Exploring Musical and Sonic Borders through French Colonialism
The 1931 Exposition coloniale internationale (International Colonial Exhibition), held in the Bois de Vincennes in eastern Paris, was perhaps the largest and most ‘successful’ celebration of European colonialism to be held in the twentieth century.
The event brought musicians from across the colonial empire to the French capital, where they performed to millions of paying visitors. At the same time, concerts of Western Art Music were held in the newly built Salle des fêtes (today the Palais de la Porte Dorée, home of the ‘National Museum of the History of Immigration’). Popular musicians of the time wrote songs about the exposition, and performed at the event, often launching commercially-successful careers.
In this presentation, I explore how music, and sound more broadly, shaped the soundscape of the event and the sonic experiences of musicians and audiences in attendance. I interrogate the role of sound at the exposition in negotiating binaries: between coloniser and colonised, ‘West’ and ‘Other’, high and low art, Christianity and Islam, and tradition and modernity.
Through ‘sonic excavation’, I seek to reconstruct and critique the soundworld of eastern Paris in 1931, highlighting the importance of such exhibitions for both the European colonial project and emerging anti-colonial movements.
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This event is part of our 2021 guiding theme: