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Music soothes the soul... and the metro? At least that's the bet the RATP has been waging for decades now. Music, maestros!
Now and then you can catch the sound of a chord drifting from around the corner. Here a guitar, there a flamenco group, and way over there a violinist. The notes mix and mingle to the delight of curious passengers. What a pity it would be to hurry past one of these corridor concerts... Who knows, you might miss a future rock star!
Few people realise it, but many French and international artists have been discovered in the passageways of the Paris metro, including Keziah Jones, Manu Dibango, Touré Kounda, William Baldé, Dany Brillant, Lââm and Ben Harper. Not to be upstaged, certain talented artists from the younger generation also got their start in the Parisian underground, including Zaz, Pep's and Irma.
It all started in the 1970s, more specifically in 1977, with the Métro Molto Allegro festival. This inaugural event invited about a hundred musicians to perform in twenty metro stations, culminating in a concert in the middle of the Auber station that drew in 5 000 passengers.
A few years later, in 1989, the presence of the now-famous "metro musicians" was institutionalised with the introduction of RATP accreditation. The programme garnered such interest that in 1997 the Espace Métro Accords (EMA) was created to handle the growing success. Our ears have savoured a real symphony of sounds ever since.
Each year, the RATP auditions hundreds of amateur and professional musicians, granting 350 of them a coveted license to play for six months. Whether it's chasing the dream of meeting a producer to follow in the footsteps of some of the greats already mentioned or looking for an opportunity to sell an existing album to a new audience, each performer has their own motivation. Every one of them, though, gets to enjoy playing mere inches from their public.
But that's not the end of it! In addition to these undiscovered stars, you can find many established performers who come to share their melodies in the same stations, putting on increasingly fervid concerts. For example, the Jaurès metro station recently welcomed big names -M- (2012), who gave an anonymous concert for the release of his latest album, ÎL, and Oxmo Puccino (2013), who kicked off that year’s RATP auditions... and the opportunity to open for him at the Zénith! Which brings us full circle.
As if that wasn't enough, from time to time events are organised to liven up the metro trains and corridors, including a tribute to Georges Brassens in 2011 and a 15-year anniversary concert for the EMA in 2012. Music can also be found in the metro in other forms; after all, it's not just an auditory art! Think of the "Paroles'n'Rock" campaign that, during the Rock en Seine festival, transcribed the energetic lyrics of Avril Lavigne, Interpol and Cocorosie in the metro trains. Without a doubt, this offers an alternative way to soothe the souls of riders who don't have the time to stop and listen to the humble musician in the hallway, letting them read the lines at their leisure and be carried away in the memory of a song... What of the flask, if the wine intoxicates? With five million daily visitors to read and listen to these eclectic ensembles, it's no wonder the metro claims to be "France's biggest stage". Calling all aspiring maestros!