“Ave Cesaria” for English Speakers: With Full Translation

Amy October 10, 2014 8 13,110 views
“Ave Cesaria” for English Speakers: With Full Translation

Who decided that when you dance you don’t have to think? If you want to dance to it, dance, if you want to think about it, think. Or you can think and dance at the same time.

–Stromae in an interview with Vulture, September 24, 2014

Stromae’s on a short hiatus before getting back to his European tour next week. Let’s take this opportunity to show a little love to “Ave Cesaria,” the fifth single from Racine Carrée, starting with a full English translation of the lyrics.

Ave Cesaria

Evora, Evora

Les effluves de rhum dans ta voix,
me font tourner la tête.
Tu me fais danser du bout des doigts,
comme tes cigarettes
Immobile comme à ton habitude mais
es-tu devenue muette
Ou est-ce à cause des kilomètres
que tu ne me réponds plus
Evora Evora
Tu ne m’aimes plus ou quoi ?
Evora Evora
Après tant d’années
Evora Evora
Une de perdue c’est ça ?
Evora Evora
Je te retrouverai c’est sûr
de la première fois
où nos regards s’étaient croisés
Même que ton oeil disait merde à l’autre
mais surtout à moi
mais pourquoi moi
alors que les autres
te trouvaient bien trop laide
Peut-être que moi, je suis trop bête
mais je sais t’écouter
Evora Evora
Tu ne m’aimes plus ou quoi ?
Evora Evora
Après tant d’années
Evora Evora
Une de perdue c’est ça ?
Evora Evora
Je te retrouverai c’est sûr
Ave Cesaria
Chapeau pour la route à pied nue es et nue étais

Diva aux pieds nus restera
Et à vie Cesaria
et à la mort aussi
Tu embrigada
Des millions de soldats dans ta patrie donc
garde à vous
Tu nous as tous quand-même bien eu hein
Tout le monde te croyais disparue
Mais tu es revenue
Sacré Cesaria
Quelle belle leçon d’humilité
malgré toutes ces bouteilles de rhum
Tous les chemins mènent à la dignité.
Evora Evora
Tu ne m’aimes plus ou quoi ?
Evora Evora
Après tant d’années
Evora Evora
Une de perdue c’est ça ?
Evora Evora
Je te retrouverai c’est sûr
Oh sodade
Sodade di nha Cesaria[jcol/]

Evora, Evora

The waves of rum in your voice
make my head spin
You make me dance at your fingertips,
just like your cigarettes
Motionless, as usual, but
have you gone mute?
Or is it because of the miles
that you don’t answer me anymore…
Evora, Evora
Don’t you love me anymore, or what?
Evora, Evora
After so many years
Evora, Evora
One of the lost, is that it?
Evora, Evora
I’ll get you back, that’s for sure…
Do you remember
the first time
where our eyes met
As your eye was talking shit to the other
but especially to me
but why me
while the others
thought you were way too ugly
Maybe I’m too stupid
but I know how to listen to you
Evora, Evora
Don’t you love me anymore, or what?
Evora, Evora
after so many years
Evora, Evora
one of the lost, is that it?
Evora, Evora
I’ll get you back, that’s for sure…
Hail Cesaria!
Hats off to your barefoot route bare is and bare was

Barefoot Diva will remain
And to life, Cesaria
and to death too
Thank you
you enlisted
millions of soldiers in your country so
take care of yourself
You really had us all fooled, huh
Everyone thought you’d disappeared
But you came back
Holy Cesaria
What a beautiful lesson in humility
despite all those bottles of rum
All paths lead to dignity.
Evora, Evora
Don’t you love me anymore, or what?
Evora, Evora
After so many years
Evora, Evora
One of the lost, is that it?
Evora, Evora
I’ll get you back, that’s for sure
Oh, longing
Longing for my Cesaria[/jcolumns]

There’s a word for it in the Cape Verdean Creole Cesaria Evora spoke: “sodade.” It’s that loss, longing, sorrow, nostalgia dripping from her voice. Introduced to Evora’s music in childhood, Paul Van Haver eventually called himself a “big fan” and counts her as his greatest musical influence. In 2011, just months before her death, he saw her perform at the Sakifo festival on the island of Réunion. He found himself nearly in tears. He had the chance to meet her at the festival, and would have liked to have proposed a collaboration, but her obviously weak physical condition put him ill at ease, and he didn’t have the courage to approach her. He wrote “Ave Cesaria” as a tribute, a “declaration of musical love,” after her death in December 2011 at the age of 70.

ave cesaria english

Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora’s first international success came when she was 47 years old. Some thought she was too ugly to be a performer, but her compelling voice outweighed her appearance and she eventually became one of Africa’s most internationally successful artists. In an achievement Stromae hopes to emulate, she is one of the few singers in a foreign language who has reached a significant US audience.

Le Monde said she had “a voice to melt the soul,” while a New York Times concert review called her “a Yoda of melancholy.” She suffered from strabismus, a condition in which the eyes turn in different directions. She performed barefoot in solidarity with poor women, always standing motionless at her microphone, until taking a seat at a little table onstage mid-concert for a cigarette break and a drink while her band played on. She had a fondness for alcohol (she eventually kicked that habit) and cigarettes (she was still smoking until hours before her death) that eventually took a toll on her health. But her stoic dignity never left her, and she remained blasé about her fame. At a press conference at the Sakifo festival in June 2011, she said through a translator that she had accepted her nickname, the “Barefoot Diva,” commenting “barefoot, that I’m sure of, but diva…maybe.”

According to l’Avenir.net, some of Evora’s musicians recorded the studio version of “Ave Cesaria” with Stromae. He recalled, “It was a super experience. I was really impressed. One of the musicians talked to me about Cesaria. How, for example, at first they didn’t want to sign her because she was too ugly. It was very touching.”

Listen to Cesaria Evora

Notes on the lyrics

Me font tourner la tête/Makes my head spin: The song is written in the style of a letter to a lost love. This phrase implies a sexual/romantic infatuation, similar to “you turn me on.”

Tu me fais danser du bout des doigts/You make me dance at your fingertips: The French could also be translated as “you make my fingertips dance,” as in drumming fingers on a table.

Une de perdue c’est ça ?/One of the lost, is that it?: A reference to the French proverb “Une de perdue, dix de retrouvées” “One lost, ten found.” The same idea as the English proverb “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

Où nos regards s’étaient croisés/Where our eyes met: The French could also be translated as “where our eyes crossed,” a reference to Evora’s strabismus.

Ave Cesaria: “Ave, Caesar” is Latin for “Hail, Emperor (Caesar).” The song switches to a military theme here: Evora is seen as the leader of a band of faithful followers.

Et à vie Cesaria: The composer is playing with the similarities in sound between “ave” and “à vie.” He does it again a few lines later with “garde à vous, Cesaria.

Obrigado: Portuguese for “Thank you,” this phrase also sounds like the French phrase “aux brigades,” or “to the brigades, into military service.” This idea is reinforced in the next word, “embrigada.”

Des millions de soldats dans ta patrie/Millions of soldiers in your country: “Patrie” sounds like “batterie,” which means “army.” I’d swear that’s what he’s saying when he sings it live!

Tout le monde te croyais disparue, mais tu es revenue/Everyone thought you had disappeared, but you came back: Evora took a 10-year hiatus from her singing career from 1975 to 1985.

Malgré toutes ces bouteilles de rhum tous les chemins mènent à la dignité/Despite all those bottles of rum, all paths lead to dignity: In French, “rhum” (rum) and “Rome” sound alike. Stromae extends the Roman military metaphor and emphasizes Evora’s powerful uniqueness by playing on the well-known phrase “Tous les chemins mènent à Rome,” “All roads lead to Rome.”

Sodade di nha Cesaria/Longing for my Cesaria: This line, written in Cape Verdean Creole, echoes a lyric in Evora’s song “Sodade,” “Sodade dess nha terra,” which according to lyricstranslate.com (not always a reliable source) means “longing for this land of mine.”

stromae trocadero philadelphia ave cesaria

Stromae performing “Ave Cesaria” at the Trocadero in Philadelphia, September 17 2014. Photo by Paule-Sylvie Yonke

Performance notes

Stromae said in an interview in French earlier this year that “Ave Cesaria” is his favorite song to sing. He calls Evora “the face of dignity.” “Without wanting to hide life’s problems, she lived with them, she sang with them…that  makes me want to cry.” He readily admits to being moved to tears while performing the song.

In his live act, Stromae honors Cesaria Evora by sitting down at a little table onstage for a drink as she did. Sometimes, he even slips off his shoes and socks. He offers a rum toast to his audience and then pours part of the rum out on stage as a libation to Evora. In a representation of Evora’s physical limitations towards the end of her life that somehow still manages to honor her dignity, he hobbles around bent-backed towards the end of the song.

ave cesaria english

“Ave Cesaria” live at the Gothic Theatre in Denver, September 27 2014. Photo by Nelson Van Vranken

Please leave a comment if you have a question, something to add, or a different interpretation.

Lyrics verified on Stromae.net. If you’re interested in Stromae’s lyrics and can read French, try http://forum.stromae-forumofficiel.fr/f15-paroles for some great discussions.

Behind the scenes for the official video for “Ave Cesaria”


  1. v October 24, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this well informed article. I found out about Stromae when my French professor played Formidable in class. I have fallen in love with his music since. Ave Cesaria is one of my favorite songs in Racine Carée! At this stage, my French is still very poor and I have to refer to reading translations (although I do like taking up the challenge and trying to translate some phrases myself) in order to get a better grasp of the lyrics. The notes on lyrics were especially helpful in filling some of the gaps lost by translation.

    Although Jacques Brel was my reason for taking up French, Stromae has been my inspiration to continue learning! I am glad to see a website that is put together so well for us non-French speakers. Thank you and keep up the great work! Stromae is one of my biggest obsessions and I think I just found myself a new favorite website!

    • Amy October 24, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      V, I’m so glad to hear you’re finding the site valuable! Stromae’s work is absolutely fascinating to me and I’m really happy to have the chance to try to make it more accessible for other English-speakers.

      My French has gotten a lot stronger since I discovered Stromae, and I’m sure yours will too! :)

  2. v October 26, 2014 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I sure do hope my French improves, haha.

    Also, I just read your article about Stromae’s return to the US in 2015! All the more reason to amp up my studies! Again, thank you so much for being part of such a great, up-to-date website. The love that you have for your work is evident in the care you take to writing these articles :)

  3. avadapalabra February 11, 2015 at 3:29 am - Reply

    Hi Amy,

    I “discovered” Stromae a couple of months ago. I’d heard “Alors on danse” and loved it, but I just never got round to paying attention to the lyrics. Not that I know anything beyond very basic French (I’m fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese, but similarities are certainly not enough to understand songs, let alone such poetry as Stromae regales us with!).

    I got myself a copy of Racine Carrée and I’ve been listening to it, trying to make out the meaning to the lyrics -which are overwhelmingly rich.
    Such an accomplished young genius!

    About this particular song, Ave Cesaria, I had not even searched for the lyrics; and now, as I came across them and your translation, I could feel the depth of the homage Stromae paid to her even before reading you [amazingly informed and helpful] footnotes. Of course, ave Cesaria instantly became yet another of the songs in this album which will bring tears to my eyes every time I listen to it, along with Papaoutai and Formidable.

    I am a teacher of languages by profession and a writer “by calling”, and you can imagine I get deeply moved by words (be it poems, song lyrics, prose or whatever touches me). This guy is simply larger than life. He has and will touch many, many souls. Brave, unabashed and brilliant.

    Thank you so very much for the effort put into this translation and comments! I’ll certainly share it with anyone who will take the trouble to open their soul to this wonderful song.

    BTW, you are more than welcome to come have a peep at my “works” blog, where I post some of what I write (you will surely be able to follow the sections/pieces in English). It is:

    I’ll cut the rant for now. Thanks a lot once again and keep shining. It takes a kind, respectful soul to do what you’ve done.


    • Amy February 12, 2015 at 3:16 am - Reply

      Thanks for the kind comment, avadapalabra. The pleasure’s all mine! It’s nice to hear from a fellow lover of words. Stromae’s music transcends language, but his lyrics are, as you said, so overwhelmingly rich that I feel I have no choice but to respond by trying to bring them into the light for my fellow anglophones.

      Thanks too for the link to your writing. I enjoyed your poem “Tales (Cracking)” very much.

  4. Brenda May 17, 2015 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Oui! i also heard of him because of my French teacher when she put “papaoutai” and I just had to look him up because it made me want to dance and after listening to it and reading the lyrics to know the meaning of his songs I can say I love this guy and his work and I hope to see him live even though I’m barely learning French and I can only understand a bit I’m going to keep learning for his music :)

    • Amy May 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      What a great story, Brenda! Sounds like you have a pretty cool French teacher. :) I hope you get to see Stromae live soon!

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