Music Wednesday, April 27th Words by: Adam Knight

"Trop cool": French rapper/writer/Slam poet Romain Talamoni cracks wise on Hereford and hip-hop

Music Wednesday, April 27th

"Trop cool": French rapper/writer/Slam poet Romain Talamoni cracks wise on Hereford and hip-hop

“When I was three years old, I read some books of Marcel Proust. I started to smoke cigarettes at the age of six like all French children. I think you are a bit like us, the only difference is that your coffee is bad and you prefer beer" - Romain Talamoni 

At a time when Anglo-Franco relations in parts of the county are reaching near-Napoleonic levels, we thought what better than to catch up with a real, living, breathing Frenchman? And a genuine wordsmith, no less.

Romain Talamoni, who hails from just outside Paris, debuts his show in Hereford tomorrow night.

It's a free-wheeling celebration of the spoken word that's comes out in two languages like bursts of lilting machinegun fire. You can almost hear the Brexiters muttering under their breaths about European performers coming over here, taking our gigs.


M. Talamoni is 23, a writer, a contemporary performance artist and a hip-hop head. Just don’t go calling him a poet.

Despite eschewing the label, his roots are deep in to the Parisian slam poetry scene. It’s a culture heavily influenced by rap in both delivery and form, which sees competitors perform short poems to an audience, before a jury of their peers – like judges from a 1980’s Olympic gymnastics event – hold up scorecards, eliminating performers until one artiste is left standing at the end of the night.

"When you perform you always have a free drink, that’s why there are so many people. There is always an alcoholic behind a poet."

In the UK, rappers can top the charts – sometimes even good rappers – but the mere suggestion of poetry is met with an almost-instinctive eye-roll. It’s unfortunate.

“Poetry is something superior, and it’s very hard to define,” Romain said. Try telling that to Tinie Tempah. Not even Bill Shakespeare rhymed ‘Concord’ with ‘Scunthorpe’.

But tomorrow you can leave all your poetical preconceptions at the door. This show is not that.


It’s not chewing over a dusty copy of Ode To A Nightingale in the back of a GCSE class, or insipid Valentine’s Day haikus posted up on Instagram with Pandora bracelets.

Romain’s performance is rolling lyricism, heavy on the humour and cutting in its observations. It also includes real-time subtitles, for those whose French doesn’t make it far past, “2 bières et un sandwich, s’il vous plait”.

We spoke to Romain – who is working as a teaching assistant with french students at Hereford Sixth Form College until June – about Slam, Hereford and Kendrick Lamar.

You can see Romain Talamoni at De Koffie Pot, from 7pm. The show is free.


So this is your first solo show. Why Hereford?

I didn’t choose Hereford, Hereford chose me. It’s a great opportunity for me to start my young career in this place famous for its hip hop music. 

Hereford is like a place of pilgrimage for every rap lover. A rapper who didn’t perform in Hereford is not a real rapper.

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How would you describe poetry slams - and the scene in Paris – to someone who has never been to one? On a scale, are they more like literary festival recitals or the rap battles in 8 mile?

Poetry slam is a way to make poetry dynamic and attractive. Recitals can be boring sometimes, it’s often the same topics and the audience doesn’t listen to every poet.

The word slam means tournament, like the rugby Grand Slam which should have been won by France this year. So basically, poetry slam is like the sport of poetry in which poets have to convince a jury, not a professional jury, just people like you and me.

There's no music, no accessories, only your own voice and your lines for three minutes. It’s very exciting because you never know what you are going to see.

How healthy is the poetry scene in general? With a seemingly ever-growing number of ways of self-expression, what is it about poetry that still marks it out as such a powerful form?

In France, Poetry Slam is a bit young; it was born only 20 years ago. Now, there are some festivals all around the country.

There are a lot of place in Paris where you can find a weekly slam event like the Culture Rapide in the district of Belleville.

To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed of the movement because sometimes the idea of competition is stronger than the will of sharing poetry. There are a lot of rivalries between the different groups of poets…

But there is still some hope, Slam Poetry is always a great opportunity to meet people and drink beers with them.

When you say a poem during this kind of evening you have always a free drink, that’s why there are so many people. There is always an alcoholic behind a poet. 


Your style's influenced by hip-hop. Who are your favourite rappers at the moment? And how much is the French scene influenced by US hip-hop? Is Kendrick Lamar a poet, or a rapper, or both?

Yes, I’m a great hip hop fan. I have just discovered some very good rappers from the UK this year, because I’m living here. I love the work of Loyle Carner and Jesse James Salomon, two rappers from the south of London. I’m also following Rejjie Snow an Irish rapper who is still very creative, I have seen him live in Paris and I loved it.

"I’m just a lover of words who tries to play with them. I never say I’m a poet, I prefer to say that I’m a writer or a rapper."

Obviously, the French scene is influenced by US hip hop, especially for the music. We listen to a lot of US rap, even if we don’t understand the meaning of songs. I’m still very interested in the flow of American rappers and the way they find always new rhythms and type of rhymes. In French rap, the way of writing is different, maybe because writers and literature are so important in France. Unfortunately, most famous French rappers are not the ones with the best lyrics.

I think Kendrick's now more like a raptivist. His rap is more than just music now. He wants to deliver a message and to be a model for youth. I’m not comfortable with the word poet to qualify a rapper.

Rap looks like poetry because of rhymes and the structure of texts, but to me poetry is something superior and it’s very hard to define. I don’t think I’m making poetry; I’m just a lover of words who tries to play with them. I never say I’m a poet, I prefer to say that I’m a writer or a rapper.

What was it that first got you in to poetry? Was there a particular book or poet or influence that grabbed you as a young man?

I started to write because of rap music.

I wanted to do like my favourite rappers and create my own songs. Ar the same time, when I was 18, I discovered some famous poets at school like Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. The most important book of Baudelaire is called “Les Fleurs du Mal”, and it was very inspiring for me. Later, I have read poems from the surrealist movement, like Paul Eluard and Andre Breton, they are very powerful. I was also interested in poets from the “Oulipo” like Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec who thought limits improve creativity.


I love the idea of live subtitles. How will it work in the show?

I am lucky to have a big forehead, so we will project subtitles at the top of my head. People could be able to look at me and at subtitles in the same time.

In England there is a tendency to think of the French as having a naturally more romantic, more poetic disposition. There’s a perception that all young people hang outside Parisian cafés smoking and discussing Sartre. Do you think there’s any base to that? And in your experience, do you find the inverse to be true of us Brits?

When I was three years old, I read some books of Marcel Proust, but I thought it was a bit frustrating because it could have been better. I started to smoke cigarettes at the age of 6 like all French children.

When you smoke you need to “refaire le monde”, it’s like changing the world while staying on a terrace with a glass of wine. It’s a very complex exercise, you definitely have to be really focused on what you do or you could be injured.

I think you are a bit like us, the only difference is that your coffee is bad and you prefer beer.


It’s Will Shakespeare’s birthday in a couple of days. Do young people read Shakespeare in schools in France? And if so, how big of an impact do you think the translation has on the feel and the flow of the words?

Joyeux anniversaire Will ! I’m a bit upset because I didn’t receive any invitation, he will probably celebrate it at the Barrels, I’ll see him there.

I have studied Shakespeare during my studies but it was in English, it does not make sense to translate it. It was very hard to understand, almost impossible…

When a text is translated, it loses a lot of meaning, idioms and puns that you can’t translate in the other language. With my friend Craig, we have translated some of my poems - sometimes we stayed for half an hour on one line.

We’ll see if people could understand it during the show.



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