The valse musette is a blend of folk music from Auvergne and light Parisian music from the 19th century. It matured into its current form during the 1930s under the influence of Italian immigrants. A distinctive jazzy flavor was introduced by Gypsy musicians who had quickly picked up on the new American style. (Django Reinhardt started his career as a banjo player in musette and dance bands.) Guitarists like Boulou and Matelot Ferre, Didi Duprat and Didier Roussin made the Musette accompaniment style a very recognizable one. Accordionists like Gus Viseur instilled a definite swing flavor into the genre. The musette name itself refers to a small bagpipe-like instrument that was played in the center of France, especially in Auvergne ("musette" being the name for a small bag).
The java is said to be the only dance invented in Paris. Patterned around 1920 after the mazurka, it is danced with small steps, without twirling, with hands on the partner's derriere. The java and the valse musette together constitute the centerpiece for the musette style. The java name comes from the speech pattern of people from Auvergne, where they tend to transform the "S" sound into an "SH"; hence auvergnat pronunciation of the traditional French greeting "ca va ? ca va" ("how is it going ? it's going OK") would be "SHa va ? SHa va". Now can anybody tell us why it is called Java and not Shava ?
The foxtrot comes from the March and the Polka.
The paso doble is reminiscent of Spanish music played for the corridas. Bull fights can be seen in the south of France (Nimes, Arles). They differ from the ones seen in Spain only in that the bull is not killed in the end. The dance itself mimics the interplay beteen the toreador and the bull.
The tango was introduced in France in the 1910s. It became popular in the dance halls around 1920. French musicians dressed as gauchos or Brazilian cariocas. The tango also claims a French heritage by way of Carlos Gardel, who is said to have been born in Toulouse and emigrated with his mother to Argentina when he was a toddler. Later on, Astor Piazzolla studied music in Paris.
These songs depict life in Paris and the "banlieues". They tend to have distinct pessimistic overtones and feature more than their share of prostitutes down on their luck, thugs, misdeeds, unrequited love, murders and various other familial happenings. One can only assume that these snippets are as representative of the lives of Parisians as the name "realistic" implies. For all the gory details, check out the words in the CD liner notes (in French and in English).