Be Impossible, Demand Reality

Tuesday 1 July 2003, by Daphnée DION-VIENS

Photo: Lazuli Photographie

Argentine by birth and Quebecois at heart, Thomas Jensen weaves words and rhythms like only he can. With a social conscience and a critical spirit, he casts a lucid, cynical view on the world that surrounds him. Introducing a committed songwriter.

At the age of nine he was already humming Renaud’s Société tu m’auras pas, "a song that means a lot to me," the songer-songwriter says. "I’m a conscious person, first of all, and I chose music and lyrics as my mode of expression. What I really try to do is provoke reflection."

His political sensibility is the result of an extraordinary life that has taken him all over the globe. Born in Argentina, Jensen fled the country with his family in 1976 when General Videla seized power in a military coup. He passed through Brazil, Chile, and France before arriving in Quebec in 1998.

On his last album, Pied-de-nez (Thumb of the Nose), jazz and Latin influences mingle with folk and gypsy rhythms. It is a varied group of songs that exude worldliness and provoke social reflection.


Though he likes to denounce, Tomas Jensen much prefers to provoke. The refrain of the song Mundo, "moins on en sait, mieux c’est" (the less we know, the better) is just one example. "I like to say the opposite of what I think. It’s a way of making people think and making them question the things that don’t add up."
"It’s not about complaining about society’s ills, but about laughing intelligently," according to Pierre-Emmanuel Poizat, a clarinetist in the merry band of musicians accompanying Jensen. "It’s a bit like throwing a pie in someone’s face."

Even though they don’t embrace any particular cause, the two musicians are preoccupied with the fate of the planet. "I don’t agree with the way the world is run," explains Jensen. "I stand behind any movement that can change things and oppose the current system."

As an example, he offers the IMF’s and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Policies. "For me, there’s no question: these policies are designed to sell the whole world to the United States. The interests of multinational corporations, mostly American, are protected by the IMF, something that has extreme social, environmental and economic consequences."

The crisis in Jensen’s native Argentina is one such national calamity, which he experienced "in 3-D" as part of his family still lives there.

Demand the truth!

The manipulation of language is at once decried and applied in Jensen’s last album. "Using a certain kind of language or a particular expression is a way of making something accessible to everyone," Poizat affirms. "For example, by using the term ’anti-globalization activists’ we put everyone in the same group and often present a false reality. Words can be played with because they sometimes suggest a certain way of thinking."

In defiance of and homage to this phenomenon, Jensen takes a sinister pleasure in wordplay. This is how he transforms Che Guevara’s famous line, "Be realistic, demand the impossible" into "Be impossible, demand reality," a reversal that better suits our times. "It’s a bitter, pessimistic interpretation of a phrase that once carried hope. This slogan shows the disillusion of a generation," Poizat explains.

"Thanks to disinformation and the manipulation of language," adds Jensen, "we now have to demand the truth. That’s the true challenge of the day."


Translation : Andrew Elkin

À propos de Daphnée DION-VIENS

Assistante à la rédaction, Journal Alternatives

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