Monday, June 22, 2015

World Music Day, Paris

It's one of the only days a year where Paris shrugs off her chic trench coat in exchange for cut-off jeans and a fringed t-shirt. This weekend, to welcome the Summer Solstice, Paris joined hundreds of cities worldwide in a little festival called World Music Day aka Make Music Day, aka Fête de la Musique. All across the city, free concerts celebrate the simple beauty of music. From jazz to electronic, from rock to African, calypso to marching bands. Solo acts set up shop alongside riverbanks and from balcony windows. The whole city lets her hair down and sways to the beat.

I spent my night along Canal Saint Martin and République, which I would argue is really the heart and soul of Paris nowadays. This is the grittier side of Paris, only recently cleaned up enough for the adventuring tourist. But this is where you can amble through streets of graffiti and find good coffee for under 5€. It's considered the common people's place, with blue collared prices. I love it. I feel at ease here, not worrying about being judged for not sporting a pair of Gucci sunglasses. It also promises to have the most varied and lively concerts.

A group of friends and I gather together along the crowded banks for a long evening, the longest evening of the year, in fact. Recently the sun has been setting around 10pm, while twilight lingers until nearly 11. We spread out our fixings of baguettes and cheeses, chips and chocolates, and a few cheap bottles of wine. There are seven countries represented in our little group, but everyone is united under the French language. The sun and food slowly disappear, and we can hear the hum of distant bands drumming up a crowd. It soon becomes too much, and I disappear with my Macedonian friend Olgitsa into the masses.

We encounter a marching band dresses  a myriad of different countries, a big brass band of young men wearing sheepskin vests, a huge calypso band, and finally an African dance group. I try to take a picture with the beret-ed and Breton striped trumpeter, but, although I'm no psychologist, his body language tells me he was not interested in a photo.

My favorite by far was the African dance group, set up right along the banks of the canal and shadowed by the overhanging trees like a jungle. The beat was furious and then non existent, and we all tried to dance to the beat, but it flew away and was gone and left us all to our own measure. We were all mad and glad for it. The man who was leading the band had black shiny skin that shone in the dusk lights, so as the night wore on, only his cheeks that stuck out from his smiling face like fat summer cherries, his gleaming teeth, and his twinkling eyes were visible. I think I have never seen a man more happy to give people something to dance to.

When our heads were spinning from the rhythm and the smoke, we left and rejoined the group, still dawdling by the riverside. Perhaps it was the American in me, but the thought of just sitting there while musicians filled the streets made me cringe. The Spaniard in the group was the slowest, guzzling a wine bottle all by herself and happy to stay right where she was for the night. Finally, we split up, me unable to swallow the idea of staying and staying and staying. We waded through trash and crowds. A group gathered on the corner by a DJ stand jiving to "Twist and Shout."

We continued to République, detouring though a massive rave party a block from the square. Everyone was jumping to some French rap, which frankly is too beautiful to be considered rap. We then snaked into the heart of République and quickly were swallowed into the mob enveloping the rock concert stage (see above). There were thousands of people gathered and being trampled was not an impossibility as bodies crushed against each other. A fight broke out right next to us and the sea of bodies swelled and pushed to both get out of the way and see what would happen. It always surprises me how fast people move when a fight breaks out, like they are instantaneously transformed into wild African cats. In the end it quieted down, and we finally broke free and wandered further towards Oberkampf. Trying to get our bearings outside a McDonalds, we were drawn like a moth to flame to an outdoor club that was playing all the hits from when I was in high school. No better way to end the night of making music than dancing to the songs that sent you back to your teenage dream years. 

I think this was one of nights you always dream of having when you go abroad. Picnicking by the canal, partying with the locals, and forgetting for a moment that you are the foreigner. For a moment, we are all just little humans getting lost in the music and riding the heat of the summer solstice.

Peace and love, everyone.

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