Jack Lang, its creator, remembers the "greatest stage fright" of his life

Jack Lang, its creator, remembers the “greatest stage fright” of his life

“We told people ‘go ahead, get out, make the music in the streets your own’, but we were afraid that they would stay hidden in their homes. But it worked”, remembers for AFP the one who had been appointed Minister of Culture by François Mitterrand in 1981, Jack Lang. From the winter of that year, the idea germinated in the minds of Lang, his close guard, Christian Dupavillon, architect-scenographer, and Maurice Fleuret, director of music and dance. It is the latter who launches “the music will be everywhere and the concert nowhere”.

Lang, 82 today, wanted “overturn the table”. Which can be translated as marking his time like André Malraux, one of his illustrious predecessors under De Gaulle.“The party is this place of exchanges, of passions, of linking artists and people, it is constitutive of my temperament”confesses the one who stands out in the political landscape of the time with his pastel-colored jackets.

Very first Fête de la Musique at the Palais Royal, in Paris, on June 21, 1982, France.  (SUZANNE FOURNIER / GAMMA-RAPHO)

“One of my first steps as Minister of Culture was to go to a Stevie Wonder concert, for me it was normal, but it felt like an extravagance”. “At that time, the cultural policy for music was mainly oriented towards classical music and, more marginally towards contemporary music, musical research with (the composers) Boulez and Xenakis. The rest – rock, jazz, etc – was absentee subscribers”.

The concept is simple: the music must come out of conservatories and concert halls and be played by everyone on June 21, 1982, the day of the summer solstice. The project was quickly launched, Lang multiplied in the media and a first poster was printed in white on a blue background: “Party (Make) music June 21 8:30-9pm”. Only half an hour… Format has exploded since then.

“The first year, in 1982, it was not a great success, but people played the game and from 1983 it was really on”, decrypts Lang, today at the head of the Arab World Institute (IMA) in Paris. He pays with himself, sits at the piano in the street below his ministry in 1982 and in 1983 for the television news, while he still describes himself as “very bad pianist”.

Culture Minister Jack Lang sat down at the piano to announce the biggest concert in the world: the Fête de la Musique at the Ministry of Culture.  (PIERRE VAUTHEY / SYGMA)

Criticisms surface when Lang is interviewed: is it the time when inflation threatens (1982)? Is partying a way to forget austerity politics (1983)? “There will be some piss-vinegar for a while, for sincere reasons and for political reasons, but the popular movement has finally swept all that away”summarizes Lang today.

The nascent event also has great ambassadors, like Jacques Higelin who plays on a truck crossing Paris. Marie-France Brière, woman of radio and television, with whom Lang made “the 400 blows”also had electrical connections installed around the Trocadéro in Paris so that rock bands could play.

A photo taken during the second music festival, June 21, 1983. At the Higelin center, ambassador from the start.   (PATRICK ADVENTURER / GAMMA-RAPHO)

Over the years, the meeting has been exported, now to more than a hundred countries. “I was recently asked to do a video for the Australians, I can’t believe it”, Lang breathes. He lists trips he made on this occasion – “Berlin, Rome, Peru” – and remembers, amused, this return flight from Russia “with Alain Delon, at the beginning of Gorbachev” (1990) where a large part of the delegation, including him, was “drunk”.

What is he most proud of? “I parachuted into Boulogne-sur-Mer as a deputy candidate, a fisherman said to me ‘thank you, thanks to you I became a pianist’: the conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus had played the piano outside and the dude had been subjugated.”

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