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Black Montmartre

Black Montmartre celebrates Europe’s continual embrace of black American music over the last 100 years; creating the dominant musical narrative of the 20th Century.

Our inspiration begins with the the 369th Regiment; a unit of Black American soldiers who served as part of the French army in WWI and had a band led by James Reese ‘Europe’.

The troops had been recruited in Harlem by Reese’s jazz band and hoped fighting for America would improve the status of black people. On arrival in France The US Army wouldn’t let black soldiers fight alongside whites. So they gave them to France, who had no such limitations. The 369th were badged with French army insignia and equipment, were trained by the French and fought bravely – suffering more casualties and winning more honours than any other US division. They became one of the most feared divisions by the Germans, who dubbed them the “Harlem Hell Raisers”.

At the same time the 369th division’s early Jazz band toured France, covering over 2000 miles on tour and introducing French people to Jazz. They were massively successful and were respected as artists. The band soon became known by the Hell Raisers nickname of the regiment and were recorded by the Pathé brothers. When the French army officers were sent a document by the US army command saying the 369th should not be treated as equals, the French Government passed legislation proclaiming the equality of all.

But after the war, returning black soldiers were often greeted with hostility in the USA. They joined-up to enhance black people’s status, but were attacked for ‘acting up’. There were more lynchings of black people in 1919 than any other year in US history – some while still wearing army uniform.

Meanwhile, a new type of jazz venue (the origins of modern nightclubs) opened in the Bohemian cafe society around Pigalle, Paris. American jazz musicians started flocking to the area. Soon there were so many there it became known as “Black Montmartre”.

James Reese – or James Europe as he was now known – returned from the war as the most notorious band leader in America. On his return he said his band had won over Europe by playing their own music, and not by trying to sound like white musicians. He described this as the future of black music and launched (and recorded) the early jazz period. Soon white people would be trying to sound like black musicians. But sadly he died in 1919.

As jazz music took-off in the USA and Europe, the first European sub-genre of Black American music, gypsy jazz, was born in France. This set the course of European and American street music ever since.

Noise of Art’s Black Montmartre takes this is as our jump-off point with new music, club events, interviews, visual art, poetry and other collaborations exploring the long history of the interplay between Black America, the UK, Europe and war – and the light that grew from the dark.

Originally conceived in 2016 and planned to be rolled out in 2020-2021, the the project has now been launched in lockdown. We are currently working, mostly behind the scenes, on our first recordings, word projects and interviews with artists such as Red Snapper, Jayhem Racon, H.E Ross, Leee John of Imagination, Kansas Smitty’s House Band…


Launched in 2020 after five years plus of planning, Noise of Art’s Black Montmartre is multi-dimensional, collaborative music and art project celebrating the arrival of American black music and birth of clubs in Europe after WW1


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