The Old-School Charms of 'Musette'

No 7

The typical “classic" Parisian scene, real or imaged, tends to be accompanied by a particular type of music. It's played on the accordion, and it's called bal musette.

Rarely is this street genre heard anymore. Pop surpassed musette in France—permanently, it seems—in the early sixties. But in its day, this folk-inspired music style was pop. It originated in the late 19th century; entered the mainstream in the twenties and thirties, via the streets and lively Bastille dance halls; and reached its peak in the postwar years, when the accordion routinely accompanied huge chanson stars like Edith Piaf.

Like tango in Buenos Aires and rebetiko in Athens, musette developed during urbanization movements at the turn of the 20th century, a felicitous collision of modernity and rural tradition. Homesick migrants from the Auvergne, a mountainous region in central France, brought the roots of this style with them when they came to Paris. Originally, they played their songs on a small bagpipe called a cabrette, or musette. Before long, though, the accordion—portable, versatile, and considerably louder than other folk instruments—became the norm.

The accordion occupies a much quieter position on the Parisian landscape than it once did. Its sounds seem less danceable. And in this age of tourism, most of its remaining practitioners don't venture far beyond easy cliché. A few, however, do still draw from a repertoire that includes musette—a reminder, of sorts, of a previous era of urban mixing.

Credits

  • Film By - Ghazal Sotoudeh
  • Text - Darrell Hartman

Stay connected

To people & the planet