ICDBL.org© Guide to the Music of Brittany

Traditional Song in Brittany

Song is at the heart of Breton music. In contrast to instrumental traditions, women have an equally important role in song. Traditional song in Brittany is unaccompanied and unison in nature. The vast majority of ballad singing is performed solo. In both the French-language tradition of eastern Brittany and the Breton language songs of western Brittany, response style singing is very common, especially in songs for dance. In contrast to other areas of western Europe (including Brittany's Celtic neighbors) singing for dancing is very common and well appreciated. Like instrumental traditions, song repertoires and the use of song varies from one region of Brittany to another--song for a particular dance will be found in the region where that dance is traditionally found.

There are several words one finds associated with Breton song that merit a brief definition.

Kan ha diskan is a particular type of responsive singing for dance found in the Breton-speaking areas of central western Brittany. Most commonly, it is sung by two people, a Kaner ("singer" in Breton) and Diskaner ("counter-singer"). The prefix "dis" is difficult to define, but in this case it has the sense of opposition as in rolling/unrolling, winding/unwinding. The kaner begins and the diskaner repeats each phrase. The unique aspect of this style of responsive singing is the fact that the singers take up their singing on the last few syllables of each other's phrases.

Gwerz is a Breton language term that has no good English translation, although in French it is roughly translated as "Complainte". It refers to a repertoire of ballads in the Breton language in which historical, legendary, or dramatic events are recounted. Son is the Breton term for all Breton language songs other than the Gwerz. Included in this category are love songs, drinking songs, counting songs, and other "lighter" songs for dancing.


See also the sections on DASTUM and 19th Century Text Collections

Note that there are few comprehensive books on Breton song, and most information will be found scattered in magazine articles and on CD notes. But the following are worth consulting.

"Tradition chantée de Haute Bretagne, 1850-1998: Les Moissonneurs de mémoire" Robert Bouthillier - Ar Men 97 (September 1998) - pages 8-17 - Great article on singers of Gallo Brittany and work to collect song.

Oust et Vilaine - Pays de Traditions Groupement Culturel Breton des Pays de Vilaine, Groupement Culturel Breton des Pays de Vilaine - November 2000 - See sections on "La danse", "La musique instrumentale", and "Le chant" (pp. 225-266). Includes an excellent CD of 21 songs and tunes annotated in 12 pages in the books "annexes".

Carnets de route de Yann-Fañch Kemener - Kanaouennoù Kalon Vreizh, Chants Profonds de Bretagne - Yann-Fañch Kemener - (Morlaix: Skol Vreizh) - 1996 - 357 pages - accompanied by 2-CD set - Kanaouennoù Kalon Vreizh /Carnets de route - Coop Breizh CD 002-003 - 1996 - 166 song texts collected by singer Yann-Fañch Kemener with basic transcript of music and texts in Breton and French translation. 50 introductory pages present the songs and their performers.

"La Gwerz de Louis le Ravellec--Enquête sur un crime de 1732" Donatien Laurent - Ar Men 7 - (February 1987) - pages 16-35 - Detailed study of a song text and its use to clarify events of a murder which took place in the 18th century; fascinating account of research.

"Histoire de la chanson populaire bretonne" Patrick Malrieu - (Dastum and Skol) - 1983 - 95 pages.
Summary of the history of Breton song texts and their collection; well documented with text reproductions and photos.

"La gwerz ... vue par de jeunes chanteurs" - Musique bretonne 98 (December 1989 - January 1990) - pages 3-7; 99 (February 1990) - pages 8-11 -A series of interviews with young traditional singers about their feelings about singing and ideas about the ballad style gwerz

Musique bretonne (Dastum, 16 rue de la Santé, 35000 Rennes). Dastum is an archive of music recordings, transcriptions, song texts, photography, popular media (newspaper clippings) and other documentation of Brittany's oral traditions. It's monthly magazine features research articles as well as short notes on cultural events, book and record reviews. The best single source of information on Breton music. See the section of this guide specifically devoted to Dastum for more information.


See also DASTUM for excellent recordings with strong documentation. Note that a number of singers listed below can also be found on in the section called " New Arrangements of Breton Music " since they often collaborate with other artists in arranging traditional music in new ways.

Songs in the Breton Language

A Bouez Penn
A veg de veg: paysage sonore en pays vannetais - A-bouez penn - AFB - 2004 - 3-CD set - This excellently documented set includes songs, stories and instruments from the region of Vannes.

Ifig Castel
Amzer vat Kreizen Sevenadurel Lannuaon/Centre Culturel de Lannion - 2004 - Traditional singer and bombarde player and friends featuring Tregor repertoire.

Annie Ebrel
Tre ho ti ha ma hini Gwerz Pladenn GWP 012 - 1996

Annie Ebrel, Marie-Aline Lagadic, Lydie Le Gall, Klervi Rivière
Femmes de Bretagne Keltia Musique KM 74 - 1997

Marie Laurence Fustec & Brigitte Le Corre
Gavottes à Scrignac. Gwechall BOZ 001 - 1999

Eugenie Goadec and Louise Ebrel
Gwrizioù--Chants à danser et mélodies de Bretagne. Arfolk CD 429 - 1994

Ar C'hoarezed Goadeg (Goadec Sisters)
Ar C'hoarezed Goadeg Keltia III/Keltia Musique KMCD 11 - 1990

Marcel Le Guillou
Un devezh 'ba kerc'h morvan Coop Breizh CD 952 - 2004 - Includes also Erik Marchand, Annie Ebrel and Yann-Fañch Kemener.

Mathieu Hamon, Nolüen Le Buhé, Patrick Marie, Marthe Vassallo
Gwerzioù et Chants à Haute Voix France 3 Ouest/Keltia Musique - RSCD 211 - 1993 - 56'

Lors Jouin
Moualc'h ar meneiou. Silex Y225044 - 1994

Kanerien Pleuigner
Chants traditionnels bretons Arfolk CD 424 - 1993 - Ballads and songs for dances from the vannetais area performed by group of 12 men.

Yann-Fañch Kemener, (Jean-François Quemener)
Gwerzioù ha sonioù Adipho ADP084 - 1989
Roue Gralon ni ho salud/Chants profanes et sacrés de Bretagne Keltia Musique KMCD 42 - 1993 - Kemener pairs up with singer and harpist Anne Auffret on this recording.
Kan ha diskan Arfolk CD 445 - 1997 - With Annie Ebrel, Erik Marchand, Patrick Marie, Valentine Colleter, Claudine Floc'hig, Marcel Guilloux, Ifig Troadeg.

Manuel Kerjean, Bastien Guern, Alain Le Clere, Jean-Claude Talec
Chants à répondre en Centre Bretagne - Fest noz e Bro Rostren Arfolk CD 428 - 1994 - 54'53 CD

Nolùen Le Buhé
Komz a Raer Din - Sonennoù Bro Gwened/Songs from the Vannes Region - Coop Breizh CD 891 - 1999 - 49'41

Jean Le Meut
Pe Yuvankiz kuhet/Inner Youth: Tradition chantée de Bretagne - Le Pays Vannetais/Traditional songs from Brittany/The Vannes region Keltia Musique KMCD 44 - 1994 - 63'27

Les Frères Morvan/Ar Vreudeur Morvan
Fest-noz Botcôl Coop Breizh CD 893 - 1999 - 74'

Denez Prigent
Ar gouriz koar/La ceinture de cire Silex Y225022 - 1993

Loeiz Ropars ha kanerien-danserien Poullaouen
Kan ha diskan Al Leur Nevez/Keltia Musique KMCD 28 - 1992 - Reissue of early lp of classic performances of kan ha diskan for dancing.

Loeiz Ropars & Kanerien Pleuigner
Kan ba'n dañs Keltia Musique KMCD 131 - 2002 - Earlier recordings of great kan ha diskan style singers as well as new performers by men's group Kanerien Pleuigner, all featuring songs for dance.

Ifig Troadeg
E skeud tosen vre/Chants traditionnels bretons en Trégor Arfolk CD 425 - 1993
62-minute compact disc - 24-page booklet with Breton texts and French translation; English texts available upon request.

Ataù biù: sonneu a Vreizh-Izel EOG Production - EOG 106 - 1999 - Vannetais repertoire

Various performers
M&ecaute;lodies chantées en Trégor: Bro Dreger II Kreizenn Sevenadurel Lannuon/Nevez Amzer Tregastel - BD 002 - 1997
Kanaouennou an aod: Bro Dreger IV Kreizenn Sevenadurel Lannuon - BD 004 - 1992 - Cassette with 65-page booklet of song texts.
Kan 1: Kan ar Bobl Duault Radio Kreiz Breizh/Dastum Loudéac - 1987
Kan 2: Kan ar Bobl Duod Radio Kreiz Breizh - 1988
Kan 3: Kan ar Bobl Duod 1992 Radio Kreiz Breizh - 1993
Fest noz en Poher: "kan ha diskan" Dastum Kreiz Breizh - 998 - Various performers, mostly traditional styles, at annual contest/festival for song.
Chants de la Mémoire Morbihannaise - sonennoù hengounel a Vro Gwened. Par Les Chemins de Rencontre CR 98-02 - 1998
Unan, daou tri. Pagan tradition chantée Tud ar Vro Association - 2005 - double CD with 65-page booklet.

Songs in the French language

Gilbert Bourdin, Erik Marchand & Christian Dautel
Chants a danser de Haute Bretagne Dastum (cassette)
Chants a repondre de Haute-Bretagne Le Chasse Maree - SCM 011 - 1988 (lp)
A capella traditional songs for dancing and form marches from the Gallo portion of Morbihan.

Roland Brou
Trois garçons du Lion d'Or Keltia Musique RSCD 220 - 1996

Roland Brou & Patrick Couton
Complaintes et chansons Self-produced - 2005 - (patcouton@free.fr)

Trois p'tits oiseaux - Chants de Haute Bretagne Coop Breizh CD 890 - 1999 - 58'30
Gar¸ons sans souci Coop Breizh CD 940 - 2002

Chantous d'Loudia
D'hier à aujourd'hui Self-produced - CDL 01 - Songs for dances of the Loud´ac region.

L'Epille(some of series focused on specific regions)
Chansons traditionnelles a Plédran et St. Carreu EPL 005 - 2000
Chansons traditionnelles du Pays d'Allaire EPL 006 - 2002
Aux sources du patrimoine oral de Haute-Bretagne No. 7 - Chansons traditionnelles recueilles à Rieu-Saint-Jacques-la-Poterie EPL 007 - 2003
Aux sources du patrimoine oral Vol. 2 - C'est à Bovel il y a... (Reedition and addition to EPL 002, 1998) - 2005
La fête du chant à Bovel: chants traditionnelles de Bretagne et d'ailleurs EPL 010 - 2005

Pierre Guillard & Sylvain Girault
Chants de Haute-Bretagne Self-produced - 2006 - Songs for dances as well as ballads.

Les Chanteurs du Pays de Vilaine
Danses en Rond, Danses en Chene TVB Production (Distriubiton Keltia Musique) RSCD 215 - 1995 - 56'

Albert Poulain
Y'a rien de plus charmant Tradition vivante de Bretagne 12 - Dastum DAS 136 - 1999

Jean Rouxel
Chants traditionnels du Pays d'Oust et de Vilaine Groupement Culturel de Pays d'oust et Vilaine - 2004 - Richly documented CD about this singer featuring his repertoire performed by younger singers

Various performers
Tradition chantée de Haute Bretagne - les grandes complaintes Ar Men/La Bouèze/ G.C.B.P.V./Dastum 44 - Ar Men SCM 041 - 1998 - Two CDs averaging 70 minutes each with a 92-page booklet
Chansons d'amour de Haute Bretagne Pixie/Déclic 845 6922 - 1999 - 17 songs by 13 traditional singers including ballads, dances and marches.
Chants du Pays de Questembert / Sonennou Bro Kistreberzh Andon / Alain Pennec CAP 19 - 2002