If you think “feminine” French music is just Edith Piaf and Charlotte Gainsbourg, you need to experience the Fête de la Musique, on Monday, June 21, 2010. During this festival, held annually on the summer solstice, France is filled with every kind of sound from across the Francophone diaspora and beyond. Although there are many performances by professionals, the festival is really about spontaneity. Everyone strolls the streets and can join in. The title itself is a pun on the command “Faîtes de la musique!” or “Make music!”
Held each year at the summer solstice, the Fête de la Musique is a chance to enjoy all kinds of music. You’ll hear music being played everywhere, with various levels of competence. Offerings can be mediocre, and you can expect a lot of rock “homage” and terrible Euro pop. But you have to envy the Parisians and their enthusiasm. It’s a lively night, and aside from a few precautions—public transportation is overloaded and many streets too crowded for buses—you need worry only about your stamina. In simple terms, be prepared to walk home.
This year’s theme is “the feminine in music, from the nurse with her lullabies to the heroines of opera.” But no year’s theme precludes participation by anyone, so thrash guitar bands and amateur crooners will also be on the scene. If you’re jet-lagged or like to know ahead what you’re in for, choose from among the 125 concerts scheduled for Paris. You can easily search these offerings by musical genre, performance time or arrondissement on the recently updated website.
The economic situation during which this year’s festival occurs recalls the very reason it was created, in 1982. At that time, business and employment were suffering, as were the stock markets (eventually the franc even had to be devalued). Jack Lang, who was then the French culture minister, proposed a music festival to cheer up the nation.
Like the stylish, always-tan Lang, the Fête de la Musique remained popular. Initially seen as just a way to distract worried voters, it now marks the symbolic start of summer. Among its only naysayers are the students finishing high school. The noisefest coincides with their stressful week of final exams, or le bac.
But since you’re free, here are five recommendations to sharpen your ears.
Jardins du Palais Royal. Place Colette, rue de Montpensier, in the 1st Arrondissement. 5 p.m.–midnight.
Homage to Spain’s female singers, with Madjo, Amparo Sánchez and Buika; Corsican singing and Maloya music from la Réunion.
Museum of Jewish Art and History. In the 3rd. 5:15 p.m.–10 p.m.
Free entry to the exhibition Radical Jewish Culture: New York Musical Scene, featuring John Zorn and short films he plays in or scored, and the Paris premiere of a documentary about cult guitarist Marc Ribot.
Institut du Monde Arabe. In the 5th. 5 p.m.–12:30 a.m.
A magical program leads you through Arab Andalusian music that has helped create Algeria’s world-famous raï. Culminating in raï, it includes Lebanese rap, Franco-Lebanese hip-hop, Sétifian music from Eastern Algeria and Moroccan chaâbi.
Salle Pleyel. In the 8th. 8 p.m.–midnight.
Free entry for a “Summer Night” a cappella concert by the choir of the Orchestre de Paris, with works by Kodály, Bartók, Brahms, Bruckner, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, as well as Butterflies and Hands, by Eric Tanguy.
Place du Marché d’Aligre. In the 12th. 6:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m.
Parisian steel band Calypsociation, with 60 variously aged musicians, will keep you dancing.