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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Between Duty and Romance: The Attraction of Sounding “Black” in Paris


The histories of Black Americans who significantly influenced French life and culture in Paris are hardly marked or visible across the most frequented tourist destinations or within state-sponsored museums dedicated to national history. Instead, certain tourist-oriented live performances constitute audible monuments to Black soldiers and musicians. Audible monuments are sound objects constructed through live orature, collective participation, or sound-producing movements that recall history and memory for the purpose of witness engagement or tourist consumption. Toward a critical analysis grounded in performance studies theory this essay first replays and reinterprets the music and military histories shared between African-descended US soldiers and the nation of France as a gendered and misaligned romance, and then suggests how performance events like the tours of “Black Paris” can rehearse that romance and then rupture it by a contemporary African presence.


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