I owe a large debt of gratitude to my friend Melanie in Montréal for alerting me to the gem that is Ici on fête, a recently released live compilation album featuring a broad swath of bands and artists in the Quebecois trad genre. This thing features not one, not two, but FIVE of my top favorite Quebec bands, all of whom I’ve posted about in glowing terms as you all know. La Bottine Souriante! De Temps Antan! Le Vent du Nord! Genticorum! And Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer!
It’s pretty much only lacking Galant tu perds ton temps to be a stunningly accurate summuary of my entire collection, really. And while I must sadface at the lack of that fine group, there is much consolation to be found in several other familiar names out of my collection here–Les Batinses, Mes Aïeux, Nicolas Pellerin, Yves Lambert & Le Bébert Orchestra, Les Chauffeurs à Pieds, and Michel Faubert.
Melanie pointed me at this communique about the album, from which I learn that the redoubtable M. Faubert (whose voice I came to know as part of the Charbonniers) is a driving force behind the collection. He in particular is represented on three of the tracks, and he’s in excellent voice in all three, setting the bar very high for everyone else’s performances–and, happily, every other artist on the album meets and matches him.
Tracks 2 and 3 all by themselves make this collection worth the price of admission for me. Y’all already know I’m a De Temps Antan fangirl, and hearing them whip through a live take of “Buvons mes chers amis buvons” is always fun. But what really blew my socks straight off is La Bottine Souriante’s track 3, “Le p’tit porte-clé”–which I immediately recognized as the song I know as “Le ziguezon”, a very early footstomper from La Bottine’s first couple of albums, recorded with André Marchand singing lead. “Le ziguezon” is one of my regular repeat favorites, and to hear it sung by Éric Beaudry here, doing it fine lively justice, made me want to start stepdancing through the streets of downtown Seattle.
Of course I cannot talk about my favorite tracks without talking about Le Vent du Nord. They’re here too, checking with a very strong take of “La fille et les dragons”. This is a song I’ve experienced as its studio take as well as on both of Le Vent’s live albums–but not with a drum track, which was a startling and fun addition, though I wouldn’t want to make a habit of that. (The drum track, after all, rather drowned out the laser precision of the feet of Olivier Demers. And we can’t have that, now can we?)
Genticorum also represents, with a take of one of their earlier instrumentals, “Cascou”, from their album Malins Plaisirs. The only lament I have about this performance is that Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand is not playing his flute on this set. But since he is cutting loose on the bass, that lament is actually fairly small. I’ve seen and heard that bass with my own eyes and ears, people. Five-stringed fretless basses are love.
And then there’s Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, who offer up what to my ears is a treat indeed: a song of theirs that I do not, in fact, have represented on any prior album of theirs I own! The song is called “Tout l’monde est malheureux”, and it flips back and forth between morose and full harmonic speed. My ear for a song is tugging at this, convinced I’ve heard it before at some point, but I don’t currently have anything else by the same title–so if some other band I’ve purchased music from has recorded this, they did it under a different title. Clearly I’m just going to have to listen to my entire collection again until I find it. Oh darn.
“Souliers rouges” was another song I immediately recognized, though here it’s performed by Manigance, and I’m familiar with the version by La Volée d’Castors. Still, I find it great fun to hear different artists’ interpretation of the same song (the aforementioned “Le ziguezon” is a great example of this, given that I’ve got a version of that by Mauvais Sort in my collection too!). This time was no exception.
Les Tireux d’Roches, as if to console me for the lack of Genticorum’s flute firepower, handed me some of their own and filled my ears with glee. And harmony, for that matter. Very much liked their take of “Maluré soldat”. I’ve got a bit of this group represented in my collection now, but I didn’t have this song yet, which is one on of their albums I have not yet acquired. I shall be rectifying this problem at my earliest opportunity.
I was quite pleased, too, to see women take the lead on the singing at least on a couple of the tracks, so I’ll call them out both by name here: Mara Tremblay on “La chanson du bavard”, and Angèle Arsenault on “J’ai un bouton sur le bout de la langue”. This wasn’t quite enough consolation to make up for the lack of Galant tu perds ton temps, but it did help!
All in all the album is upbeat in spirit, which is befitting a release targeted for the holiday season (c.f., the communique I linked to above). While the material here isn’t specifically holiday-themed, it is nonetheless quite festive–one of the things that made me fall in love with this entire genre of music to begin with.
So if you’re looking to get into Quebecois trad, Ici on fête would be an excellent place to start. Investigation leads me to find it only available to a limited degree–it’s on iTunes, but only on the Canada store, here. And if you want to order the album from Amazon, I’d strongly advise hitting Amazon.ca in particular, since the Amazon.com site has it at import prices. You’ll get it much more cheaply from Amazon.ca, here. (Note the slow delivery time. But also note that Amazon.com right now isn’t showing the album in stock at all.)
Quebec listeners can get it from Archambault digitally here as well as on CD. Renaud-Bray is also carrying the disc here.
Outside of Quebec though, your easiest bet will be to try to scarf an iTunes gift card for the Canada store and buy it that way. It’ll be a hard hunt, but if you can find it, your ears will be rewarded.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: goddamn, the gentlemen of Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer can SING. When it comes to hardcore fangirling, okay yeah, I’m flying my fangirl flag VERY high for Genticorum, De Temps Antan, and especially Le Vent du Nord… but musically speaking, the Charbonniers are right up there fighting it out with the younger boys for whose albums I play the most.
If you want to check out Quebec trad, you cannot go wrong with anything these gentlemen have recorded, but my earlier recommendation stands: get their live album. And in particular, get it in physical form if you can, because En personne comes with an awesome concert DVD. Mind you, okay yeah, the concert’s in Quebec, so all their between-song banter is of course in French. Yes, that’s going to be challenging for French newbies like myself. I don’t care. Get the DVD anyway just for the sheer fun of watching the Charbonniers perform. Having actually had the pleasure of seeing them live myself now (merci beaucoup, Memoire et Racines!), I’m here to tell you: they’re huge fun.
(And I’m considering it an eventual master class of practicing my French ear to eventually figure out what the hell the band is saying to each other in that concert, anyway. They’re clearly being hysterical, given how the audience is cracking up. There’s an entire lengthy sequence towards the end of “Everybody’s going to give Normand Miron a stern talking-to” banter in particular that’s fun to watch just for everybody’s expressions! And I will figure this out, oh my yes.)
And the other fun thing about the DVD is actually a bonus feature that comes on it–a featurette in which the Charbonniers went down to New Orleans for a performance down there, and they spent a lot of time just geeking out with folks of Cajun ancestry down there, about shared musical traditions and how much French the younger folks they ran into know and such. It’s a lovely little thing to watch.
Here’s a recent live vid of the Charbonniers (circa last year), so you can get a real nice idea of what they sound like from this:
Now, if you actually do want a studio album, I’d say either go with Wô (which has strong studio versions of most of the stuff on the live album), or with À la grâce de Dieu, which has several excellent tracks on it–and in particular, “J’aime bien mieux ma mie et sa chemise”. On which Michel Bordeleau sings lead and y’all know how I swoon for the harmony? HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS the harmony on those choruses. There’s harmony there that rivals “River Driver” and “General Taylor” and “Le retour du fils soldat” for killing Anna DED.
ALSO: it’s well worth mentioning that since pretty much everybody in this band is a veteran of the genre, you can find them all over the place on other albums. Michel Bordeleau, André Marchand, and Normand Miron all do double duty in the group Les Mononcles as well. Michel Bordeleau and André Marchand are of course both former members of La Bottine Souriante, so you can hear them both on earlier La Bottine albums. And André and Normand also have excellent albums with fiddler Lisa Ornstein, which are well worth your attention. And Normand also has some work he’s done with Bernard Simard and I DO love me some Bernard Simard vocals too.
So yeah, if you start looking around the genre at all, you’ll run into these names a LOT. Absolutely justifiably, because they are consummate musicians. Especially André Marchand, who as near as I can tell appears to be the Nick Fury of Quebecois Trad, in how he’s working with a lot of younger musicians and passing down his know-how.
TL;DR summary: Jesus hopping Christ on a pogo stick the Charbonniers can sing, and you should give them All the Monies. Preferably enough to get them to come west for shows so I can see them perform more often!
Internets, as you all know, I’ve been happily fangirling Quebec traditional music for a couple of years now, and quite a few of you have started to ask me questions about it. And because I like you, Internets, and I want to share with you the musical goodness, I’d like to present for you a Guide to Quebecois Traditional Music for English Speakers!
Q: What is Quebecois traditional music?
A: A very close cousin of Irish/Celtic trad. If you’re a fan of Irish or Scottish music, you’ll probably find Quebec trad very compatible to your tastes; there’s a lot of overlap between the two genres.
Q: What makes Quebec trad differ from Irish/Celtic/Scottish/etc.?
A: Three main differences, which are:
- Podorythmie. With most Celtic bands the percussion will usually be handled by a bodhran player, who may double up on shakers or bones. There may or may not be an actual drumkit depending on how far into rock the band in question slants. With a Quebec trad band, though, the percussion is almost always handled by someone who does podorythmie, the rhythmic footwork that’s a big signature sound for the genre.
- Call and response. Quebec trad is very heavily structured around call and response, where you’ll have whoever’s singing lead echoed by the rest of the band. Relatedly, you’ll find a great number of Quebec trad songs structured in such a way that the first line of a verse will be called, then responded, and then the verse will finish up with a chorus and then a second line which will then roll over into being the first line of the next verse. (This is a very helpful song structure when you’re a newbie to French and you’re trying to figure out how to sing the words!)
Now, sure, call and response isn’t unknown in Celtic trad in general–but I’ve seen it be a LOT more common in Quebec trad. It makes the songs highly participatory and that’s one of the big reasons I love singing along to the songs so much.
- Turluttes. You’ll find a lot of Quebec trad songs will have a turlutte section, sometimes small, sometimes dominant, and sometimes as the entire song. Turluttes are when you get a singer or group of singers vocalizing a melody that in other traditions might be played with instruments. You’ll also hear this referred to as mouth music or mouth reels, similar to puirt à beul or lilting.
As the Wikipedia link I’ve pointed at in the previous paragraph calls out, turluttes are built out of a set of specific phonemes–a lot of t and d and l and m sounds. They’re almost always up-tempo and joyous and great, great fun.
A truly splendid example of turluttes in action can be found sung by Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer right over here, with bonus podorythmie solo in the middle.
Q: How is Quebec music similar to Irish/Scottish/Celtic music?
A: Lots of Quebec trad will be familiar to Celtic music fans just because there’s a rich heritage of tunes, jigs/gigues, reels, etc. There are some fun musical and stylistic differences that instrumentalists will notice–particularly how many Quebec tunes are often played “crooked”, doing interesting things to time signatures and varying up the rhythm. If you’re an instrumentalist you’ll want to listen for that.
Likewise, a lot of the topics of the songs will be familiar to Celtic music fans. Alexander James Adams has been often quoted (in particular by me!) as saying that the three main categories of Celtic music are Whiskey, Sex, and Death. This is also true of Quebec music, although from what I’ve seen in Quebec music, it’s more like Wine, Sex, and Death, with a side helping of Religion. (I’ve noticed quite a few songs involving shenanigans that involve priests, for example. ;) )
Q: Do I need to be able to speak French to appreciate Quebec trad?
A: No! Certainly no more than you need to be a Irish or Scots Gaelic speaker to appreciate Celtic music, anyway. I find that studying a little bit of French enough to let me get an idea of how Quebec trad lyrics go enhances my appreciation of the songs considerably, but you don’t have to go to the lengths I’m going. A lot of the most active bands in the genre post lyrics to their websites, often in both French and English, and even if they only post the French lyrics that’s enough for you to throw the words through a translation engine.
And there’s fun stuff to be found in the lyrics, too. Plus if you do that, you get to be one of the Anglophones in a Quebec trad concert who can start snickering at all the best bawdy bits of songs!
Also, turluttes are language-agnostic!
Q: Enough overview! Who are some bands or artists I can check out?
The ones I’m most fond of are La Bottine Souriante, La Volée d’Castors, Galant, tu perds ton temps, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, Genticorum, De Temps Antan, and especially Le Vent du Nord!
And if you have trouble telling all those names apart, I can direct to you to this handy flowchart I made for that exact problem!
For a nice crossover of Celtic and Quebec fiddle styles, I also highly recommend Celtic Fiddle Festival, who feature André Brunet of De Temps Antan. There are also a couple of excellent albums done by André Marchand and Grey Larsen, specifically on the theme of crossover between Irish and Quebec music, and I recommend those too. You can find them here.
I will update this FAQ with new data as I think of it. I did overviews on my favorite bands a while back but I’ll be posting new ones as well, since several of the bands in question dropped new albums since I originally wrote those posts.
Any questions I haven’t covered here? Shoot ’em at me!
My belovedest of Daras is at a bit of a loss when it comes to comprehending my rampageous affection for Quebecois traditional music. She doesn’t speak a lick of French, and so I could mention any one of the various bands I’m following, only to have their names just parse to her as “French sounds”. And it didn’t help matters much either when we went up to Harrison Hot Springs this past weekend–because two of the guys in De Temps Antan ARE brothers of guys in Le Vent du Nord, and the sets of brothers in question do look rather alike!
Several of you who read me on a regular basis won’t be having these problem, but in case you’re in the same boat Dara is and find yourself trying to figure out who all these people are I keep enthusiastically babbling about, here. I present for you this handy flowchart for how to tell apart my seven favorite Quebecois traditional bands!
Never let it be said that I am not helpful!
I’m going to do an entire post about Memoire et Racines, because I am here to tell you, Internets, that deserves an entire post to itself even if we only made it to one day’s worth of awesome!
And this is going to get long, so this is getting a fold!
Since Canada is very, VERY nigh, I now present for you, O Internets, this roundup and summary of everything that
First up, Toronto! Where we will be enjoying the hospitality of the most excellent
In Quebec, we’re going to go to Memoire et Racines, at which we will be seeing Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, with possible bonus sightings of one or more members of Le Vent du Nord depending on who’s performing on what festival event when! I also have high hopes of swooning at any wares offered by instrument makers, and the chances of consumption of proper poutine, as well as any maple-flavored ice cream we can find, are extremely high!
While also in Quebec, I will be scarfing as much French-Canadian SF/F as I can safely carry home from here! I now have five titles on my Francophone wishlist on Goodreads, and it’s a safe bet I’ll be able to find at least a couple of them.
Onward to Moncton, where we will enjoy the hospitality of
St. John’s! The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival! The Duke of Duckworth pub! O’Brien’s Music, renowned in song and story and Great Big Sea fandom! The Haunted Hike, a walking ghost tour of downtown St. John’s, and I ask you, could I be handed any more excellent a research opportunity for the third Kendis and Christopher book?
And last but oh my definitely not least, the Torbay 250 celebration, at which I need not remind any of you that Dara and I will be singing and bouncing our hearts out for our most belovedest of beloved B’ys. Watch the skies over Newfoundland, people, we may bounce straight into orbit!
We shall be consuming as much Grower’s Cider as we can get our tiny little hands on, but failing that, I will be on the lookout for any excellent local ciders. Because all this bouncing I’m about to be doing? It’s going to be thirsty, thirsty work!
And I will bring Norouet and Chirp, and there will be playing of tunes, and adventures in reading French street signs, and general seizing of days! I’ve already been asked by two different people to post frequent updates–and I will be doing as much of that as the wi-fi availability allows, so stand by for bulletins as they happen! Internets, I am EXCITE! Only a few more days to go! \0/
PEOPLE OF ATLANTIC CANADA AND QUEBEC! There are but seven scant days until
We are looking very, very forward to meeting up with
Internets, I AM EXCITE! Almost as much for the chance to see Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer as I am Great Big Sea, really–because this’ll very likely be my only shot to see the Charbonniers, and did I mention the part where HOLY CRAP THOSE MEN CAN SING? And did I also mention the buying of French Canadian SF/F, and of tasty maple sugar products (I am informed that maple sugar ice cream is a thing that exists and THIS MUST BE SAMPLED IT IS REQUIRED), and of taking the Haunted Hike tour through downtown St. John’s (research opportunity WOO!), and of going to the Duke of Duckworth pub, renowned to me in song and story and Twitter updates?
Save us some bagels and Growers cider! We’ll be there next week!
On my way home tonight I was listening to tracks off the album À la grâce de Dieu by the Charbonniers, and in particular, the song “Allons vidons”. Jean-Claude Mirandette was just getting started on the first verse when I had that delightful double-take reaction of HEY HEY STOP I UNDERSTOOD THAT! I backed up, played that bit again, and sure enough, the sentence “C’est dans notre village / Il y a un p’tit moulin” popped right out at me. “In our village there is a little mill”. It’s a tiny sentence to be sure, but I was inordinately proud of comprehending it.
It’s weird and wonderful to hear a whole sentence in another language, only to understand it just like it’s the language I grew up with. I’m still getting bits and pieces of songs piecemeal, but that I’m getting them in general gives me ridiculous amounts of glee. My main goal is still musical, i.e., to be able to understand the lyrics of all these awesome songs and therefore appreciate them more. Anything I get out of it for conversational purposes is really icing on the cake.
But that said, I was also very pleased to be able to construct this whole sentence all by myself when posting to Facebook: “Je lire les paroles en anglais et français, j’écoute les chansons en français, je peu à peu comprends plus et plus!” Which means, “I read the lyrics in English and French, I listen to the songs in French, bit by bit I understand more and more!”
A good chunk of that sentence did in fact come to me either straight out of songs or else from poking around on band websites. “Les paroles” I know as “the lyrics” from looking at the French edition of leventdunord.com. “J’écoute”, “I listen”, I swiped right out of the lyrics to “Écris-moi”. “Chansons”, “songs”, is all over the place in all the songs in my collection. “Plus et plus” I got out of the lyrics to “Le dragon de Chimay”.
I’m still also heavily using Google Translate–but sometimes I only have to use it to doublecheck gender of nouns or verb conjugation spellings, because some of the words are starting to actually pop into my brain on my own and I just need to doublecheck them. As opposed to having no idea what the words actually are. Progress! I has it!
So yeah! Plan to learn all the Quebecois trad by slow osmosis: proceeding nicely. :D
ETA: , who is a wise and clever wordsmith apparently in more than one language, advises me that the proper first person singular conjugation for “lire” is “je lis”. This, children, is why you always ask for language help from people who either speak the language or who have studied it better than you have! Also, this is an extremely important verb for a writer and book geek to know!
I just doublechecked the Memoire et Racines site, and see to my massive, massive delight that Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer do, in fact, have a presence on the schedule on the 28th–the day I’m targeting for
Seriously, seriously excited by that! Aside from the boys of Le Vent, the Charbonniers are the Quebec band who’ve most grabbed my attention, just because I love their vocals on their live album so very, very, very much. I’m going to have to do a marathon listen to all of their albums now, just to make sure I’m briefed on the stuff they’re most likely to perform.
Also helpful: it looks like events don’t get started until noon, which will give plenty of time to get up there in the morning from Montreal. And now I’ve bought day passes for Saturday the 28th for myself and Dara!
Just snagged weekend passes for Dara and me to the Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival, the big festival that was our main reason for going to St. John’s to begin with–even if we’ll be skipping out on it on August 4th to scamper up to Torbay for Great Big Sea instead. :D We figured screw it, we’ll just get passes for the whole weekend anyway so we’ll be able to wander in and out at whim. Now I just need to see a full schedule for who’s playing when, since I have particular interest in seeing The Once and the Dardanelles.
Meanwhile, keeping a sharp eye on the Memoire et Racines site, waiting for tickets to be on sale for that too so I can snag passes for Dara and me for July 28th, the Day of Podorythmie! Priority interest will be with Galant Tu Perds Ton Temps and the Charbonniers, but really, my little fangirl heart is desperate to know if I get to see Le Vent du Nord twice in one year.
And speaking of Dara and me in Quebec, side note to either
And hell, for that matter, anybody following me in St. John’s, if YOU want to host Dara for a teeny house concert, we’ll have way more time to play with there than we will in Montreal! Talk to us if you want to host a Cascadian Supervillain with her Bouzouki of Mass Destruction!