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It’s also known as World Music Day! Celebrated around the world on June 21 of every year, the Fête de la Musique first saw the light of day in 1976, and celebrates its 41st year in 2023. Launched in France in 1982 by the then Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, the event features street and bar concerts throughout the night. A look back at the history of the Fête de la Musique!

The origins of the fête de la musique

Joël Cohen, an American musician at France Musique, had an idea: why not mark the summer and winter solstices with a night of music? Thus were born the “Saturnales de la Musique”, in a way the ancestor of the Fête de la Musique, with its first nocturnal edition on June 21, 1976!
Then, on June 10, 1981, the election of François Mitterrand was celebrated with the “Fête de la Musique et de la Jeunesse”, a free concert held on the Place de la République in Paris, attracting no less than 100,000 music lovers. It was here that Jack Lang and Maurice Fleuret, two key figures in the Ministry of Culture, came into play. Inspired by these festive events and by Joël Cohen’s initial vision, they launched an idea that was to revolutionize the streets of France: “Faites de la musique!”, a direct appeal to amateur artists to take over public spaces. The gamble paid off on June 21, 1982, when streets, bars and parks came alive with melodies and bursts of voice. Today, this 100% French initiative has conquered the globe, with more than 350 cities in 120 countries celebrating the Fête de la Musique.

Music in the streets!

When we think of the Fête de la Musique, we imagine lively streets, animated by musicians from all horizons, representing every imaginable style, from rock to jazz, classical music to choirs. But over the years, the altruistic, voluntary atmosphere of the early days has sometimes given way to a more commercial vision, for better or for worse. Indeed, some groups saw the fête de la musique as a professional opportunity, negotiating their performance with the organizers to guarantee their intermittent status.
And in 1993, the fête de la musique conquered the small screen, with a pharaonic production that mobilizes 600 people each year for a televised concert. The annual event attracts an average of 20,000 fans, while 2.5 million people tune in to watch the show. What’s more, if official figures are to be believed, over 5,000 concerts are held across France on June 21 (some say over 17,000, if you include unlisted events – some companies organize them, like Rungis Market, for example). But whether they’re 5,000 or 17,000, they should all be free, in keeping with the spirit of the festival, in theory… Incidentally, it’s worth pointing out here that SACEM doesn’t levy any royalties on free performances on that day.

Has the fête de la musique lost its “spirit”?

Some people, especially those who witnessed the first editions, lament the loss of the original spirit: the idea of everyone taking to the streets to share their music. Today, it’s more an invitation to listen to organized concerts. That said, it’s hard not to appreciate the musical profusion, especially on the shortest night of the year.