In 2011, a strong new contender rose to challenge Great Big Sea for my musical affections: the entire genre of Quebecois traditional music! GBS is in fact responsible, along with many other aspects of my life, for my discovering Quebec trad. The very first show I ever saw GBS perform at also included the mighty La Bottine Souriante, and that was the initial seed for an affection that has finally exploded into a passion to rival my beloved B’ys. Those of you who know how much I love GBS will know that I do not use this phrasing lightly!
Seven Quebecois bands command the majority of my attention, though my love for this music surged out to pull in a lot more albums as well. All of them have two big things in common with GBS, i.e., vigorous performances and richness of harmonies. Quebecois bands though have two extra things that I greatly love: podorythmie and mouth reels.
The first of these comes from how, in Quebecois music, the feet are instruments. You’ll get a band member parked in a chair and tapping away like crazy on a board in front of them, laying down complex rhythms to support the rest of the band. It’s incredibly fun to watch, especially when the person in the chair is also playing a fiddle AND singing. It’s such an incredible physical expression of music that I cannot help but respond to it.
Mouth reels are also awesome, and come from the Quebecois tradition of how musicians settling the province would often not have been able to bring their instruments with them–so they made do by vocalizing the melodies they knew. So now, a Quebecois band will frequently work a mouth reel section into a song–-or make that the entire song. It works extremely well when done in conjunction with a full-blast instrumental reel. These are called turluttes on all the tracks I see them on, and they rock.
+10 to Awesome for all Quebecois bands as well for singing in French! It’s Quebecois French, which is significantly different from Parisian French in some ways, but I have greatly enjoyed being able to work on learning the language thanks to this music.
(Note: the previous links, as well as most of the rest of the links on this page, go off to posts I’ve made on angelahighland.com, my other site.)
And speaking of my favorite Quebec bands…
le vent du nord
Le Vent du Nord, my top favorite Quebecois band, leads the way for me on not only trying to learn Quebecois French, but learning to play along with them as well. LVDN boasts five excellent musicians, most notable of whom are their lead singer Nicolas Boulerice, who plays a hurdy gurdy, and their original fiddler Olivier Demers, who is also their podorythmie guy. Their incoming new second fiddler is André Brunet, my other favorite Quebecois fiddler, and he and Olivier are two of the big reasons I am now learning the fiddle myself.
de temps antan
Very, very hard on the tail of Le Vent du Nord is De Temps Antan, a trio with very close ties to Le Vent. DTA is André Brunet’s former trio, and De Temps Antan’s Éric Beaudry is the brother of Le Vent du Nord’s Simon!
LVDN and DTA are so closely tied that they have in fact done a joint tour together called “SOLO!”, and they’ve released an album for it. It is amazing, and you can find it on Bandcamp.
la volée d’castors
La Volée d’Castors, “The Flight of Beavers”, is the group that could arguably contend with La Bottine as to which Quebec band actually got me into the genre. These guys came up in a music thread on the greatbigsea.com forums once, the sort of thread of the theme of “if you like Great Big Sea, you might like these other bands too”.
It was searching out LVDC that made me realize, to my great delight, exactly how correct that thread was.
Notably, a former member of La Volée d’Castors is actually in Le Vent du Nord: Réjean Brunet, André’s brother!
les charbonniers de l’enfers
Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer are a concentrated blast of everything I love about Quebecois music–-because they are a capella and specialize in the mouth reels and the podorythmie! Bonus points for having two of their guys be early members of La Bottine Souriante, so I recognize both their voices now on when I jump back and forth between the Charbonniers and La Bottine.
I have also now had the distinct pleasure of meeting two of them, André Marchand and Normand Miron, when I went to Fiddle Tunes in 2015 and got to take classes with them and with Lisa Ornstein. They were all wonderful teachers!
galant, tu perds ton temps
Quebecois trad is heavily male-dominated, but not exclusively, to my joy. The women of Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps are holding their own territory on my playlists and I am delighted that they exist. Because women. Because YAY I can sing in their ranges!
la bottine souriante
I cannot do a fangirly page about Quebecois bands without giving a shout out to La Bottine Souriante, “the Smiling Boot”, who are mighty indeed as I’ve mentioned above. They’ve had several member changeovers since I saw them, but I was blown away at the time by the sheer wall of sound that their brass section produced, not to mention the voice of their then-lead singer Yves Lambert.
Another trio, Genticorum dukes it out hard with De Temps Antan for the position of Anna’s Second Favorite Quebec Band. They aren’t as overtly powerful in style as DTA, but they are very nimble with both their instrumentals and their harmonies–in no small part due to excellent, and I do mean excellent, flute playing.
Their original flute player, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand, is another Quebecois musician I’ve been able to have a lesson with, and he is a splendid flute player to learn from as well as to listen to! Genticorum’s current flute player, Nicholas Williams, is also highly skilled and I am looking forward to hearing more of his contributions to the band.
Genticorum’s recs post is here.
album review posts
With all of the bands mentioned above and their various recommendation posts, I thought I’d also toss in links to various reviews I’ve done of specific albums. Those are: