SHORT HISTORY OF THE “MUSETTE”

Musette is celebrating its centenary, so this is an opportunity to put this style, so characteristic of France and the French spirit of the early 20th century, back at the centre of a creative project.

Musette is perhaps the most multicultural musical style ever, born of unprecedented international encounters. In fact, at the beginning of the last century, France and Paris in particular experienced major waves of immigration. Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Eastern Europeans and South Americans arrived in large numbers to settle in the capital. At the same time, France experienced a very intense rural exodus. The inhabitants of the provinces left their countryside and also converged on Paris. The Auvergnats were among the most numerous and took over the Bastille district with their favourite instrument: the musette, a kind of small bagpipe, whose air pocket was inflated with a bellows.

Most of these new Parisians worked in the booming industrial sector. On Saturday evenings, they looked for entertainment and met in the café-charons run by the Auvergnats near the rue de Lappe. It was here, in this popular suburb, that the first dances were improvised, starting with the famous Auvergne musette as the king instrument.

The Italians, who were very present, brought with them a young and still unknown instrument called the accordion. Very quickly, the accordion replaced the musette in certain balls and caused terrible scuffles between the Auvergnats and the Transalpines. The tension was so high, the gunshots so frequent, that the Paris police prefect decided to ban the popular dances in the capital. So musicians and dancers took up residence in the guinguettes on the banks of the Marne, a few kilometres from Paris.

These adopted Parisians from all walks of life made music together, music to dance to. Each of them brought their own contribution to the building, and the musette style was born from an unprecedented mixing of styles. The Spaniards discovered the paso-doble, the Poles the mazurka and the polka, the South Americans the cha-cha and the rumba, the Argentinians the tango, the Americans the foxtrot, etc. All these dance styles, which are still characteristic of the musette, were born of these exchanges between musicians from the four corners of the world. The musette waltz very quickly took root and became the queen of this mixed repertoire.

The accordion of the Italians supplanted the musette by becoming the central instrument of the various musical formations, the Auvergnats are nevertheless consoled because their instrument finally leaves its name to this style today centenary.