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Fete de la Musique

There is something about Paris. There is something about the French. Whatever it is, you won’t find it anywhere else, not that I’m that well travelled, but the French remain French! And I love that! They don’t try to hide behind adopted Americanised popular trends, malls and fashion! I love the fact that they seem to keep their identity and culture and music and stick to what they do best…. being French!

One tradition that has been going on for almost 30 years is the annual event to mark the start of summer in the Fete de la Musique. A musical celebration which lasts for a whole day from morning until night, or make it the next morning. This day, you are allowed to play music loud, actually you’re supposed to, sing and play on the streets, parks and squares of Paris and the whole of France.

There are free concerts all over the country, and only in Paris there must have been hundreds of bands performing live and for free. Big names, small names and international stars. I headed out to Chateau Vincennes, an old castle once the summer residence of a king. Something like the Tower of London, but more beautiful. In the basking sunshine, we got to see French pop, rock, chanson and world music. Some yawn provoking music, like Thomas Dutronc and Raphael… “Excuse moi monsieur” but could these two be more boring? One thing I noticed was the younger generation who seemed thrilled by these two musicians, but I was more interested in the rock crazyness of BB Brunes, even if I didn’t like their style too much either, they were more fun and upbeat, though there was some resemblance to Vampire Weekend and the British Arctic Monkeys. 

Magga, a French singer of Cameroonian descent with cool dancing moves and an arabic chanson flavoured song style was one of the first promising acts I saw that day on stage. And surprisingly Australian Micky Green whom I’ve never heard of before is really big in France, but lesser known here in the UK. There is something about her music that appeals to the French audience. Her coquette Marilyn Monroe style, playing the pink electric guitar, a deep husky voice made even White t-shirts seem like the most fashionable item to wear. The biggest international act on the stage I went to, was Rokia Traoré! A really good performance, with a ngoni on her side, just to remember the Malian background, she is an artist everybody talks about in France right now. Although she sang in Bambara, one of the Malian languages and a little in French too, her music was more alive and moved more people than the French pop acts Thomas Dutronc and Raphael. Not the fairest of comparison’s as they make totally different music. Rokia has rhythm and a mix of African music with western influences as well.

Even though Rokia Traorés performance was the grooviest, coolest and most professional, the night of the Fete de la Musique was still very young and the best was yet to come! We ended up going back into the centre of Paris after our little excursion out of the city and got involved in some music ourselves, together with a band who have yet to find their official band name. Let’s call them the French Beatles tribute band, the Sergeant Pepper band or even better: Le Sergeant Poivre!

Dressed up in true Sgt Pepper gear, the founding members of the duo-trio, had a few followers who accompanied them all through the night, playing live music in the streets of London. Yes, this was my first ever live performance as a percussionist! I got to play the tambourine, the wooden little box with a wooden stick and shake the maracas with the band without rehearsing.

To my amazement, we had an audience as well, and no one abused us, or threw any food at us as a form of protest. Unfortunately, there were no great amplifiers so the level of music and song was very low that at times the singer had to ask people to be quiet, so the band could be heard in the hustle and bustle of down town Paris.

Hail Fete de la Musique, the biggest street music party I’ve ever seen and thank you Sergeant Poivre for inviting me to join you in your musical journey! Let’s hope the free music festivity reaches other European countries and becomes a national treasure and holiday outside France as well.

There is a separate review of Etyl’s concert on the 24th June 2008 on my myspace blog: http://www.myspace.com/elisavet_radio

© Copyright Elisavet Sotiriadou, June 2008