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The first Café-chantant was established in 1789 on the Champs-Élysées — (ink drawing from the collection of Hippolyte Destailleur)

Café chantant (French pronunciation: [kafe ʃɑ̃tɑ̃]; French: lit. 'singing café'), café-concert, or caf’conc is a type of musical establishment associated with the Belle Époque in France.[1] The music was generally lighthearted and sometimes risqué or even bawdy but, as opposed to the cabaret tradition, not particularly political or confrontational.[2]

Although there is much overlap of definition with cabaret, music hall, vaudeville, etc., the café chantant was originally an outdoor café where small groups of performers performed popular music for the public.[3]

National variations[edit]

Le Café Concert, by Henri-Gabriel Ibels, illustrated book cover by Ibels and Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893 — the customer is Francisque Sarcey

The tradition of such establishments as a venue for music has its origins in Paris [4][5] and London of the eighteenth century.

Such establishments gained their widest popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the growth of various other national "schools" of cafè chantant (besides French).[6] Thus, one spoke of an Italian café chantant,[7][8] German café chantant,[9] or Austrian café chantant. For example, at least one Victorian era premises in England was known as a café chantant.[10] One of the most famous performers in this medium was violinist Georges Boulanger, who performed in this style from 1910 until 1958, and singer Gorella Gori or Zaira Erba who died in 1963.[11]

In Spain, such an establishment was known as a café cantante and became the centre for professional flamenco performances from the mid nineteenth century to the 1920s.

Cafés chantants were known as كافشانتان (kafeşantan) in Turkish,[12] and many were opened in the Beyoğlu/Péra district of Istanbul in the early years of the twentieth century. They are described in great detail in the memoirs of such authors as Ahmed Rasim and Sermet Muhtar Alus. Earlier versions of the kafeşantan, known as kahvehane in Turkish, appeared in Istanbul during the Ottoman Era as early as 1554. Hundreds of them were opened continually, most of them with a social club status.[13]

In the Russian Empire, the term was taken wholesale into the Russian language as "kafe-shantan" (кафе-шантан). Odessa was the city best known for its numerous kafe-shantany.

Fundraising for women's suffrage and other causes[edit]

In the twentieth century, Cafe Chantant events were held across the UK by the women's suffrage movement to bring together their supporters and to raise funds. The organization of the events of musical and other performances held the movement were intended to be of a high standard (and unlikely to be risqué although unconventional), so that fundraising this way was successful. Starting in one branch,[14] then rolling out across Scotland, this type of fundraising was led in 1908 by Jessie M.Soga, contralto.[15] A programme for a London Cafe Chantant shows the variety of performances ranging from music or talks, to clairvoyance and jujitsu.[16]

Prior to that, a Thé and Café Chantant event had been organised in 1900 in Edinburgh by Alice Low (suffragist) and an actor to raise money for a patriotic fund for Scottish soldiers.[17] And later, a similar event for prisoners of war comforts fund, was organised by a 'tea committee' in Leamington Spa, during World War One in 1916.[18]

Literary uses[edit]

Le Café Concert, was a book published by L’Estampe originale in 1893 about the French establishments of that day. The book contains text by Georges Montorgueil. It is illustrated with numerous lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri-Gabriel Ibels that mostly feature famous performers or customers from the contemporary Paris scene.

The name Cafe Chantant appears in


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  7. ^ Squillace, Germana (2015-05-13). "Il Salone Margherita, primo cafè-chantant italiano". Vesuvio Live (in Italian). Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  8. ^ ""CAFÈ CHANTANT: 1915-1918 La musica, le poesie, la satira"". VeneziaToday (in Italian). Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  9. ^ "Travis Jeppesen on "1913: The Brücke and Berlin"". Retrieved 2021-12-15.
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  11. ^ Lucini, Gianni (2019-11-25). "Gorella Gori, una delle protagoniste del café chantant". Dailygreen (in Italian). Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  12. ^ "Janet and Jak Esim - Turkish Sephardic roots revived". Retrieved 2021-12-15.
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  14. ^ "Branch Notes - Hillhead branch". Women's Freedom League. 24 December 1908. p. 313.
  15. ^ "Scottish Notes". Women's Freedom League. 31 December 1908. p. 324.
  16. ^ "London Society for Women's Suffrage". Woman and her Sphere. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  17. ^ "Society in Scotland: Thé and Café Chantant in Edinburgh". The Gentlewoman. 17 March 1900. p. 331.
  18. ^ "Royal Leamington Spa Courier and Warwickshire Standard - Warwick and Country Edition page 1". WW1 Database. 17 January 1916. Archived from the original on 4 September 2021. Retrieved 2021-09-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
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