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History of French Music

This May, we celebrate the French language and culture from France and the French-speaking world. Florence Marfo, Programme Manager for French, delves into the rich history of French music.

The cancan became popular in the 1840s, following on from cabaret. It was originally a dance for both men and women. Édith Piaf (probably most remembered for La vie en rose and Non, je ne regrette rien), contributed to the promotion of the genre at international level.

Jazz gained popularity in France from the 1920s. The biguine sub-genre that was influenced by the French Caribbean enabled French jazz to have an identity that was distinct from that of American jazz. Paris became one of the centres that jazz musicians flocked to, not only from the French-speaking world, but Anglophone countries too.

In the 1960s Yéyé pop music emerged. Coined from the English word yeah, Yéyé was France’s answer to Rock’n’Roll and had artists such as Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan. A well-known Yéyé tune is amoureux solitaires, which was part of the Yéyé revival of the 1980s.

In April of this year, Papa Wemba the Congolese musician who popularised soukous died on stage whilst on tour in Cote d’Ivoire. His musical influences were diverse, which explains why his music was hard to define (although it was initially described as Congolese Rhumba Rock). Papa Wemba migrated to France in the 1970s in order to reach wider audiences despite performing many of his best-known hits in his native Lingala.

Zydeco music is said to come from the French Creoles of Louisiana, and forms part of the music scene of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Popular zydeco instruments are the rubboard and the accordion. Millennial zydeco artists are featured on the compilation album Putumayo Presents Zydeco with various artists.

Florence Marfo, Programme Manager for French, delves into the rich history of French music.

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