Rachel Gillett's At Home in Our Sounds: Music, Race, and Cultural Politics in Interwar Paris (Oxford University Press, 2021) explores the world of the French "Jazz Age" in the years after the First World War. Tracing the common ground and differences between communities of African American, French Antillean, and French West African artists who lived, performed, and interacted with one another in the French capital during the 1920s and 30s, the book asks questions about Blackness, Frenchness, colonialism, racism, identity, and solidarity through a focus on the experiences of a diversity of historical actors and sources. Connecting the rich and complex world of entertainment to social and political change and resistance, the book draws attention to class and gender as well as race to think through issues of nationalism, transnational movement and exchange, and anti-colonialism. Its chapters work with a range of materials including police records, recordings, biography and autobiography, and a wealth of images of/from the diverse Parisian cultural life the era.
Pushing beyond the well-established history of white responses to Black musical forms (Jazz and the Biguine) during this period, the book emphasizes the perspective of Black observers, including the famous Nardal sisters of Martinique, who commented on the varied cultural and political effects of artists and performances. The book will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of music, race, and exchanges across the Atlantic, including different points within the French empire during this period. And the legacies of this moment continue to resonate in France and beyond a century later.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and empire. She is the founding host of New Books in French Studies, a channel launched in 2013.