The music of Marseille | The new European

Marseille music is as sure of itself as the city itself, says SOPHIA DEBOICK

Marseille is a proud and ambitious city. Founded by the Greeks around 600 BC, the ancient origins of France‘s second city did not prevent the search for modernity, and it is known for its revolutionary architecture of the 20th and 21st centuries. Le Corbusier’s revolutionary La Cité Radieuse building was completed in 1952, while Norman Foster’s event pavilion at the Vieux Port – a vast sheet of mirrored steel – was built as part of a major regeneration for the designation of the city as European Capital of Culture 2013.

But in a city with its share of problems, especially in its poor and crime-ridden northern neighborhoods, pride can turn into arrogance and obedience becomes a right. When Marseille football club Olympique de Marseille scored a record-breaking streak of 13 consecutive Champions League defeats late last year, the injured pride of the local Ultras led to a storming of the training ground and a riot.

The 90s were rather better times. In 1993, Olympique de Marseille won the Champions League, the first and only French club to do so to date. It was the golden age of the pride of the Marseillais, and this most multicultural city, defined by its French, Maghrebian, Corsican, Italian and Armenian ethnic mix, was more united than ever.

But this brief moment belied a rapidly tearing social fabric. Despite a half-century of far-left stronghold, the 1984 elections saw the National Front settle in Marseille, and social friction erupted in the 1990s. This proved to be a catalyst for musicians from the ville, who responded by creating socially conscious music that celebrated loud and clear a diverse Marseille identity.

Reggae act Massilia Sound System (Massilia is the Latin name for Marseille) were founded in direct response to the FN push of 1984 and had gained local fame as Marseille was enjoying its sunny moment in the early 1990s. shameful, ”MC Papet Jali later said,“ and we responded to that by singing ”.

The group started with MC Moussu Tatou’s sound system, which played all over the city and which Jali, an electrician by training, was sometimes called upon to repair. Jali started MC alongside Tatou and Massilia Sound System was born. According to Jali, the group’s mission was to perpetuate the atmosphere of unity when he went to see his dear Olympique de Marseille play: “A heart, a voice, a song, an emotion, an energy”.

But despite all its serious philosophy of cultural exchange and anti-racism, many songs of Massilia Sound System are overflowing with the essentials. joy of living de Marseille, the sonorous sun inherent in reggae accompanied by lyrics in French and local Occitan relating the life of the city. Sunday in Les Goudes from the album ai e Libertat (2007), for example, vividly depicts the “Marseille dream” of an idyllic Sunday in the picturesque little port of Goudes, and it is not for nothing that their style has been dubbed trobamuffin, because they combine a ragamuffin sound with the storytelling tradition of the troubadours of medieval southern France.

Massilia Sound System was joined by another formation to reshape the identity of the Marseillais through song in the early 1990s. The name of IAM had more than one origin, being in part inspired by the iconic signs “I am a man “from the struggle for civil rights, but also for” Imperial Asiatic Men “, in reference to the group’s interest in the cultures of ancient Egypt and Africa, or ‘Invasion Arrival of Mars’ -‘ Planet Mars’ is a common nickname for Marseille.

First album From Planet Mars arrived in 1991, and was considered to mark the birth of French rap, but IAM remained only local heroes until the first single from the second album Shadow is Light (1994) launched them nationally at the height of Marseille’s golden age.

I dance the mia (1994) sampled the sound of George Benson Give me the night and was both nostalgic and full of references to Marseille places. The perfect song of the summer, it rose to number one in France and was the second best-selling single of the year, only beaten by the multilingual global smash of Neneh Cherry and Youssou N’Dour. 7 seconds. But the optimistic nature I dance the mia was misleading about the political orientation of the IAM, deeply invested in the issue of race and social misery in the Marseille suburbs.

Their 1996 collaboration with the raï superstar Khaled, Oran Marseilles, for example, referred to the ferry route connecting the title’s Algerian port and Marseille and explored the experience of Algerian immigrants in the city.

IAM still defined French rap and had just released their first live album, recorded at the Dôme amphitheater in Marseille, when the 2005 suburban riots broke out across France. Marseille has proven to be exceptional again at this time, with its suburbs remaining calm as other underprivileged suburbs across France have burned down, perhaps proof of its ultimately laid-back demeanor and tight-knit communities.

Moussu T e lei Jovents (“Monsieur T and the young”) made their debut in this crucial year, a group that looked at the history of Marseille to understand its present. Formed by three former members of Massilia Sound System, including Moussu Tatou, the project is inspired by the imagined soundscape of the novel by Harlem Renaissance author Claude McKay. Banjo (1929), an exploration of class and race in the rugged Marseille waterfront of the early 20th century, and the group is all too aware of the current social challenges facing the region – three quarters of between them come from La Ciotat, 50 off the coast of the city, which has been economically devastated by the closure of its shipyards.

Yet, as is the case with Massilia Sound System, Moussu T e lei Jovents makes a happy sound, with Cajun banjo, reggae beats and a relaxed blues vibe. Even the bouzouki-meets-bluegrass air In La Ciotat beginnings Miss Marseille (2005) depicts a scene of bliss by the beach, where the protagonist lives “shirtless, feet in the water”, rather than openly addressing the decline of the city. And with songs like their desert blues version of Soulòmi (2005), written by the 19th century Occitan lexicographer Frédéric Mistral, and The pleasures of fishing (2006), by the king of Marseille operetta Vincent Scotto, Moussu T e lei Jovents drew on the rich hinterland of Marseille culture.

While Moussu T e lei Jovents reframed the Marseille stereotypes set up by songs like A very fresh pastis (1947) of the singer Darcelys, who exchanged the idea of ​​the typical character of the Marseillais both joker and nonchalant, and that of the Marseillais Fernandel The bouillabaisse (1969), a more recent project returned to the fighting spirit of The Marseillaise himself.

Le 13 Organisé Collective, a group of rappers from Marseille, releases the single Organized band last August and spent 12 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in France. Her popularity was telling, as she was full of the sense of aggression and pent-up foreboding of the pandemic – this assault was evident in Marseille in March as locals celebrated the carnival of disregard of lockdown rules and a riot ensued. . But the single also definitively puts Marseille back in the spotlight. Not only did the wildly popular video feature the Stade Vélodrome, the home ground of Olympique de Marseille, but the song’s payline captured the essential assurance and indefinable uniqueness of this city: “This n it’s not the capital / It’s Marseille baby. “


Some of Marseille’s greatest love songs have been written by Vincent Scotto, the operetta-turned-prolific film composer who is commemorated with a bust at the Vieux Port. All around La Corniche from the movie The gangsters of the Chateau d’If (1939) underline that lovers of the Marseillais do not need to run away or “look for other settings”, because in town they are “much stronger”, while the Corsican Tino Rossi Marseille … my country from Scotto In the Land of the Sun (1952) was a riot of beautiful images of the local landscape.

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