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In general
At the dawn of time...
Closer to us !

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In general :

The popular dance "Musette" is also a typically French style of music, born in Paris itself to be precise.
In fact, it's the result of the influence of different cultures introduced by musicians and by fashion: Auvergnats (people from the Auvergne region of France), Italians, Manouches (people who roam, similar to gypsies), Americans, Spanish...
These cultures also subsequently enriched the "musette".

This style, known the world over, is often better recognised outside France than in France itself.

That's Paris !!!

It is nevertheless a part of french cultural heritage.

The musette is often associated with the accordion and dancing. When saying this word, one dreams of small dance locales, guinguettes (cafes with music and dancing, often in the open), waltzes and the banks of the Marne river, but one also thinks of "Apaches", "Casque d’Or" and crooks...

The appearance of the ("modern-style") musette is contemporary with that of jazz at the beginning of the 20th century.
It grew deep roots towards 1880 at the heart of the Auvergnat and Italian communities gathered in Paris.

The name comes from an instrument: the musette.
Similar to the bagpipes, it is composed of an interchangeable pipe with several pierced holes and a bag of air.

Using a bellows pumped under the right arm, the musician fills the airbag placed on his left and, by pressing on the bag, causes the reeds of the bourdon pipe to vibrate.
The hide of a "cabri" (young goat) is used for this reservoir of air : this is why the musette is sometimes called a "cabrette".

The place where one could dance in town, with at least one musette playing the tune in the band, thus naturally became a "bal-musette" (musette dance-hall).
This term probably appeared towards the beginning of the 19th century.

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At the dawn of time ...

At the beginning of the 18th century, public dance-halls developed, particularly on the outskirts of the then Paris.

After the "Fermiers Généraux" (tax collectors) built a wall around Paris to better collect taxes and control contraband, the dance-halls found themselves separated from one another by "barriers" (Ramponeau barrier, Ménilmontant barrier, Belleville barrier, etc;)
The term "barrier" infers "taxes" and thus "trafficking"...
The neighbouring cheap eating houses were subsequently invaded by a population of all types of petty traffickers.
The Parisians would come at the end of each week for entertainment and to dance to the sound of the musette, but also to the violin, the hurdy-gurdy, the cornet or the clarinet.

In 1795, there were 644 dance-halls of different types in Paris.

Here are the names of some of the famous dance-halls of the 19th century :

Bal du Grand-Turc, boulevard Barbès
Bal du Prado, across from the Palais de Justice
Bal musette Dourlans, today called the Salle Wagram
Chez le père Dénoyez, rue de Belleville
Bal Mabille, rue du Mont-Cenis
Salle Graffard
Bal Cambon, rue de Lappe...  

Hop, hop, hop...

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Closer to us !

One can't talk about the musette without mentioning the Auvergnats (people from the Auvergne region of France) and the Italians.

Whereas, in the beginning, the term "bal musette" meant the places where the musette instrument was played, it rapidly came to refer to all establishments where one could dance, regardless of the instruments used.
This generalisation provoked the anger of the Auvergnats, defenders of the cabrette...

What ?
Founder of the "L'auvergnat de Paris" newspaper, at the end of 1895

« Traitors against the Auvergne and the Colony are those who use legal means to try to substitute your good cabrette in public dance-halls by German or Italian instruments thus provoking the closure of all the musette dance-halls in Paris of which they would already have succeeded in changing the character »

What ?
President of the association "La Cabrette", January 1896

« There, where the accordion and violin have replaced the musette, where uproar has replaced the bourrée (a dance)...is also where open laughter has been replaced by the knife. »

For them, the musette dance-hall should be reserved for the musette!
Following a complaint by Louis Bonnet to the Prefect of Paris, some "musette" dance-halls are closed down.
They are only allowed to re-open if they call on musicians who play the musette.

But here's the whole story in chronological order...  

The bourrée in Paris...

Already largely present towards the end of the 18th century as knife sharpeners, coppersmiths and crockery repairers..., the Auvergnats settled in Paris in ever-increasing numbers between 1800 and 1900.
Arriving at Austerlitz station, they were initially to be found in the 5th, 11th and 12th districts of Paris.
Interested in business, they quickly specialised in scrap iron, catering, cafes and bars.
For entertainment, the community opened small dance rooms in the back rooms of cafes.
And so one began to talk of streets such as the rue au Maire, rue de Lappe, rue Sainte-Maur, rue de Charonne, rue des Taillandiers, rue de Montreuil, rue de Charenton or the Thiéré Passage...
In these cafes, at the beginning of 1900, one danced (particularly Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons) the "bourrée" to the sounds of the "musette" and the "grelottière", a bracelet decorated with little bells which the musicians attached to their ankles.  

The pleasant atmosphere and music of these "musette" dance-halls, often called "Family dance-halls" drew large numbers of Parisians and Italians...

The latter, at the end of the 19th century, arrived en masse at the Lyon station and settled in the neighbouring districts.
The Carrara, Peguri and Coia families (among others) made the rue Curial (19th district) resonate to the sound of their accordions.

The Italians, with their diatonic accordions, were initially quite well accepted by some of the musette players.
One danced the bourrée, the waltz, the polka, the march...
A few years later, when they attempted to introduce new dances into the dance-halls and, thanks to the change to the mixed accordion (half diatonic, half chromatic), to make the music evolve beyond the capacity of the cabrette, a conflict erupted.

The situation worsened again towards 1900 with the appearance of the chromatic accordion and its fantastic possibilities.
Rupture was inevitable.

The Italians leave to play in new locations which they insist on calling "Musette", characterised by the presence of the accordion, drums and the "waltz".
Success comes quickly and reaches all of Paris since the accordionists create a completely new and attractive repertoire.
The accordion becomes the preferred accompaniment of singers, moves onto the street and thus becomes more and more popular.

This then was the true birth of the Musette genre.

Present throughout Paris, the "accordion" dance-halls finally passed beyond the barriers, spread through the suburbs and into the country except for..."a small region which still resists, and will always resist the invader" (the Auvergne region, of course!).
Even so, the Auvergne later succumbed due to the diatonic.

Play it hot, Marcel !!!

Here are some names from this era:

·         Antoine Bouscatel, born 9th March, 1867
Known for his great dexterity in playing the cabrette
Beginning of the 20th century, managed the "au Chalet" dance-cafe (13 rue de Lappe)
1904-1905 : first "official" meeting of the musette (Bouscatel) and the accordion (Péguri)
Instant and immense success
The "Chalet" continued under different names (the "bal Bouscatel", "Chez Bouscatel", the "Bousca-bal") until 1950.

·         Charles Péguri, born 30th October, 1879
Came from a family of four brothers, all accordionists
Virtuoso on the diatonic accordion
A legend for this instrument
Worked, with success, with Bouscatel
Ended his life in misery.

·         Emile Vacher, born 7th May, 1883
Couldn't read music
Virtuoso accordionist gifted with an amazing memory
Throughout his life, played a "mixed" model accordion
Often considered to be the creator of the "Musette" style.

·         Martin Cayla, born 23rd June, 1889
Torn between the diatonic accordion and the cabrette.

The dance-halls and theatres closed during World War I.

At the end of the war the masses needed entertainment, thus many dance establishments opened : "musettes", "guinguettes", dance-halls, etc.

During this period, one finds three types of establishments sharing the term "Bal Musette" ("Musette" dance-halls) :

. the "bal des familles" (Family dance-hall), typically Auvergnat, where one still saw some cabrettes
. the "bal musette populaire" (Popular Musette dance-hall), where sometimes the java dance is forbidden (!!!)  
. the "guinche" (just a place to dance), more or less seedy, petty crooks...

In order to experience a "shiver of fear", the classiest of the bourgeoisie sometimes went and mixed with the "masses" in these often dingy and sordid places.
This led to a theatrical element in certain dance establishments (particularly in the Bastille area) where, up until World War II, one could find "fake crooks", "fake police raids" and "fake gunshots"
for the benefit of tourists...

As for the music, the accordion quickly and definitively "shrugged off" the cabrette.
It began to appear in many music and dance events.
It even became an integral part in groups playing tango and then jazz, new successes which spread throughout France (from 1910 onwards and for several years thereafter).

And so one danced the tango, but also the foxtrot, the java, a polka variation, the mazurka, the one-step, the paso-doble, the beguine... and the waltz of course, which characterized the "Musette".

Here are the names of some of the famous dance-halls and dance establishments in Paris and its suburbs, during the first half of the 20th century :

Le Bal Dufayet
Le Chalet, rue de Lappe
La Boule rouge, rue de Lappe
Les Barreaux verts, rue de Lappe
Le Bal Chambon, rue de Lappe
Le Bal Vernet, rue de Lappe
Le Petit Balcon, Thiéré Passage
Le Bousca, Bastille area
Le Petit Bousca, rue de la Huchette
Les Grav', rue des Gravilliers
Le Petit Jardin, avenue de Clichy
La Grille
Le Musette
Les Trois Colonnes
Chez Charbonnel, Bastille area
Le Bal Nègre, rue Blomet
Le Bal Ramponeau, rue Ramponeau
l'Alcazar-Nation, boulevard Voltaire
Le Valence,  6 rue de Valence
Le Bal des Bossettes, sentier des Bossettes, Ivry
Le Balajo, rue de Lappe
Le Boléro, boulevard de Belleville
Le Ca Gaze, rue de Belleville
Le Bal Saint-Fargeau, rue de Belleville
La Coupole, Montparnasse district
La Coupole, Montmartre district
Le Petit Robinson, Alfortville
Chez Grosgnier, La Varenne
Chez Bigot, Courbevoie
L'Ermitage, Maisons-Alfort
La Java, Temple suburb
Chez Jouas, rue Polonceau

As far as instruments were concerned, one should note the supreme presence of the accordion in the groups and orchestras, and also that of the drums (called "the jazz") which, by audibly marking the beat, helped dancers to better feel the rhythm in the dance-halls of the time which did not have sound systems.
In stringed instruments, the banjo appeared followed by the guitar with its Manouche and Gypsy influences...

The Swing-musette was born at the beginning of 1940 with a repertoire of waltzes allowing for rich improvisation...

Little by little the groups filled out with the addition of the mandolin, the bandoneon, the clarinet, the trumpet, the saxophone...

At the beginning of its peak, the accordion was the symbol of the Musette.

Some of the notable musicians of this epoch were :

·         after 1920 :
A. Carrara
M. Peguri,

·         after 1930 :
P. Corchia
L. Peguri

·         after 1940 :
E. Carrara

·         after 1950 :
L. Corchia

After 1945, the "Musette" became THE popular music of its day.

But, whilst certain accordionists remained discreet and faithful to the "Musette" style and its origins, others (amongst those mentioned above) tried and succeeded in becoming "stars".

Alas, the image they conveyed ("old-fashioned" and a little too "common"), their awful smiling grimaces, the media playing what rapidly became "the same old song" (in the negative sense) - all this culminated in harming the reputation of the accordion in general and thus the "Musette" and its associated dances.

Young people lost interest in this style of music.
Towards 1960 and the during the next 30 years, the image of the accordion became more and more tarnished.
As a result, the dances associated with this instrument suffered a heavy blow...  

What ?

« Unfortunately young people are put off because it's the worst (music) that you can listen to. I don't want to name names, but they know who they are. Besides, they are the ones making the most dough. They have screwed up the accordion with their crummy tones and always playing the same sequences, and we will never recover. »

Little by little since the 90's, the accordion is coming back into fashion among some rock groups.
Let's hope that this revival will help re-launch an interest in partner dancing and that it will allow the "Musette" style in particular to develop again... (for more on this subject see : Musette Today).

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