A French Controversy: Who Will Sing at the Opening of the Paris Olympics

Last month, rumors surfaced that French President Emmanuel Macron had invited Aya Nakamura to sing an Édith Piaf song at the Paris Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony. A firestorm immediately erupted, and it has not died down yet.

Who is Aya Nakamura?

Aya Nakamura

The French-Malian Nakamura is by far the most popular French-language singer performing today. Her songs have been streamed billions of times, she has 25 Top Ten singles in France and has won multiple musical awards.

Nakamura was born Aya Danioko in Mali, to a family of musicians and storytellers. She moved to France as a child and took the stage name Nakamura after a character in a science fiction drama. Her music has been described as “R&B with an Afro flavor” and her song Djadja was a hit all over Europe. The New York Times has called her, “one of the most important acts in Europe, both musically and socially,” and Lancôme, part of French luxury house L’Oréal, recently named her its new World Ambassador.

Aya Nakamura - Lancome

Why is Aya Nakamura Controversial?

The idea of Nakamura representing France has provoked a backlash, especially from the right. Marine Le Pen has called her “vulgar” and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen has complained that “she doesn’t sing in French” (Nakamura’s lyrics include French slang and foreign words.) Her African birth also plays a role, with Maréchal-Le Pen accusing President Macron of wanting to tell the world that “we’re no longer a nation with Christian roots and European culture.”

Others argue that Nakamura is not the kind of moral exemplar who should represent France.

They note that in 2022 she and her companion were arrested after they became violent with one another, and Nakamura was later convicted and fined.

As for the French people, a recent poll found that 63% object to Nakamura singing at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, though this may not be an informed opinion, as a majority of those knew nothing about her other than her name.

What Aya Nakamura’s Supporters Say

Nakamura’s supporters dismiss the resistance to her as racist, coming from an old and reactionary part of French society. They view Nakamura as a representative of the multi-cultural society that France is increasingly becoming.

And what could be a better mix of the traditional and the new than Nakamura singing a song by France’s most beloved singer?


Nakamura’s supporters also point to her worldwide popularity together with the fact that she sings in French. Other performers like Daft Punk also have strong worldwide followings, but they sing in English.

What’s Next?

What happens at the Olympic opening ceremony is always a closely guarded secret, so we may not know until the Games begin on July 26. President Macron recently reaffirmed his support for Nakamura, saying the “Games” and the ceremonies should resemble us. She is part of “French culture and French music”;

But the president also hedged his bet when he added,:

I think she is certainly suitable for the opening or closing ceremony of the Games” (emphasis added.)

Perhaps he has an eye on that poll?

For More Information

To learn more about this controversy, here is a short but informative podcast, in clear French that is spoken slowly. If you would rather read than listen, it is followed by a transcript.

Poll: What is your opinion _ we’d like to know…

Should Aya Nakamura sing at the opening ceremonies of the Paris Olympic Games? If not, who would you suggest? What is your opinion? Please share in the comments section below

Image Credits
Aya Nakamura: Wikipedia, Creative Commons License, attribution other newviews Nakamura/Lancôme: Lancôme
Édith Piaf: Wikipedia, public domain


About the Contributor

Keith Van Sickle

I am a lifelong traveler who lives part of the year in Provence. I am the author of Are We French Yet and One Sip at a Time, as well as the upcoming An Insider’s Guide to Provence, all available at Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook,  Twitter and keithvansickle.com.

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  1. Suzanne Grosso Vidal Apr 13, 2024 at 4:22 PM - Reply

    This is on the news almost every night at the moment. I’m surrounded by people who are against Aya Nakamura singing Edith Piaf as they feel that she’s not really French. I’m also in the south where people here are most often leaning right. The French of a certain age see their country slipping away and this is just one more example of this.

    I didn’t grow up here and I love Djadja. As she’s so popular with the younger generation, I think that choosing Aya adds some excitement and modernism and singing Piaf couldn’t be anymore french.

    Unfortunately, the Olympics seems to be creating more frustration than excitement (for the french). If it’s not Aya, it’s terrorism, high priced tickets that no one can afford and the massive inconvenience that it’s going to cause the locals 🤦🏻‍♀️

    Personally, I’m looking forward to it and soon we’ll get to see the Olympic torch running by. I think it’s going to be amazing.


    • Caroline Osella May 11, 2024 at 6:35 PM - Reply

      Erm, wasn’t Piaf from a complex background? I’ve read Romani, Italian, Moroccan – the online sources disagree about her roots, but there does seem to be consensus about hybridity and cosmopolitanism being part of her heritage. This makes the objections even more absurd. Allowing Piaf her complexity and also acknowledging contemporary complexity of identities would be a more coherent move. I hope the racist objectors don’t force a cave-in.

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