Thursday, March 20, 2014

Great Black Music at Cité de la Musique

Great Black Music - video billboard
© Discover Paris!

Tom and I were happy to receive an invitation to the vernissage of the Great Black Music exposition that debuted at the Cité de la Musique on March 11, 2014. We went to this private inauguration the night before, thinking that we'd be able to wander around the exposition at our leisure. So many people showed up that the museum staff could only allow a limited number of people to enter at one time, which made for a long wait outside the exhibit and little space to move around once we got inside. It made us wonder what would happen on opening day!

Entry to exposition
© Discover Paris!

After purchasing your entry ticket, you must first go to the desk where audio guides (in French and in English) are distributed. Without one, you may as well not enter the exposition because most of what you'll find there required access to recorded narrative and music.

Adjacent to the desk is a room with several posts, each of which has a flat top on which a short video about a black music legend is projected. Some of the persons featured include Miriam Makeba, Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Nina Simone, and Michael Jackson.

There are no barriers around the posts and they can be approached from any angle. This design was frustrating for us because with the number of people in the room, it was difficult to be able to stand in front of the post to watch the video of our choice. We often had to watch it from an angle, or even upside down. There were so many people in the room that the WiFi signals became disrupted and some posts were not operational. We were able to return to the room later to successfully view several videos that we could not see when we arrived.

From this area, we entered a room with several large video screens that extended around the room like a mural. Two or three clips about music from different regions of Africa are projected onto each screen. One could easily spend an hour in this room alone!

Mama Africa room
Image courtesy of Cité de la Musique

Next is a room that displays videos depicting voodoo, santería, candomblé, and other rituals, as well as the types of music associated with them. Gospel music was explored in this room as well but we did not stay there long enough to see how it was portrayed.

Sacred Rites and Rituals room
Image courtesy of Cité de la Musique

The adjacent room contains an illustrated timeline that begins with the construction of the ancient pyramids of Egypt and ends in 2011. The viewer is invited to listen to music that influenced, shaped, or was inspired by the particular historic events mentioned along the timeline.

The Modern Jazz Quartet
Image courtesy of Cité de la Musique

We thought that we had seen everything at this point but one of the museum staff cheerfully indicated that there was more to explore downstairs. We walked down the stairs to find ourselves in a room lined by pre- and post-Katrina photos of musicians from New Orleans. We walked through a space where you could sketch images on a white board to enter a room containing several individual video screens, each of which showed two or three clips of contemporary black artists from around the world. Zouk, reggae, funk, blues, rap, and more were featured on these screens.

And there was still more! The last exhibition room contains three semi-open areas where you can practice disco, salsa, and hip-hop dancing! Each comes equipped with a video lesson that teaches you the basic moves and a camera that broadcasts your image as you practice. When you feel ready, you press a red button beneath the screen to dance to the music.

Tom in Boogie Wonderland
© Discover Paris!

The most interesting and unexpected events of the evening occurred on this floor. First, we saw saxophonist Archie Shepp being interviewed by the press and were able to get him to pose for us once his discussion with the journalist had ended.

Archie Shepp
© Discover Paris!

Then we saw Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira stroll into the hip-hop area with her entourage and were able to snap a few photos of her enjoying the tagging wall that was set up in this area! She graciously posed with me for a photograph.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira spotted at the tagging wall
© Discover Paris!

Minister Taubira enjoying tagging
© Discover Paris!

Monique and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira
© Discover Paris!

The exposition is provocative, educational, and extensive - be prepared to return to the Cité several times if you want to appreciate it fully! It runs through August 24, 2014.

Cité de la Musique
221, avenue Jean Jaurès
75019 Paris
Telephone: 01 44 84 44 84
Métro: Porte de Pantin (Metro line 5; Tram line 3)


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Anonymous said...

"Great Black Music" sounds like quite a powerful & informative exhibition. Your wonderful photos really convey the multi-media mood, and that portrait of Jazz icon Archie Shepp is absolutely charming. Merci bien for such an exciting blog - it most definitely makes one want to visit Cite de la Musique -tout de suite!

About Beauford Delaney said...

So glad you enjoyed this, Studio! Maybe you'll get the chance to see the exhibit - it will be on until August.