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Daughter of the Mediterranean, docile European: Dalida in the 1950s

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In the nineteenth century, as colonial expansion abroad paralleled industrialization at home, West Europeans developed the conception of the foreign Other as ‘uncivilized’, a seductive yet simplified object, fit for the gaze of the powerful. In western art, literature and photography, a romantic conception of the ‘Mediterranean’ solidified, whereby those living in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea were represented as ‘natural’, childlike and untamed. The same essentialist and reductive approach to a ‘Mediterranean’ identity is identifiable in the early songs and performance of Dalida (1933–1987), an Egyptian-born, Italian female singer who became France’s most commercially successful female artist of the second half of the twentieth century. This article contextualizes the early success of Dalida in France, between 1956 and 1961, demonstrating that the singer’s ‘Mediterranean’ image was carefully engineered by male professionals who selected her song lyrics, music and performance. Because Dalida’s early success in France coincided with the Algerian War, the singer’s oriental provenance was strictly ignored, and her ‘Mediterranean’ identity instead remapped onto the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Analysing Dalida’s early career allows us to examine the evolution of ‘Mediterranean’ imaginings in French popular culture, and observe the politics of racial and gendered representation in the field of popular music at the tail end of the colonial era
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Keywords: Dalida; Mediterranean; chanson exotique; colonization; exoticism; post-war France

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Manchester

Publication date: 01 April 2013

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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