Photo credit: ©Philippe Matsas / Saravah
It is a delicate exercise to write Pierre Barouh's biography as his career is so rich in experiences, encounters and achievements! He recounts himself in his book "Les rivières souterraines" (À vos pages, 2011), and his son Benjamin retraces the Saravah saga in his book "Saravah, c'est où l'horizon, 1967-1977" (Le mot et le reste, 2018). Anecdotes collected by Philippe Quevauviller are also recounted in "La vie est l'art des rencontres - Pierre Barouh, Anecdotes et chansons" (Bossa Flor, 2018). The interested reader will therefore find all the details on the career of this humanist with a big heart who said he was above all a walker. This biography flies over his life path that he left for other stars on December 28, 2016.
Pierre was born Elie in 1934. He grew up in Levallois-Perret in a family of cloth merchants, Jews from Turkey. During the Second World War, his parents hid him and his brother and sister in Montournais, Vendée, in three different families. Elie, from then on renamed Pierre, found refuge with Hilaire and Marie Rocher, of whom he will always speak with emotion as his adoptive parents. From these childhood years, he will say that he drew inspiration from songs such as "À bicyclette", "Des ronds dans l'eau" and "Crépuscule". Little inclined to study and more attracted by the side roads, the eternal walker that is Pierre Barouh began a career as a sports journalist and practiced volleyball assiduously.
In 1959, he left for Lisbon to meet his girlfriend of the moment for a missed appointment. Pierre discovered a world that will change the course of his life... life in the Bairro Alto, the meeting of the Brazilian musician Sivuca who initiate him to bossa nova made him decide to go to Brazil to meet the artists who make him vibrate, Vinicius de Moraes for the words, Antonio Carlos Jobim for the harmonies, João Gilberto for the syncopated rhythms. He found a cargo ship that took him to Rio... There, he did not meet the greats of the bossa nova, but exchanges that he had already sew the seed of the passer he has become.
He was not only passionate about music but also about the beauty of words, and so he adapted Brazilian songs with his own poetry, without betraying them. One of them is "A noite do meu bem" (Dolores Duran) which he adapted into "The night of my love". On his return to Paris, he looked for a way to make these artists known. He told a friend at a dinner in a restaurant and sung him the song of Dolores Duran. A lady approached him, she was Brazilian, was surprised that he knew this song and invited him to a party she was giving at her home that same evening. Pierre went there, in the apartment were Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell. This is probably where his later journey was guided by what Vinicius himself taught: life is the art of meeting people...
Pierre then fed his daily life with various roles in the cinema. We saw him as the head of the guards giving Johnny Hallyday a line in the film "Where did you come from Johnny?" (1963). He also accepted roles in "Une fille à la dérive" of Paula Del Sol and "Une fille et des fusils" of Claude Lelouch. At the same time, he composed his first hit "Les filles du dimanche" and wrote for many performers such as Dalida, Marie Laforêt or Claude Goaty. Lucien Morisse (Europe 1, Disc'AZ) produced his first singles and launched his first hits composed by his accomplice Francis Lai: "Tes dix huit ans", "Nous", "Le courage d'aimer" and "Chanson pour Teddy". Back in Brazil, he shot a documentary that has become mythical "Saravah" with his friend Baden Powell, we find the artists who formed the basis of what Brazilian Popular Music has become afterwards. This film was released on DVD, was forgotten for a while, and found a second life when it was re-released in Japan and then by Frémeaux & Associés in 2005. This film has since become cult in Brazil.
From the meeting with Baden the magic of the version of the "Samba da benção" was born, which under his pen became "Samba saravah". They recorded it in one evening. Pierre returned to France because he was called by Claude Lelouch to shoot in his film project "Un homme et une femme". He played the recording to the filmmaker who immediately changed the scenario of the film to insert a cult scene where Pierre sings "Samba saravah" to his wife (fictitious in the film, then soon in reality) played by Anouk Aimée. His royalties will also enable him to help Claude Lelouch to complete his budget to finish the film in which he wrote the original songs composed with his friend and accomplice Francis Lai. In 1966, the film was a hit and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. This notoriety gave him a certain visibility as an actor, author and performer of songs, he gave the name "Saravah" to the publishing house he set up, and he created the label of the same name.
With his first earnings, Pierre bought a house in Le Boupère on the banks of the Grand Lay, the river where he spent his childhood in Vendée. Several years later, in the 90's, the mill of La Morvient became a recording studio dedicated to Saravah artists.
Within his label, he wanted to mix musicians and styles, and multiplied musical encounters. He signed promising young artists such as Brigitte Fontaine, Jacques Higelin, Areski Belkacem and David McNeil. The Saravah label, whose slogan is "There are years when you feel like doing nothing", also featured Nana Vasconcelos, Pierre Akendengué, Jean-Roger Caussimon, Jack Treese or the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Steve Lacy and later Allain Leprest, Richard Galliano, Gérard Ansaloni, the singers Bïa and Maurane…
His marriage in 1970 with his second wife Dominique marked the beginning of the Saravah des Abbesses studio and Saravah evenings at the Palace, the Mouffetard Theatre and the Ranelagh Theatre. He recorded with her "La transatlantique" and "La nuit des masques" (which he had also recorded with Elis Regina). From their union is born Benjamin (quoted at the beginning of this biography).
If the activity of label owner slowed down the author of "Vivre pour vivre" (Claude Lelouch, 1967), Pierre Barouh nevertheless returned to music and released a handful of albums that delighted collectors: "Ça Va, Ça Vient" and "Dites 33" (1972), and "Viking Bank" (1976). In 1979, he directed his fourth film "Le Divorcement" with Léa Massari and Michel Piccoli.
In the early 80's Pierre was invited to record in Japan with the best musicians of the new electro-acoustic wave. The two records "Pollen" (including a song dedicated to his friend Jean Cormier) and "Sierras" released in 1983 and 1985 were a great success in Japan and allowed him to discover this country he fell in love with. He opened a Saravah office there. His daughter Maïa, born in 1984, is also an author-composer and pursues an international career. Pierre and Atsuko have two other children: Amie-Sarah and Akira.
In 1991 the album "Noël" was released, and in 1992 the album "Au Kabaret de la dernière chance", which includes the songs from the 3 plays written, edited and performed with the exiled Chilean playwright Oscar Castro, the composer Aneta Vallejo and the Aleph Troupe. The eponymous song is the last song recorded by Yves Montand! After the albums "Itchi Go, Itchi É" (1998) and "Dites 33 - Volume 2" (2001), Pierre Barouh compiled his archives in "Le Grenier de Saravah" (2003) and "Saudade - Un manque habité" (2003), and recorded "Daltonien" (2007). The compilations "Les Années Disc'AZ" (2008) and "60 Ans de Chansons à des Titres Divers (sometimes Dit Vert) sur l'humain et ce qui l'entoure (double CD Saravah)" (2011) covers his repertoire from the beginnings and the follow up with Saravah. The Saravah label remains probably to date the oldest active independent French label.
It is by a wink of fate that the roads of Pierre Barouh and Philippe Quevauviller crossed. Philippe, like many others, knew Pierre through the soundtrack of "Un homme et une femme" and hits such as "À bicyclette" and "Des ronds dans l'eau". It was Emmanuel De Ryckel who pointed out the book "Les rivières souterraines" and the record "60 ans de chansons" to him, at a time when Philippe had just passed a European law on the protection of groundwater and was also exploring the French versions of bossa nova, including those of Pierre Barouh. A wink of the eye that made Philippe write him a letter and they met in Paris in 2011. Pierre then participated six times in the Bossa Flor program. His first concert in 2012 coincided with the creation of the group Bossa Flor as it has developed to date. At his last concert in Brussels, Philippe had done what Pierre himself described as a "hold-up", he had offered him to record him in a friend's studio... from there come his latest recordings of "Corcovado" and "Notre guerre" which appear on the Bossa Flor album "Rencontres en bossa - De Jobim à Barouh", as well as the live version of "La nuit des masques". Unfortunately, Pierre was not able to hear these recordings (mixed in 2017) because he left us in singing mood on December 28, 2016, missing an appointment with Philippe and Didier Sustrac...
Missed appointment? No, because Pierre Barouh's underground rivers are flowing with force. The meeting with Didier Sustrac took place on this grey day of January 2017 in Montmartre where Pierre was accompanied to his piece of land of Paris. Since then, the Bossa Flor programme has brought together artists from the "Saravah sphere", Eric Guilleton, his daughter Margaux Guilleton, Françoise Kucheida, Claire Elzière, Dominique Cravic, Didier Sustrac, on the same stage to sing his songs. This circle includes, of course, Benjamin Barouh who follows its evolution and Étienne Clément, a mutual friend, who is an active promoter of Brazilian music and links with Saravah. The project "Autour de Saravah" constitutes this space of encounters of which he is and will remain the tutelary figure.