ce que dieu peut te mettre…

Montre ton rire ou ton chagrin
Mais que tu n’aies rien, que tu sois roi
Que tu cherches encore les pouvoirs qui dorment en to
i
Tu vois ça ne s’achète pas

Hit the barrels, the pianos
and everything that god can put in your hands
show your laughter or your sadness
but if you are nothing or if you are a king
if you are still looking for the power that is sleeping inside of you
you see it can’t be bought

Ella, elle l’a… (etc.)

Around that time, my husband and I had the incredible privilege to see Ella perform live at the Imperial Room of the Royal York hotel in Toronto. It had to have been one of her final performances. She used a cane and was helped onstage by her manager. But once she began singing, her voice was as fresh as spring

On that note, here she is singing of my favourite songs.