On the 21st of June, every year, residents and expats of Paris band together to bring live music to the city’s scenic streets and alleyways. Fête de la Musique, or world music day, is a celebratory holiday in the summer, originating in France, that over 100 countries participate in now. This observance involves having local talents create music for pleasure — performing most of the time in public squares, parks, historic venues and more. As a 41-year-old tradition created by France’s Ministry of Culture in 1982, the honorary day marks the first day of summer and the day that the sun takes the longest to set in the romantic capital.
If you weren’t aware, France has a dense culture of music. On any given day, there are historic cabarets where you will hear a live accordion and locals singing old-timey songs in unison, as well as Burlesque shows where women will lip-sync to the country’s biggest hits. Fête de la Musique falls under the same week as Paris Fashion Week so many artists already in the city to attend runway presentations were able to hop around different venues doing pop-up concerts. Music even showed up in a unique way at shows. After presenting his first collection for Louis Vuitton, men’s creative director Pharrell and Jay-Z surprised the audience by performing over 10 songs together, going late into the night, kicking off the musical day of recognition.
In addition to that, concerts were hosted in every corner of the city. The best way to experience Fête de la Musique, I found, is to wander aimlessly and let your ears guide you. Tunes encircled everything on this day, even the landmarks. Music could be heard at gatherings around the Eiffel Tower, while hanging on a terrace at Bercy Village, when embarking on a dance cruise on the Seine River, or simply while going to a karaoke bar such as the hotel Jazz Club Etoile or BAM Karaoke Box Madeleine.
Eclectic musicians traveled across the world to come to France’s capital during this busy time of year. Even local artists from LA, including A$AP Nast, Zack Bia, D33J, Honey and Kim Turnbull came to shut down the streets of Paris. DJs spinned in spaces for thousands of crowd-goers, and you could feel the music community bonding over international genres, dancing until the sun rose the next day. (To my surprise, the sun set at 10:30 p.m. that evening, which made celebrating Fête de la Musique an night-long occasion.)
Outside of Monbleu le Comptoir, a charming two-story wine bar near the Palais Garnier, another DJ played records with the French doors, usually closed to guard store windows, thrown wide open so that we could hear his music as people danced and drank wine freely. Down the same street, hundreds of young skaters put up mobile half-pipe ramps while a woman DJ with red highlights in her hair jammed away. She provided the perfect tunes for them to nail their many airborne attempts to achieve a kickflip.
If you would like to plan ahead to partake in this celebration for next year, there is ticketed event programming all over the city in the form of music festivals and outdoor stages that sprout up, sharing space with national monuments at busy intersections. But don’t be afraid to do as the locals do, walking around different neighborhoods and being present, immersing yourself in the different sounds that are reflective of the melting pot of cultures that exist in Paris.
I discovered so many new artists, surrounded by observers waiting to tip them. Most importantly, I experience the power of music and music-making while floating around Paris. Music extends across cultures and strengthens the fabric of a community, firing up the human spirit. And in France, in particular, music is a universal language that brings all ages and walks of life together.