'We need parties': Fête de la Musique, France's summer solstice music festival, turns 40

·3-min read
© Joel Robine, AFP

Every year on June 21, cities and towns across France celebrate the Fête de la Musique. The popular music festival – held annually on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – seemed like a wild idea when it was launched 40 years ago by then culture minister Jack Lang.

A record heatwave has come and gone just in time for the Fête de la Musique, which is now an institution in France and has even spread around the world, with more than 100 countries organising their own music festivals to correspond with the solstice over the years.

All musical genres are welcome, as ever – in La Rochelle, the old port is set for a hard rock and metal extravaganza while Notre Dame de La Rochelle church is hosting choral music.

In Paris, always a hub of June 21 festivities, Radio France is sending a truck outfitted with speakers through the streets of the French capital blasting beats courtesy of DJ Young Pulse. The truck-top performance is a 40th anniversary throwback to the festival's early days, when French pop singer Jacques Higelin would do the same.

For the 2022 edition, the vehicle set off in the early afternoon from Paris's own Statue of Liberty, a hat-tip to the festival's international version, Make Music Day – in an echo across the pond, New York City's own festivities are slated to launch at the foot of its own (much taller) Lady Liberty, France's famous gift to the United States.

According to the the Make Music Day website, the Fête de la Musique has inspired music festivals in more than 1,000 cities across 120 countries.

Senegalese musical icon Youssou N'Dour and Ukrainian DJ Xenia are on the bill Tuesday for festivities at the Elysée Palace, the French president's office and residence in central Paris.

'Music everywhere'

Festival founder Jack Lang was a ball of nerves in the days leading up to Fête de la Musique's inaugural edition in 1982. He had only been culture minister for a year, named shortly after then president François Mitterrand brought the Socialist Party to power for the first time.

"We had told people, 'Go on, get outside, make the music in the streets your own' – but we were afraid they'd be hiding out at home. But it worked," Lang, now aged 82, told Agence France-Presse.

In the winter of 1981, Lang and two close associates, architect-scenographer Christian Dupavillon and music and dance director Maurice Fleuret, hatched the idea for a musical party. Fleuret is credited with boldly declaring, "Music will be everywhere and concerts nowhere."

"The first year, 1982, wasn't a big success, but people played along and in 1983, it really took off," said Lang, today head of the Arab World Institute in Paris.

"We need parties," French philosopher Edgar Morin has written of the Fête de la Musique. "We should party four times a year, at every season, what Christmas already does for the winter solstice."

Lang is Tuesday's guest of honour at the 5-kilometre-long promenade of music stretching between Villeurbanne and Lyon for this year's festival. But he plans to make his way back to Paris for the evening's festivities in the capital.

He says he wants the 40th annual Fête de la Musique to be dedicated to Steve Maia Caniço, a reveller who went missing and was later found dead after police raided an island rave in Nantes during the Fête de la Musique of 2019.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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