Finding Street Music in Paris: Is It Difficult, Or What?

Published: 26th January 2012
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Music is one of the most important activities in Paris, and when it comes to street music, there is no city that could compare to the city of lights. It has always provided a refuge to struggling artists and musicians who displayed their talent on crowded thoroughfares and plazas. The street music culture still lingers on, and is one of the most important facets of Parisian life. Whether you watch a musician strum the strings of a guitar from a sidewalk cafe or you listen to the haunting melodies of French chansons (lyric driven French songs) in a park, one could be sure that there is no way one will not encounter musicians who perform on the streets.

Of course, one is not obliged to pay the musicians and no one would force someone on the street to pay for having listened to a note. The straining sounds of traditional French accordion are rarely heard these days. But if one goes around looking for it, it is quite possible that an old man would be found playing the quintessential Parisian instrument somewhere in Les Halles, just south of the fashionable Rue Montorgueil. One might be surprised to learn that the singer Edith Piaf started her career singing on the beautiful streets of Paris.

Of course, not all street singers can be compared to Edith Piaf, and many may not gain mainstream success ever in their lives. These musicians continue to enthrall and entertain Parisians, and visitors to this spectacular city.

The Law Against Public Performance

However, things may be changing quite dramatically in the future. The Parisian police do not encourage playing music on the streets and according to a law that was passed in 1989, performing on the street and playing music is illegal. Nevertheless, street performers manage to escape the cops just when they are about to arrive, and some do get arrested only to be let off after a warning. Commissariats de Police maintains that playing music in public places is prohibited.

Street Music Continues to Struggle

With all these restrictions being placed on struggling musicians, Paris may lose its charm of being the centre stage for street music. The government insists that they are not against public performances, but they do not want any sort of 'trouble'. With that in mind, there are about one hundred designated areas in the Paris Metro network where musicians can perform for the public. The musicians are given a license, and if they need to hold on to their licenses, they are not allowed to collect money from the public.

This does not mean that a discerning tourist or vacationer will not find street musicians. Right from Les Halles to Centre Georges Pompidou, one can find Brazilian, Moroccan, Arab and even French musicians performing blissfully, in an almost nonchalant manner, as if the law against public performances has never existed. Sometimes, even the police tend to happily overlook and let a happy musician enthrall his audiences.

The Street Musicians

Most of the musicians who land up on the streets of Paris are immigrants from former colonies of France, who come to the city of lights to make it big in the recording industry. Some do make it big, but the others end up performing on the streets and slowly graduate to performing in Parisian clubs and hotels. It doesn't matter where one lives, in a luxury Paris apartment or a rented studio or a tiny dorm; one is bound to hear the strains of music from different parts of the world that were once ruled by those who lived in the Presidential Palace.

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