The spirit of multicultural Paris — the mélange of cultures and music that Paris represents — are reflected in a great new album from St.Germain. The new album provides ample testimony on how diverse musical languages and cultures can be combined into a beautiful harmonious soundscape.
St.Germain’s new set is now #1 on the KCRW Most Played Albums music chart. It’s my favorite new album too. I love the way St. Germain (né Ludovic Navarre) mixes Mississippi roots blues, Malian and West African music into a seamless whole. It is a stroke of masterful alchemy, a celebration of multicultural diversity long part and parcel of Parisian life and French culture.
St. Germain played Bataclan last Thursday night in a sold-out show, the night before Friday’s bloodbath. Multicultural France, like St Germain, has always celebrated cultural inclusion and ethnic diversity. I have friends who attended that joyous show. How different Paris became just one day after.
I was in Paris just a couple of weeks ago and like everybody else am shocked and horrified by the carnage of last Friday night. I stayed at a small hotel just doors away from Le Petit Cambodge in the 10th arrondissement. I walked by the restaurant every day. This area is a lively and chic area and the streets were busy all the time. France is now in shock; the French psychic bedrock notion of Liberté, Egalité & Fraternité is under assault.
When I lived in Paris in the 1970s, first as a student at the Sorbonne and later teaching American English to middle managers at a French school in the 16th, I enjoyed going up to the 18th, 9th, and 10th arrondissements (neighborhoods, kind of like our zip codes here) to check out African and Arab music stores, eat some cheap couscous, and enjoy the diversity of the City of Light. Arab and African cultures are much more a part of the cultural fabric of Paris than Los Angeles. It was my first excursion into world music. Like many other Americans and Brits, I also spent a good bit of time in the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookstore, a comfortable refuge for cheap used books, comfy armchairs, and good heating. The venerable bookshop again became a refuge for Parisians last Friday night.
I’m an L.A. native, but Paris is where I spent more time than anywhere else, so I consider it a second home. Je me debrouille. I love French music, French wine and food, heavy auteur films, and even proudly owned three different French cars (Renault Le Car, Citroën DS, Peugeot 504), all now extinct here. I loved going to underground jazz boîtes on the rue de la Huchette, the inexpensive ORTF jazz shows, and enjoyed smoking yellow-paper Gitane cigarettes, the stinky black-tobacco smokes favored by French farmers and blue collar workers. I even encountered Samuel Beckett on the Boulevard St. Germain one day in 1976. We walked right past each other. He had one of those yellow papier maïs Gitanes stuck on his lower lip.
I am a melomane, musicophile, music nut. One reason I love music is because more than any other art, it brings people and cultures together. The great Voltaire once said that if politicians learned musical harmony, the world would be better for it. It’s no coincidence that totalitarian regimes always ban music: Iran, Pakistan, northern Mali and Afghanistan all have. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany banned jazz music in an earlier era. Music symbolizes democracy and freedom, the arch enemies of the terrorist barbarity the world saw last Friday night.
Maybe this is a fanciful wish, but I would love to see the Statue of Liberty — an 1886 gift from France and designed by Frédérique Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel — be lit up with the red, white, and blue of the French flag, the tricolor. Red, white and blue are our colors, too. Just as the Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris, the Statue of Liberty represents America, welcoming millions of immigrants. It celebrates diversity and has always been a symbol of hope. Both monuments reflect shared ideals and values. France has been a stalwart friend all the way back to the beginning of our fledgling democracy, when she helped the early colonists throw off Britain’s yoke. This would be a grateful acknowledgement of our enduring friendship.