Between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, a wealth of musical styles linked with successive waves of immigration transformed Paris and London into multicultural capitals. Paris-London. Music Migrations is an immersive, chronological exploration of three pivotal decades in the musical history of Paris and London.
In the late 20th century, in Paris and London more than anywhere else, music embodied the way in which migration was profoundly reshaping the identity of these two former capitals of colonial empires. From the independence of Jamaica and Algeria in 1962 through to the late 1980s, this exhibition explores three decades which saw Paris and London metamorphose into multicultural capitals. Generations of postcolonial immigrants and their children expressed their joys, hopes and aspirations through music. Focusing on the production, dissemination and reception of popular musical forms such as rock, reggae, punk, ska, raï, afrobeat and rap, this show traces a parallel history of Paris and London with special emphasis on individual experiences and youth culture. Although the experience of immigration to Britain and France was shaped by the countries’ different national contexts, newcomers to both countries faced many of the same issues, particularly in terms of the fight against racism. In both Paris and London, music was instrumental in raising the profile of ideas which had a profound effect on social mentalities.
And of course, London wouldn’t be London and Paris wouldn’t be Paris without the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, the makossa of Manu Dibango, the R&B of Soul II Soul, the vintage raï of Cheikha Rimitti, the ska of Desmond Dekker, the blue beat of Millie Small, the Algerian crossover of Noura, the punk without borders of Rachid Taha, the Asian underground sounds of Asian Dub Foundation, the chaâbi of Dahmane El Harrachi, the dub petry of Linton Kwesi Johnson, the zouk de Kassav’, the house of A Guy Called Gerald, the ghiwani of Nass El Ghiwane, the Oriental yéyé of Jacqueline Taïeb, the afro-jazz of Ray Lema, the militant reggae of Steel Pulse, the politicised rap of Passi, the kadans of Vikings de la Guadeloupe, the hip hop of Sidney, the legendary reggae of Bob Marley, the modern raï of Khaled, the hybrid rock of Négresses Vertes, the rhythm’n’blues of Vigon, or the juju music of King Sunny Ade…
Rhythms from Africa, the Caribbean, the Antilles and India played a decisive role in shaping the future of pop music as we know it. Above and beyond the current dominance of grime, dubstep, afro-trap and afro-punk, the global dimension of modern music was forged more than thirty years ago in the heat of social and political change, in an era marked by urban transformation and successive waves of migration.
- Stéphane Malfettes: is head curator of this exhibition and director of cultural events at the Palais de la Porte Dorée
- Angéline Escafré-Dublet: is scientific curator, a historian specialising in immigration and a lecturer in political science at Université Lyon 2.
- Martin Evans: is a curator, a professor of modern European history at the University of Sussex and a specialist in colonial and post-colonial history viewed from a global and comparative perspective.
- Hedia Yelles-Chaouche : is a project manager and coordinator of the special exhibitions held at the National Museum of the History of Immigration (with help from Pauline Coste)
1. The times they are a-changin’
In the early 1960s, Swinging London was rocking to the sounds of Jamaican ska while Parisian clubbers were discovering musicians freshly arrived from Algiers, Tunis and Rabat. Young people were beginning to be recognised as a new social group in their own right, complete with their own codes, spots and sounds. Among these young people were many new arrivals from the colonies of the French and British empires. Between 1955 and 1960, 200,000 people migrated from Commonwealth countries to the United Kingdom (mainly from the West Indies: Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, and South Asia: India and Pakistan); between 1954 and 1962, almost 150,000 Algerians moved to France, taking the total Algerian population to 350,000.
Immigration from the British colonies was facilitated by the British Nationality Act of 1948, establishing the new status ‘Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies’ and awarding new political rights to residents of the colonies, including freedom of movement. Immigration continued after 1962, with the difference that the next wave of immigrants were now citizens of independent countries travelling to Europe under the terms of agreements negotiated with the newly-formed governments of the former colonies.
Many contemporary artists were part of this wave of immigration, though few chose to speak about it openly; some went as far as to change their names. For baby-boomers born between 1945 and 1960, this was a time of rock’n’roll, Afro-American culture and a certain spirit of rebellion against the old guard.
During the 1960s, with the consumer society in full swing, rock’n’roll established itself as the music of a generation, the baby-boom generation, born between 1945 and 1950. With the record player, radio, illustrated magazines and television, rock culture inflamed the youth of France and the UK. In Paris, it was the yéyé phenomenon, a name given to it by Edgar Morin the day after a concert on June 22 1963 that attracted 200,000 young people to Place de la Nation in Paris, for the anniversary of the magazine Salut les copains. Meanwhile in London, the explosion of Beatlemania was making its mark.
Rock’n’roll was viewed as dangerous because it was associated with the fear car il est associé à la peur que suscite toujours la jeunesse. In Paris, the police reports written after the Nation concert show the concern among the forces of law and order. In the UK, that fear was accentuated by the ending in 1963 of military service, viewed as a remedy for delinquency. This association of ideas between youth and violence was also linked to the fact that rock’n’roll represented African American culture, perceived at the time as “perverting” the minds of young people.
The London Rock scene
Swaying crowds, concert halls taken by storm, screaming so loud that the music was inaudible, outbursts of tears and fainting fits… The images – and sounds – of Beatlemania were broadcast across the world. Every appearance by the Beatles was the subject of unprecedented media coverage. Front page newspaper articles, special radio programmes and TV shows became increasingly common from 1963 on. Beatlemania and, in its wake, the wave of British pop music, were broadly amplified by emblematic TV programs like “Six-Five Special”, “Ready, Steady, Go” then “Top of the Pops”. British youth eagerly awaited these televised events to discover new groups like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Who, The Kinks, The Hollies, The Merseybeats, Davy Jones and the King Bees (led by a young David Bowie). All artists who had drawn their inspiration from Black American music (blues, rhythm & blues, soul).
The Yéyé days
In France, rock was born in the street, and was initially ignored by the music establishment. “The wave entered into the suburbs, reigning over the jukeboxes in cafés frequented by young people,” notes Edgar Morin in his famous article published in Le Monde in 1963 about the movement that he baptised “yéyé”. These young people shared the same yearning to stand out from adults, through their musical choices, clothing, hairstyles – quiffs, beehives, braids – but above all through their capacity for ecstatic communion “from surprise-party to music-hall show, and perhaps, in the future, huge gatherings like the one at Nation”, the sociologist prophesied. In Paris, this musical fervour had its very own temple: the Golf Drouot located in the 9th arrondissement. While the big British rock groups did perform there, among them The Pretty Things, The Animals, The Yardbirds, the venue was primarily known for revealing many talented French artists such as Eddy Mitchell during the Chaussettes Noires period, Dick Rivers with Les Chats Sauvages, Françoise Hardy, Jacques Dutronc and Vigon.
Music and Migrations
Immigration in London : immigration from the Commonwealth
London was the main immigration hub in the UK. After the end of World War 2, most of the immigrant flow from the Empire was concentrated there. The West Indians were the first to arrive. They are referred to as “Generation Windrush”, after the ship that arrived from Kingston, Jamaica, reaching the port of Tilbury, in the UK, on June 21 1948. In 1965, of the 450,000 West Indians recorded as living in the country, 150,000 settled in London, mainly in the neighbourhoods of Islington, North Kensington, Paddington and Brixton. They were followed by migrations from India and Pakistan, which intensified from 1960. In 1965, there were 180,000 Indians and 120,000 Pakistanis in the UK. For the most part, they settled in Greater London, and proportionally exceeded the number of West Indians in districts like Southall or Stepney. Initially facilitated by their status as Citizen of the United Kingdom and the Colonies, which had granted freedom of circulation since 1948, immigration from former colonies that had gained independence required a work permit from 1962.
Zoom : The Windrush was a ship that some 800 Caribbeans from the British West Indies (Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, mainly) sailed in to come and work in the UK. They were the first to benefit from the free circulation that came with the status of Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, accorded in 1948. The passenger register shows that many of them planned to settle there, and indeed their status enabled them to benefit from permanent residence authorisation. The consequences of this colonial period steel be felt until 2018, when the British government created barriers to recognising the right of former citizens of the Empire to full British nationality.
Foreign music scenes in London
When Ghana acquired independence in 1957, highlife (a cross between jazz and traditional African music) became the ode to freedom. The same phenomenon occurred with the independence of Jamaica in 1962: the contribution made by American music to local mento (Jamaican popular music) gave birth to ska, then reggae, via rocksteady. Once imported to London, these different types of music mixed in with the city’s own scenes, emerging as a condensed pop and modern version of all these new styles. From 1962, the Blue Beat label dominated ska production in the UK to the point that the name “blue beat” was commonly used at the time in referring to ska music in general. The first hit in its genre, “My Boy Lollipop”, was recorded in 1963 by the singer Millie Small. African music had a lower profile and could be experienced when artists, mainly from Ghana and Nigeria, including names like E.T, Mensah, toured the country, and also thanks to clubs that hosted artists such as Ebo Taylor and the young Fela Kuti. A real music scene emerged in the late 60s and throughout the following decade, notably featuring Osibisa, a group formed by musicians of Ghanaian and Caribbean origin.
Mediterranean and international immigration in Paris
Paris concentrates a large part of the migratory flow into France. In 1962, 8% of foreigners lived there, as opposed to 4% in the country as a whole, and that proportion was constantly on the rise: by 1990 the figure had reached almost 16%, as opposed to 6% for the whole of France. Most of all, the capital comprised a diversity of nationalities unmatched elsewhere in the country. While Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians accounted for half of them for three decades, the other half was made up of foreigners from across the world. From all types of social backgrounds, they could be found everywhere, from the high-end neighbourhoods to the more working class arrondissements of eastern Paris, around Barbès, Stalingrad or Belleville. The Ile-de-France region also welcomed immigrants. From the 1960s, some settled in the shantytowns of the North-West (Nanterre, Gennevilliers) and East (Champigny), before being rehomed in the public housing estates of the Greater Paris suburbs.
Foreign music scenes in Paris
Paris, capital of melting-pot music and magnet for intellectuals and artists from across the world, became a hotspot for North African music in France from the 1940s on. While immigration from Black Africa was less extensive at the time, North Africans were already well established in the capital. From the most sordid immigrant hole-in-the-wall eateries nestled inside cheap furnished hotels to the Oriental cabarets of the Latin Quarter, North African and Arab song found in Paris a stage where it could meet its audience. But the tawdry reality of the cafés chantants, with their stucco and pasteboard décors, covered over the more subterranean reality of the music scenes thriving in the Algerian cafés so abundant in the capital. Serving as improvised stages that still exist to this day, these cafes, the only places where the North African worker reduced to manual labour could kick back and socialise, operated as an information centre, offering a variety of services, including public letter writer. Modern both in the professionalism of their shows and in the wind of freedom that blew through those long sleepless nights, these North African performances were definitely among the forerunners of entertainment arts driven by a foreign community in France.
2. The soundtrack to rebellion: the 1970s
During the 1970s, music provided a platform for the voices of those at the margins of society, helping to put immigrants and their identities at the forefront of the political and artistic scenes. Following slightly different trajectories in Paris and London, rock, reggae and punk became weapons of choice in the fight against racism and, more generally, the marginalisation suffered by whole swathes of young people born to immigrant parents in Paris and London. Notting Hill Carnival, the Rock Against Racism gigs in London, the Rock Against Police concerts in and around Paris and the host of other artistic events which sprang from the antiracism movement are proof of the political power of music, and the essential role it plays in the history of migration and culture.
Revolution in the air
The Notting Hill carnival helped to anchor Caribbean music – reggae in particular – in the heart of the city of London. The Rock Against Racism concert series consecrated the London scene as a focal point for protest and fighting race-related injustice. The Rock Against Police concerts organised in Paris, then in the suburbs, showed the impact that the resonance between music and social struggle was having, on each side of the Channel. These artistic events that emerged around the defence of immigrant and minority rights amplified the protest role played by music. So a shift took place, from a context of protest by marginal populations, at the start of the decade, to holding large-scale concerts serving as flagship events for the many causes that were driving politics at the dawn of the 1980s. This came with a new urban geography, more institutional and even more spectacular, for example the concert organised by SOS Racisme at Place de la Concorde in 1985 or the Free Nelson Mandela concert held at Wembley Stadium in 1988.
The Notting Hill carnival, from festive to manifesto
The organisation of the Notting Hill Carnival was a reaction by London’s Afro-Caribbean community to a series of riots that took place in late August 1958. Gangs had assaulted a young woman, Majbritt Morrison, married to Jamaican musician Raymond Morrison. Within the activist world, the idea of responding to this violence by affirming a positive and festive Afro-Caribbean identity was gaining ground. The organisation of the first “Caribbean Carnival” in Saint Pancras town hall in 1959 owed much to Claudia Jones, activist and founder in 1958 of the West Indian Gazette, the newspaper of the Afro-Caribbean community in London. From 1966, the event became an annual happening, taking place in late August. Many obstacles were encountered in gaining acceptance of the event. The police tried several times to ban the Carnival, notably after 1976 where actual riots interrupted the end of the event.
From a musical viewpoint, the Carnival helped anchor reggae music in the heart of the city of London. It did in fact evolve from being a multi-ethnic event to a parade mainly influenced by the music of Trinidad, then by reggae, in the 1970s. A whole specific world developed around this musical style from Jamaica: the sound system culture. From using music as an instrument for affirming politics and identity, the Carnival turned into an international festive event.
The 1970s in France : back into the streets
In France, new protest movements emerged after May 1968. Alongside a return to the streets and the onset of new causes (women’s rights, gay activism, environmental movements), an immigrant defence movement appeared. This was primarily structured around working conditions, in the wake of the strikes of 1968, which many immigrant workers were actively involved in. Then housing conditions became central to the struggle, with the issue of the hostels in which many of them were (badly) housed. Lastly came the question of papers, which took stage front in reaction to the introduction of laws limiting entry into the country and visa renewal (e.g. the 1972 Marcellin-Fontanet memorandums, which made the granting of visas dependent on obtaining a work contract and housing).
The Mouvement de Défense des Droits des Immigrés resorted to artistic forms that lent themselves to protest movements, such as street theatre, concerts and music parades during festivals. The first Festival de Théâtre Populaire des Travailleurs Immigrés took place in 1975 in the gardens of a church in Suresnes, loaned by the CIMADE organisation. The experiment, repeated in 1976, 1978 and 1979, evolved towards being more of a musical event, featuring artists or musical formations such as Nass El Ghiwan, the singer Idir, Djamal Alem and Pierre Akendengue. The emergence of a new generation of foreign artists could be observed, in collaboration with French singers sensitive to the immigrant cause, such as François Béranger, Bernard Lavilliers or Claude Nougaro. In the same spirit, the creation of the Festival Africa Fête in 1978 was supported by symbolic figures like Manu Dibango and Touré Kounda.
Punk and reggae in the UK: a new youth culture
The origins of punk can be found in reggae and ska, in the UK. Just as rock’n’roll borrowed its rhythms from African American music, punk and its protest-based narrative drew part of its inspiration from the music of Jamaica… as it could be heard in London.
The two scenes intermingled, sharing producers, inspirations and the same musical styles at the core of a “reggae-punk interface” that foreshadowed their joint mobilisation against racism, a few years later. Take for example the feminist female band The Slits, who released their first album Cut (1979), a mixture of punk spirit and reggae groove (produced by Dennis Bovell, a reggae musician who worked with Linton Kwesi Johnson), or Donn Letts, DJ and maker of documentaries on British counter-cultures. The punk movement and reggae musicians shared a rejection of society in the Thatcher years and symbolised this era in which, as journalist Andy McSmith wrote in his essay No Such Thing As Society, there was “more politics in popular British music and political activism on the part of its performers than at any other time before or since.” The song “Ghost Town” by ska band The Specials is an illustration of this: it denounces urban violence and social destitution in the UK against a reggae bass line, in a track that promoted the two-tone style (imprinted with ska sounds and the energy of the punk movement) and that climbed to the top of the UK charts.
Paris, Counter-culture, French-style
In the 1970s, the term “counter-culture” was used to describe youth protest movements against the cultural domination enjoyed by the guarantors of morality and social norms. Post-68 ideologies, ecology, feminism, the search for new perceptive experiences with drugs, sexual liberation, rock music, discovery of the Third World, Black Panthers, defence of immigrants and fight against racism: western youth were shaking up their parents’ preconceived notions and dreaming of other worlds. This reversal of traditional values came with a freedom of tone that was not to everyone’s taste. The scandal that followed the distribution and success of the reggae version of “La Marseillaise”, recorded by Serge Gainsbourg in 1979, is a typical example of this counter-culture that loved to hijack national symbols. Ten years earlier, in August 1969, at Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix had performed an iconoclastic version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. That aggressively electric version became a counter-culture anthem that a whole generation hostile to the Vietnam War could relate to. In London, the Sex Pistols had hijacked “God save the Queen” on the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977. So Gainsbourg was well in step with the times of the “no future” generation prophesied by the magazine Actuel and its director Jean-François Bizot in the early 1970s.
Anti-racism on the march
In France and the UK, rock and reggae became the preferred musical styles of the protest movement: whether it was protesting the established order or, more particularly, demonstrating against the racist words or actions becoming more common on each side of the Channel.
For 10 years already, the rise in right-wing racist narrative had been observed on the British political chess board. A 1968 speech by Enoch Powell, conservative MP, predicting “rivers of blood” if the UK continued to freely accept arrivals from the Commonwealth, had legitimized a reflex of rejection of those populations. Hence, the politicisation of immigration started ten years earlier than it did in France, with the creation of an extreme right party, the National Front, in 1967, and led to a revolt among artists concerned about this toxic environment.
In France, a series of concerts entitled Rock Against Police was organised in Paris, in denunciation of police violence against the descendants of immigrants. Although of lesser scope than the British movement, the mere fact of organising concerts echoing that movement shows the connections between musicians and social struggle, between Paris and London. These connections were consolidated by visits (Linton Kwesi Johnson to Paris, Rachid Taha to London) and publications (reports by the IMMEDIA agency in France, for example). But most of all it was the Marche pour l’égalité et contre le racisme, in autumn 1983, that confirmed the trend. The event, which started out from Marseille in October to arrive in Paris in December, did indeed come with its own “soundtrack”: listened to by marchers on their walkmans and shared during events at the various stopover points, it included Bob Marley and Renaud, who joined the marchers on their arrival in Paris.
Uprising in the city centre (1976-1978)
In the mid-1970s, the economic crisis struck those areas in UK cities that were primarily home to an underprivileged population: the inner cities. Between a rise in unemployment, budget cuts in government services and the breakthrough made by the British National Front, which particularly targeted the black community, the atmosphere was tense. Against this background, a veritable anti-racist uprising came into being with the formation of the Southall Youth Movement in 1976, created by young people of Asian origin following a racist crime. They proclaimed loud and strong: “Here to stay, here to fight”. That same year, the Notting Hill Carnival became the stage for clashes between youths and the police. In 1977, the battle of Lewisham saw a confrontation between National Front demonstrators and anti-fascist groups, united under the name Anti-Nazi League. But it was in 1978 that the uprising reached its peak, when the Anti-Nazi League organised a Rock Against Racism festival, with 80,000 people marching to Trafalgar Square.
The mobilisation of French working class districts and suburbs
In France, the concentration of immigrants and their children in the suburbs of big cities turned these neighbourhoods into a focal point for the emergence of protest movements against inequality, but also an extraordinary hotbed for groups and associations organised around themes of sport, culture, media, citizenship, welcoming new arrivals and mutual assistance.
In the early 1980s, this flurry of non-profit activity was particularly marked by the difficult relations between youth and police. The initiatives taken as a means of defence, but also and above all to publicise the situation, multiplied: creation of a media agency by and for immigrants (IMMEDIA) and mobilisation of mothers of young victims of violence in the heart of the French capital (Les Mères de la Place Vendôme, for example). Once again, music, and in particular rock, played an essential role in spreading the word about protest movements, with the organisation of Rock Against Police concerts (in Paris in 1980, then Vitry and in the suburbs of Lyon and Marseille). On the outskirts of the city, in the French banlieue, working-class districts and squats were no longer just places where people ended up after hitting hard times, but also spaces producing new artistic forms that were reinventing aesthetic codes. The development of squat culture and the taking-over of abandoned factories (the Palikao) sparked a whole new music scene, notably with the group Bérurier Noir.
Youth on the march
In the early 1980s, a whole generation adopted the codes of a new youth culture: dressed in denim trousers and jackets, they listened to rock or reggae and, in some cases, got involved in fighting racism. Until then, the anti-racist cause had been defended by historic associations, formed at different periods: the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH), created in 1898, within the context of the Dreyfus Affair; the Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme (LICRA), created in 1928 during the period of xenophobic, anti-Semitic agitation that characterised the inter-war period, and the Mouvement Contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples (MRAP), created in 1949 by members of the resistance and former deportees. Since the introduction of the Pleven law of 1972, which condemned racial hate speech, these associations had been able to file a civil case in criminal court.
With the Marche pour l’égalité et contre le racisme in 1983, followed by the Convergence 1984, the anti-racist cause moved away from the courtrooms and traditional activism, invading the streets and concert venues… “La jeunesse emmerde le Front national!” (“youth says screw you, Front National!”) chanted the band Bérurier Noir, making the extreme right party that was enjoying increasing electoral success in the 1980s the prime example of that ideology.
3. Global rhythms: the 1980s
Years of political struggle gave rise to a wealth of encounters and exchanges between different scenes of musical diaspora all over the world. Paris and London became epicentres of artistic energy, their reputations bolstered by a number of legendary venues.
In Paris, African music, which had been relatively neglected until the 1970s, now began to gain huge popularity. The French capital soon became a buzzing hub of the world music industry, supported by a lively network of record stores, labels, cafés, concert venues, nightclubs and recording studios.
In London, reggae had enjoyed huge popularity ever since Bob Marley’s first performances in the city. Hailing from Jamaica, this distinctive musical style rapidly became a global phenomenon and a symbol of liberation and rebellion. Exchanges between local and global scenes helped to redraw the musical map as well as reshaping the urban landscape: the spread of hip hop, an exciting new culture born in the Bronx, was also facilitated by the dynamic network of afro-funk night clubs and community centres.
These musical developments played a key role in making Paris and London the global cities they are today, places where original styles can emerge, find their audience and spread far and wide, inspired by rhythms from all over the world. Musicians and politicians alike capitalised on this energy to organise major events such as the parade on the Champs Elysées celebrating the bicentenary of the French Revolution in 1789, and Mandela Day at Wembley the previous year.
Driven by star names like Fela Kuti, Salif Keita, Youssou’N Dour or Manu Dibango, new music scenes emerged between Paris and London. Based around jazz, afrobeat and what soon came to be called “world music”, a new geography of Paris and London appeared, with its own recording, production and distribution sites. At Le Palace, legendary discotheque of Parisian nights, Grace Jones, born in Jamaica and living in Paris, performed the opening show. In London, the Electric Ballroom brought life to the heart of the Camden neighbourhood with its rock, punk and 2-Tone (music genre derived from ska) concerts. Other places, outside the capitals, played their own vital role, such as La Main Bleue in Montreuil, where representatives of SAPE (Society of ambiance creators and elegant people) were on display.
Protest counter-cultures, artistic productions linked to migratory movements, became increasingly viewed as the avant-garde. There was no longer talk of “migrations”, but rather “diasporas”, and “radical culture” became “hip culture”. The night time worlds of Paris and London were eager for these new figures who gave the two capitals their international aura, while on the cover of their albums, artists were quick to feature images of the French and British capitals.
Sono-mondiale’s utopian dream
The enthusiasm among the general public, and record companies, for these new music scenes soon caught the interest of politicians. Big protests were being organised at the time, putting the multicultural identities of Paris and London in the spotlight and helping to turn these two former Empire capitals into international metropolises.
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, François Mitterrand chose to portray the image of a France open to the world, culminating in a big parade orchestrated by Jean-Paul Goude. In London, the concert organised as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, on June 11 1988, consecrated the London scene as a focal point for protesting all race-related injustice through music. Among the performers were artists from the Rock against Racism movement, such as Jerry Dammers, from the band The Specials. Alongside them were musicians such as Salif Keita or Youssou N’Dour, who had become star figures in these events, as well as some of the biggest names from the music world. Even Eric Clapton, despite the racist comments he had made in 1976. This demonstrates the normalisation of events of this kind in the UK, whereas the concert was banned by the South African government.
The Bicentennial of the revolution
On the occasion of the bicentennial of the French revolution, François Mitterrand decided to organise a series of events, including a big “La Marseillaise” parade, created by artist and advertising film director Jean-Paul Goude, with Wally Badarou as music director. Watched by 800 million TV viewers, the event culminated in an interpretation of La Marseillaise by the American soprano Jessye Norman, at Place de la Concorde. The parade was a huge popular success, with 800,000 people present on-site to watch this sumptuous show in which “tribes” from across the world portrayed a globalised, multicultural world. An important place was accorded to African artists, who paraded for the occasion to the sound of drums. And yet this event illustrates the dilemma of a republican model, wavering between a global and multicultural perspective and the reality of a multi-faceted France that was not always well accepted.
“One humanity, one justice.” Those were the words of Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler on June 11 1988 to the crowd at a packed Wembley stadium, at the end of an 11-hour concert broadcast by the BBC and over 60 TV channels across the world, as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who had been imprisoned since 1962. While music served the anti-apartheid cause throughout the 1980s (in 1983 the “African Sounds” concert was held at the Alexandra Palace, and in 1986 the British Artists Against Apartheid organisation attracted more than 200,000 people to a festival on Clapham Common), the Wembley “mega-concert” was also heir to the big international solidarity concerts such as Live Aid. The goal of this event, with the Thatcher government refusing to impose sanctions on South Africa, was to amplify mobilisation against apartheid by promoting Mandela to the general public through the media: far from the “terrorist” image that the authorities had attributed to him, he was the symbol of a South African people who were resisting and fighting, a concept that the London music scene would help to promote internationally.
Sono mondiale: from local to global
“Imagine, the earth is like a drum. The skin is tight all the way around. If you scratch it in Japan, the vibration can be felt to the end of the world. It’s like a huge sono (sound system)… A sono mondiale”. The term sono mondiale was invented by Patrice Van Eersel, a journalist at Actuel, in the living room of his boss, Jean-François Bizot, during a smoke-imbibed conversation with musician Ray Lema in the early 1980s. From 1981, Radio Nova promoted this music wave originating in all four corners of the planet. Later on, Bintou Simporé and his Sunday programme “Néo Géo” travelled through the least explored musical countries at a time when management of US and UK record companies were establishing the “World Music” label in an attempt to better market these productions, which couldn’t find their place on store shelves. Prolific and militant, inclusive and festive, curious and irreverent, the music of sono mondiale marked a golden age of “living together”.
When rap reached the French scene, the country had just voted the left into power. Around the same time, the punk wave was bursting out of London, heavily covered by the French specialised press, which had very little interest in New York hip-hop. At the time, rap was associated at the very most with a modulated scansion technique — “to rap” was translated into French by “baratiner”, “jacter”. In late November 1982, a few young Parisians discovered the reality of American rap when the New York City Rap performed at the Bataclan. DJs, dancers, rappers and graffiti artists displayed the freshness of their artistic mastery. The troupe was led by “beat” master Afrika Bambaataa, founder of Zulu Nation. The operation, initiated by journalist Bernard Zekri, was covered by Alain Maneval on the Europe 1 radio station. The young age of the artists and their level of involvement was in stark contrast to self-motivated professionalism. Coming from deprived neighbourhoods like the Bronx, they practised their art in the street. And on Friday nights, on the dance floor at the Roxy.
Positive, unlike punk, hip-hop laid claim to racial equality. So youth in districts with a heavy population of African descent quickly adopted this means of expression. Their role models performed on the weekly TV programme Hip-Hop on TF1. From 1984 to 1985, Sydney, a defector from Radio 7, hosted the show for 42 weeks, attracting a large and passionate audience of teenagers.
From underground Parisian scenes to the success of suburban Rap
In its early days, rap spread into certain Parisian locations gradually, in step with coverage in the media, and as that happened, it emerged from the “underground” setting, adopted in particular by young people in the working-class neighbourhoods and suburbs. Players in the rap movement were structured American-style, around the “posse”, a solidarity-based group formed within a restricted geographic area. Posses in Paris included Aktuel Force, Paris City Breakers (PCB) and Atomic, training grounds for future members of the bands Assassin, Ministère A.M.E.R. and NTM. Identification with a territory, going beyond the band phenomenon, led to recognition of the movement by politicians, local institutions, and other structures involved in popular education.
In 1989, the French branch of Zulu Nation, IZB (Incredible Zulu Boys), adapted its acronym to become “Intégration des Zones Banlieusardes” (integration of rough suburban areas). A name that was symptomatic of the interplay between hip-hop movement and institutions. Those same institutions would increase their efforts to integrate dancers and graffiti artists into contemporary creation, giving young rappers visibility, but keeping any overly subversive content at bay. As the 1990s began, rap was ready for commercialisation, at the very moment when a switch was taking place in the way this music movement was presented. Rap, laying claim to its new territorial roots, was designated as one of the media-friendly “voices” of suburban youth. Moving into the 1990s, with the authorities striving to respond to the socio-economic problems that communities living in the banlieues were facing, this artistic scene, combining dance, music and visual arts, was particularly spotlighted through the promotion of what was referred to as “urban cultures”.
The new British urban scenes
In the mid-1980s, one original music trend stood out from the other movements in fashion at the time. Acid-house, an explicit reference to a new and trendy drug, is a typically British sub-genre of house music, a form of electronic music born in the industrial wildernesses of Detroit and Chicago, in the United States. It was initially played in certain London and Manchester clubs like Trip or the famous Hacienda, then spread like wildfire thanks to Rave parties, large gatherings open to everyone, held on the outskirts of cities. During these parties, as huge as the sound system they drew inspiration from, the music was broadcast through mega sound equipment, and the DJ also played the role of host. One of the first Acid-house hits was composed by a young Briton of Jamaican origin, A Guy Called Gerald; a fan of hip-hop and house, he dreamed up new rhythms by creating “collages” of pieces of music. The song, entitled “Voodoo Ray”, went on to be one of the top sellers of 1989 in the UK. Despite heavy surveillance by the authorities and critical echoes in the media, this style became a real success and new forms emerged in the early 1990s, such as Jungle music, which drew its sources from reggae and hip-hop. Certain musicians within the House wave would attempt other musical experiments, mixing dub music, rock and Bhangra (traditional Indian music), the London band Asian Dub Foundation is one example. Alongside this basic trend, British music explored many other paths such as R’n’B, a mixture of hip-hop, soul and rhythm and blues, of which one of the star representatives was the group Soul II soul. Comprised of DJ Jazzie B and singer Caron Wheeler, the duo had many hits in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Focus on some artists
The Equals were the UK’s first multi-ethnic group. The group was started in 1965 by Eddy Grant, who had arrived in London from Guyana in 1960 at the age of 12, the two Gordon brothers, who came from Jamaica in the early 1950s, along with John Hall and Paul Lloyd, both born in London. Their musical style features a mix of pop, blues, rock, ska, blue beat and calypso. Their song “Baby Come Back” was number 1 for three weeks in July and number 2 in France. With “Police on My Back”, Eddy Grant talked about social problems, describing the tense relationship between between youth and police. The song would be covered by many groups, including The Clash, Asian Dub Foundation, Zebda, and Lethal Bizzle.
Linton Kwesi Johnson: combat poetry
A British artist born in 1952 in Jamaica, Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ) is the inventor of a musical style known as dub poetry. A child of Brixton, from one album to the next, this socially engaged artist became a chronicler of Caribbean immigration in London. In particular, he describes the “Black” experience in the UK and the difficulties inherent in life in certain working class districts. In his first album Dread Beat An' Blood, his poetry performed to reggae tunes was intended as “a cultural weapon”, denouncing the discrimination and violence of which young blacks in particular are victim. In 2012, two years after author Salman Rushdie, and in recognition of his whole body of literary work, he received the Golden PEN Award.
From the jazz clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 1950s to his collaborations with Nino Ferrer and Dick Rivers in the 1960s, not forgetting his global hit single Soul Makossa (1973), his spell in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1970s and his reputation as "papa groove" of the musical world, in 2019 Manu Dibango is celebrating 60 years in music.
A true ambassador for the African continent, along the way he has crossed paths with everybody from Sidney Bechet to Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Bob Marley, Muhammad Ali, General de Gaulle and Emperor Bokassa. Driven by his restless spirit of eclecticism, nomadism and collaboration, Dibango continues to explore the outer limits of afro-jazz, rumba, funk and reggae. Saxophone, piano, vibraphone, organ, marimba, voice, words, music, arrangements, conducting, presenting music programmes for television: the breadth of his musical abilities and interests is truly exceptional.
The Abranis are a rock group of Algerian origin. Founded in 1967, they enjoyed considerable success in the 1970s and 1980s.
Broadcasting on FR3 for 90 minutes every Sunday morning between 1977 and 1987, Mosaïque was a magazine show which invited groups of diverse origins to perform live, while also showing reports on their countries of origin and the immigrant communities living in France. It was originally intended to celebrate the different cultures brought to France by immigrants, but also to bring them to a wider audience.
And yet, the programme was never funded by the public broadcaster because it was considered to be too focused on a specific audience, and thus not sufficiently “public interest.” Its budget was covered by the Ministry for Labour, via a subsidy from the National Office for the Cultural Promotion of Immigrants, the ONPCI – which later became Information on Culture and Immigration, ICEI, in 1977, then the Agency for the Development of Intercultural Relations, ADRI, in 1982).
The emergence of a new generation of artists: interview with Tewfik Farès and Mouloud Mimoun
Political struggles of the 1980s
IM’média (est. 1983) and Migrant Media (est. 1989) are, respectively, a communications agency based in France specialising in immigration, urban cultures and social movement, and a collective of film-makers based in London and working to produce documentaries on similar themes.
In both France and England the 1980s saw an upturn in violent crime and police brutality, against a backdrop of economic crisis, mass unemployment and racism against immigrants. Im’media and Migrant Media arose from these tough circumstances, sharing the same commitment to investigating and documenting these crimes, and providing a platform for victims, their friends and their families, while also helping to perpetuate the various forms of political and cultural resistance which emerged from the ensuing protest movements.
IM’média defines itself as a media agency rooted in immigration and working class neighbourhoods. The name itself is a nod to an experiment conducted in the mid-1970s and connected to the Movement of Arab Workers, a group heavily involved with political and cultural activism which inspired various radio projects (Radio Assifa), street newspapers (Le Cri des murs) and dramatic productions focusing on immigration. Not to mention Sans Frontière, a newspaper launched in 1979. IM’media was forged by these experiences and in the specific context of the 1980s, determined to connect with children of immigrants while also maintaining a close connection with the generations who had lived through the 60s and 70s. From the outset, the agency’s members decided to adopt a multimedia approach, taking photography, video and radio as their tools. Their ambition was to tell the stories of second-generation immigrants with the help of an agency which remained rooted in working class neighbourhoods, “describing us the way we are, not the way we’re supposed to be.” (Mogniss Abdallah)
Migrant Media is a collective which brings together directors with roots in different immigrant communities in the UK, united by a certain social, political and cultural vision. They all share a commitment to presenting a different image of these communities, virtually always presented in the mainstream media as either victims or problems. The collective provides a counterpoint to these reductive representations, focusing instead on “the different ways that these communities have organised themselves in response to the problems they encounter in their day-to-day lives: housing issues, the fight against racism etc.” (Ken Fero).
In an enlightening conversation, Mogniss Abdallah from IM’média and Ken Fero from Migrant Media share their recollections of the 1980s in France and England. They also recall their first meeting, and their decision to work together to bear witness and document the movements reshaping immigrant populations. They first met in the late 1980s, at a time when music played a crucial role in their nascent social movements: from the Notting Hill Carnival, a reference point for both agencies, to the inter-cultural parties in working class neighbourhoods which followed the Rock Against Police concerts, co-organised by Mogniss Abdallah. Their shared history also features contributions from figures such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, who has been involved with several of the agencies’ films including their collaborative project Communities of Resistance, an initiative which has already yielded several films about the history of social movements in Germany (Germany: The other story), the UK (Britain’s Black Legacy) and France (Sweet France: the story of the beur movement).
Find out more
- Viméo : https://vimeo.com/migrantmedia
- Official website for the film Injustice
- Filmography: Porte di Roma (1985), Linked By a Common Thread (1987), Britain's Black Legacy (1991), Germany -The Other Story (1991), After The Storm (1992), Sweet France (1992), Tasting Freedom (1994), Justice Denied (1995), Injustice (2001), Defeat of the Champion (2011), Newspeak (2011), Who Polices The Police (2012), PoPo (2013) et Burn (2014)
- Article available on line :
- Contact: Mail
Injustice, a film produced by Migrant Media in 2001, will be screened for the first time in France on 11 May 2019 at the National Museum of the History of Immigration.
Injustice is a documentary about the fight for justice led by the families and friends of people who have died in police custody in the United Kingdom. Directed by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood, it depicts the pain and anger of friends and family members bereaved by these institutional murders. Spanning the period 1994 to 2001, Injustice follows families as they fight to recover the remains of their loved ones for burial, running up against callous police responses and collusion in the criminal justice system. But it also offers hope in the form of the bonds forged by these families as they unite in protest.
Palais de la Porte Dorée - Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration
293, avenue Daumesnil
- Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.
- Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Every Wednesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Single price: 6 €.
(includes entrance to all the museum’s temporary exhibits)
The entrance to the museum is free for visitors under 26 and the first Sunday of every month.
Booking for groups: firstname.lastname@example.org