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Georges Moustaki – Lioness at Large

Georges Moustaki

Georges MoustakiBiographical Sketch

Georges Moustaki (Alexandria, Egypt, May 3, 1934 – Nice, France, May 23, 2013), was a French singer-songwriter of Italo-Greek origin, best known for the poetic rhythm and simplicity of the romantic songs he composed and often sang. Moustaki wrote songs for Édith Piaf (such as Milord), Dalida, Françoise Hardy, Barbara, Brigitte Fontaine, Herbert Pagani, France Gall, and Cindy Daniel, as well as for himself.

Georges Moustaki was born Giuseppe Mustacchi in Alexandria, Egypt on May 3, 1934. His parents, Sarah and Nessim Mustacchi, were Italo-Greek Sephardic Jews from the island of Corfu, Greece. They moved to Egypt and owned and operated a bookshop in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria where many ethnic communities lived together. At home, everyone spoke Italian, while in the street the children spoke Arabic. The parents placed Georges and his sisters in a French school where they learned to speak French.

In 1951, at the age of 17, after a summer holiday in Paris, Moustaki obtained his father’s permission to move there as an aspiring artist, working as a door-to-door salesman of poetry books, as a journalist, and as a bartender in a piano bar. He began playing the piano and singing in nightclubs, where he met some of the era’s best-known performers. Moustaki said that his taste for music came from hearing various French singers – Édith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Henri Salvador, Georges Ulmer, Yves Montand, Georges Guétary and Luis Mariano. His career took off after the young singer-songwriter Georges Brassens took him under his wing. Brassens introduced him to artists and intellectuals who spent much of their time around Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Out of gratitude, Moustaki adopted the first name of the only musician he called “master”.

Moustaki was introduced to Édith Piaf in 1958 by a friend, guitarist Henri Crolla, whose praise of the young songwriter was so flattering that Piaf, then at the peak of her fame, requested somewhat sarcastically to hear him sing his best works. “I picked up a guitar and I was lamentable. But something must have touched her. She asked me to go and see her perform that same evening at the Olympia music hall and to show her later the songs I had just massacred,” he later recalled. He soon began writing songs for Piaf, the most famous of which, Milord, about a lower-class girl who falls in love with an upper-class British traveller, reached number one in Germany in 1960 and number 24 in the British charts the same year. It has since been performed by numerous artists, including Bobby Darin and Cher. Piaf was captivated by Moustaki’s music, as well as his great charm. Piaf liked how his musical compositions were flavored with jazz and styles that went beyond France’s borders. Moustaki and Piaf became lovers and embarked on what the newspaper Libération described as a year of “devastating, mad love”, with the newspapers following “the ‘scandal’ of the ‘gigolo’ and his lady day after day”.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Moustaki went on to build a reputation as a composer and lyricist for the biggest names in the French music industry, including Yves Montand, Barbara (Monique Serf) and Serge Reggiani, whom he also befriended and for whom he wrote more songs than anyone else. It was during this time, at the peak of his career, that Moustaki wrote some of the songs that would come to remain among his greatest hits, including Ma SolitudeJoseph and Ma Liberté, or similarly La Longue Dame brune, a duet with Barbara. His motto, taken from Antoine Blondin and Tirso de Molina, was “Man is descended from dream” (“l’homme descend du songe”).

Moustaki was an active participant of the events of May 1968. It was during this time, too, that he wrote and first performed Le Métèque, a ballad in which he described himself as a “wandering Jew” and a “Greek shepherd,” romanticizing the man of mixed origin as an eternal foreigner, ethereal dreamer, forever unattached and free; thus turning the tables on the common understanding of the word métèque’ as a pejorative term for a shifty-looking immigrant of Mediterranean origin. Serge Reggiani rejected the song and the record companies refused to produce it. Moustaki then sang it himself, on a 45rpm disc, and it became a hit. “A small, subliminal settling of scores became the hymn of anti-racism and the right to be different, the cry of revolt of all minorities,” Moustaki said of the first song not only written but also performed by Moustaki alone, which was a great international success and marked a new beginning for his artistic career. In January 1970 he had his first big concert appearance at the famed Montparnasse music hall theatre Bobino, where most of the biggest names of 20th century French music had (and have since) performed. On that occasion and thereafter, Moustaki revealed himself as an artist seeking a warm, close relationship with his audience. The title song of his 1973 album Déclaration reflected his core philosophy: “I declare a permanent state of happiness and the right of everyone to every privilege. I say that suffering is a sacrilege when there are roses and white bread for everyone.” The album was rooted in Brazilian popular music, including, inter alia, the song Les eaux de Mars, a translation of Aguas de março (lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes; music by Antonio Carlos Jobim). It also embraced certain Trotskyist notions, such as in the “permanent revolution” (one of the mainstays of Trotsky’s revolutionary theories) in the chanson Sans la nommer (“Without Naming Her”).

Moustaki became a French citizen in 1985. He continued traveling the world showcasing his music, seeking and finding new inspiration, and singing songs in French, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, English and Arabic. In 2008, after a 50-year career during which he performed on every continent, Moustaki recorded his last album. On January 8, 2009, in a packed concert hall in Barcelona, he told the stunned audience that he was giving his last public performance as he would no longer be capable of singing because of an irreversible bronchial illness. In a press statement of October 14, 2011, he permanently retired from the stage. In his last interview given to the Nice-Matin newspaper in February 2013, Moustaki said, “I regret not being able to sing in my bathroom. But singing in public, no. I’ve done it all … I’ve witnessed magical moments.” Moustaki died on May 23, 2013 in Nice, after a long battle with pulmonary emphesema. His funeral was held on May 27, 2013. It was attended by the French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti and numerous personalities from the entertainment world. Moustaki was buried according to Jewish rites in a family vault at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris a few meters from the grave of his former amour Édith Piaf.

The French president, François Hollande, called Moustaki a “hugely talented artist whose popular and committed songs have marked generations of French people.” French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti hailed Moustaki as an “artist with convictions who conveyed humanist values … and a great poet”. Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë remembered him as “a citizen of the world who was in love with liberty, a true rebel until his last days,” who had given France “unforgettable compositions and lyrics.” Juliette Gréco, one of France’s biggest singers in the 1960s, grieved the loss of a “poet” and “unique person”. “He was a fine, elegant man who was infinitely kind and talented,” she told RTL radio.

Read more about Georges Moustaki on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

Légion d’Honneur (France)
  • 2004: Chevalier de la Légion
Prix National de la Chanson (France)
  • 1992
SACEM: Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Musique (France)
  • 2004: Grand Prix de la Chanson Française



  • Georges Moustaki (1960)
  • Les orteils au soleil (1961)
  • Le Métèque (1969)
  • Bobino 70 – Le temps de vivre (1970)
  • Il y avait un jardin (1971)
  • Danse (1972)
  • Déclaration (1973)
  • Moustaki en Concert (1973)
  • Les amis de Georges (1974)
  • À la Bonne vôtre … mes plus grands succès (1975)
  • Humblement il est venu (1975)
  • Moustaki Live (1975)
  • Prélude (1976)
  • Espérance (Nos enfants) (1977)
  • Olympia (1978)
  • Si je pouvais t’aider (1979)
  • Et pourtant dans le monde (1979)
  • Liederbuch (1980)
  • C’est là (1981)
  • Moustaki & Flairck (1982)
  • Pornographie (1984)
  • Joujou (1986)
  • Master Série (1987)
  • Live au Déjazet (1988)
  • Ballades en Ballade (1989)
  • Méditerranéen (1992)
  • Ma liberté (1993)
  • Lo Straniero (1993)
  • Tout reste à dire (1996)
  • Les enfants du Pirée (1997)
  • De Shanghai à Bangkok (1997)
  • Dans mon hamac (1997)
  • Un métèque en liberté (2000)
  • Olympia 2000 (2001)
  • Presqu’en solo – Live à la Philharmonie de Berlin (2002)
  • Tout Moustaki – ou presque … (2002)
  • Odéon (2003)
  • Vagabond (2005)
  • Gold (2006)
  • Les 50 plus belles chansons de Georges Moustaki (2007)
  • Solitaire (2008)
  • 4 albums originaux (2012)
    – Box-set of 4 CDs: Le Métèque, Il y avait un jardin, Danse and Les amis de Georges.
  • La belle histoire de l’enfant qui possède tout (1979)
    – After the 10th chant of Bhâgavata Purâna, with, among others, the band Garana, Patrick Bernard, Christian Chevalier, Rosy Varte et Henri Virlogeux (Kaṁsa).
Soundtrack Contributions
  • Jusqu’au bout du monde (1962)
    – One instrumental and one song performed by Tino Rossi.
  • Le Roi du village (1963)
    – One instrumental and Venez les filles, sung by the Chats Sauvages.
  • Cécilia, médecin de campagne (1966)
    – Two instrumentals.
  • Les Hors-la-loi (1968)
  • Le Temps de vivre (1969)
    – Le Temps de vivre, sung by Henia Ziv, and one instrumental.
  • L’Américain (1969)
    – Two instrumentals.
  • La Fiancée du pirate (1969)
    – Moi je me balance, sung by Barbara.
  • Solo (1970)
    – Two instrumentals.
  • Le Pistonné (1970)
    – Three instrumentals.
  • Mendiants et Orgueilleux (1972)
    – Moustaki sings the two songs he composed, Mendiants et orgueilleux and La blessure.
  • Le Trèfle à cinq feuilles (1972)
    – Composer, with Hubert Rostaing.
  • Au bout du bout du banc (1979)
    – Two instrumentals.




From the Lyrics

Le Métèque

“Avec ma gueule de métèque,
De juif errant, de pâtre grec
Et mes cheveux aux quatre vents
Avec mes yeux tout délavés,
Qui me donnent l’air de rêver
Moi qui ne rêve plus souvent.
Avec mes mains de maraudeur,
De musicien et de rôdeur
Qui ont pillé tant de jardins
Avec ma bouche qui a bu, qui a embrassé et mordu
Sans jamais assouvir sa faim
Avec ma gueule de métèque,
De juif errant, de pâtre grec
De voleur et de vagabond
Avec ma peau qui s’est frottée
Au soleil de tous les étés
Et tout ce qui portait jupon
Avec mon coeur qui a su faire
Souffrir autant qu’il a souffert
Sans pour cela faire d’histoire
Avec mon âme qui n’a plus
La moindre chance de salut
Pour éviter le purgatoire.

Avec ma gueule de métèque,
De juif errant, de pâtre grec
Et mes cheveux aux quatre vents
Je viendrai ma douce captive,
Mon âme soeur, ma source vive
Je viendrai boire tes vingt ans
Et je serai prince de sang,
Rêveur, ou bien adolescent
Comme il te plaira de choisir
Et nous ferons de chaque jour,
Toute une éternité d’amour
Que nous vivrons à en mourir.
Et nous ferons de chaque jour,
Toute une éternité d’amour
Que nous vivrons à en mourir.”


“Voilà c’que c’est, mon vieux Joseph
Que d’avoir pris la plus jolie
Parmi les filles de Galilée
Celle qu’on appelait Marie

Tu aurais pu, mon vieux Joseph
Prendre Sarah ou Déborah
Et rien ne serait arrivé
Mais tu as préféré Marie

Tu aurais pu, mon vieux Joseph
Rester chez toi, tailler ton bois
Plutôt que d’aller t’exiler
Et te cacher avec Marie

Tu aurais pu, mon vieux Joseph
Faire des petits avec Marie
Et leur apprendre ton métier
Comme ton père te l’avait appris

Pourquoi a-t-il fallu, Joseph
Que ton enfant, cet innocent
Ait eu ces étranges idées
Qui ont tant fait pleurer Marie

Parfois je pense à toi, Joseph
Mon pauvre ami, lorsque l’on rit
De toi qui n’avais demandé
Qu’à vivre heureux avec Marie”

Ma Solitude

“Pour avoir si souvent dormi
Avec ma solitude
Je m’en suis fait presqu’une amie
Une douce habitude
Ell’ ne me quitte pas d’un pas
Fidèle comme une ombre
Elle m’a suivi çà et là
Aux quatre coins du monde
Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

Quand elle est au creux de mon lit
Elle prend toute la place
Et nous passons de longues nuits
Tous les deux face à face
Je ne sais pas vraiment jusqu’où
Ira cette complice
Faudra-t-il que j’y prenne goût
Ou que je réagisse?
Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

Par elle, j’ai autant appris
Que j’ai versé de larmes
Si parfois je la répudie
Jamais elle ne désarme
Et si je préfère l’amour
D’une autre courtisane
Elle sera à mon dernier jour
Ma dernière compagne
Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude”

En Méditerranée

“Dans ce bassin où jouent
Des enfants aux yeux noirs,
Il y a trois continents
Et des siècles d’histoire,
Des prophètes des dieux,
Le Messie en personne.
Il y a un bel été
Qui ne craint pas l’automne,
En Méditerranée.

Il y a l’odeur du sang
Qui flotte sur ses rives
Et des pays meurtris
Comme autant de plaies vives,
Des îles barbelées,
Des murs qui emprisonnent.
Il y a un bel été
Qui ne craint pas l’automne,
En Méditerranée.

Il y a des oliviers
Qui meurent sous les bombes
Là où est apparue
La première colombe,
Des peuples oubliés
Que la guerre moissonne.
Il y a un bel été
Qui ne craint pas l’automne,
En Méditerranée.

Dans ce bassin, je jouais
Lorsque j’étais enfant.
J’avais les pieds dans l’eau.
Je respirais le vent.
Mes compagnons de jeux
Sont devenus des hommes,
Les frères de ceux-là
Que le monde abandonne,
En Méditerranée.

Le ciel est endeuillé,
Par-dessus l’Acropole
Et liberté ne se dit plus
En espagnol.
On peut toujours rêver,
D’Athènes et Barcelone.
Il reste un bel été
Qui ne craint pas l’automne,
En Méditerranée.”

Ma Liberté

“Ma liberté
Longtemps je t’ai gardée
Comme une perle rare
Ma liberté
c’est toi qui m’as aidé
A larguer les amarres
Pour aller n’importe où
Pour aller jusqu’au bout
Des chemins de fortune
Pour cueillir en rêvant
Une rose des vents
Sur un rayon de lune

Ma liberté
Devant tes volontés
Mon âme était soumise
Ma liberté
je t’avais tout donné
Ma dernière chemise
Et combien j’ai souffert
Pour pouvoir satisfaire
Tes moindres exigences
J’ai changé de pays
J’ai perdu mes amis
Pour gagner ta confiance

Ma liberté
Tu as su désarmer
Toutes mes habitudes
Ma liberté
toi qui m’as fait aimer
Même la solitude
Toi qui m’as fait sourire
Quand je voyais finir
Une belle aventure
Toi qui m’as protégé
Quand j’allais me cacher
Pour soigner mes blessures

Ma liberté
Pourtant je t’ai quittée
Une nuit de décembre
J’ai déserté les chemins écartés
Que nous suivions ensemble
Lorsque sans me méfier
Les pieds et poings liés
Je me suis laissé faire
Et je t’ai trahie pour
Une prison d’amour
Et sa belle geôlière
Et je t’ai trahie pour
Une prison d’amour
Et sa belle geôlière”