Le Vent Du Nord Brings the Party
There’s something brewing up north right now. We may not get much news about it here in the States, but for over 100 days students and citizens have been marching in Montréal against tuition hikes. The proposed tuition hikes are really just the tip of the iceberg for many of the protesters, a tangible reason to manifest opposition against a government that many feel is outdated and heading in the wrong direction for Québec. Amidst the iconic squares of red cloth pinned to jackets and banners, symbolizing the student strike, and the numerous counts of violence that have broken out on the streets, Montréal seems like a turbulent sea of red right now. In the time since I wrote this article, an inflammatory emergency law has been passed prohibiting all public gatherings in an effort to quell the demonstrations, and of course, has only lead to mass arrests (518 peaceful protesters in one night) and more conflict between the protesters and the government officials. It will be interesting to keep our eyes to the north and see what happens.
In the meantime, Le Vent du Nord’s Simon Beaudry kindly agreed to an interview (in French) with Hearth Music’s Dejah Léger to talk complicated politics, music, and the future of Québec!
Le Vent du Nord Bring the Party
by Dejah Léger
Nobody brings the party like the Québécois. It’s a fact proven over and over by the unwavering and enduring international popularity of traditional groups like La Bottine Souriante, De Temps Antan, and Le Vent du Nord, whose audiences can’t get enough of their infectious joie de vivre. “There were over 630 people in the audience, more than we ever expected for a folk concert in Alaska,” said Simon Beaudry, guitarist extraordinaire of Le Vent Du Nord, speaking in French from a hotel room in Fairbanks of their recent concert promoting their new album Tromper le Temps. “We were taken aback. We sold out of all of our CDs the first night and we still have a show tonight!” However, Le Vent du Nord also brought another kind of party with them, and this Québécois Party is something else entirely. Known as the PQ (Parti Québécois), this party is less about being together and more about being apart.
With a Juno award and over 1,000 international shows to their credit, Le Vent du Nord are one of Québec’s premier and most influential traditional roots ensembles to date, leading the pack of “Boy Bands” that have emerged from Québec in the last ten years. Their newest album, Tromper les Temps, retains all of the characteristics that their public has come to know them for: their tight harmonies and haunting mix of medieval and contemporary sounds; their treasure-trove of Acadian & French-Canadian songs, lovingly dusted off and brought back to life with renewed vigor; their infectious podorythmie and driving energy. But on closer examination, there is an extra layer of unrest that makes this album far more intense than their previous albums—it is driven, not just by the innate power of Québécois. trad music, but by the unwavering belief that Québec should ultimately be a separate country from Canada.
It’s not a new argument—a point which Le Vent du Nord tries to make clear with their opening song, “Lettre à Durham”, in which Lord Durham, who historically tried to sweep Québec under the rug during the merger of Upper and Lower Canada, is taken to task. The song, written by the group’s frontman Nicolas Boulerice, even borrows a line (“les nègres blancs d’Amérique”) from the controversial poet Pierre Vallières, who was seen by many as the intellectual leader of the Front de libération du Québec. They bring the argument to the present as they protest Canada’s plan to frack for shale gas in northern Québec, or Radio-Canada’s decision to cease broadcasting the hockey games in French to Québec. Their Facebook profile pictures are red in solidarity with the student protests that have halted Montréal since February. Meaning that, for all the handsome smiles and funny stage antics, these guys mean business.
But here’s the thing: unlike the majority of politically-tinged folk music, Le Vent du Nord has somehow found a way to make their point without being obnoxious. “We do it with a smile, not in a frustrated or enraged way” said Simon. “We enjoy talking about politics but we don’t want to be en chicane (fighting) with anyone.” And when asked if the language barrier dulls the blade of their convictions during international shows, he responded, “No, not all. With our new concert we’re working on introducing songs like ‘Lettre à Durham’ and ‘La soirée du hockey’ in English. It doesn’t take long at all, just a quick explanation at the beginning of the songs to let people know about these issues.” Since 70% of their concerts are outside of Québec, the added element of educational diplomacy is going to be an important point as they begin their tour in earnest in autumn 2012. “A lot of people don’t understand Québec,” says Simon. “It’s common to think we’re just Canadians who speak French, but its much, much more than that. Yes, we speak French, but it’s part of a huge culture. We have our own papers, television, music….Pour nous, le Québec est un pays.” Translation: “For us, Québec is a country.”
Language plays a critical role in Québec culture and politics. Despite centuries of being surrounded by Anglophones, French is still the dominant language spoken in Québec. It’s not the flowery French we tend to associate with continental France, either—it’s a unique, vibrant, and rich language with a life—and vocabulary—of its own. Throughout the interview my ears strained to parse out Simon’s statements from the slew of Québécois expressions that punctuated his speech. He said things like “clin d’œil humoristique” (a “humorous wink,’ equivalent to our expression “tongue-in-cheek”) and “pieds-au-nez” (“feet to nose”, meaning “thumbing one’s nose”) that left me a little baffled. But although I realized very quickly that I was out of my depth, conducting an interview in a foreign language, passing into English would have defeated much of our purpose. “It’s really important to us to preserve our Francophone culture,” says Simon, then adds, “not just in Québec, either, but the Francophone culture of North America,” giving a nod to the often-overlooked pockets of French speakers within western Canada and the United States who strive to keep their linguistic and cultural identity intact as well. “We’re standing up for your language and culture, too.”
In the ten years since the formation of Le Vent du Nord—and perhaps because of their security in the world of traditional music—this is the first album on which the Boys express their political leanings. This has garnered them more media attention than ever before, and that in itself is a curious statement. For any number of reasons, we are drawn to their message of sovereignty and cultural preservation.
However, equally important to note, in regards to Tromper le Temps, is that interspersed with their flash-point songs are the over-looked tunes and chansons which have given them their long, enduring ride and rabid fan base, as well as provided the inspiration for their title, which translates to “Cheating Time.” On “Toujours Amants” and “Adieu Marie”, Simon retrieves skeletons of songs buried in time and gives them new life with fresh lyrics and melodies; Réjean Brunet steals a moment to marvel at his sleeping children in the tune “Souffle d’ange,” and Olivier Demers sings of timeless love in his heartfelt song “Le Souhait.” While many of the songs and tunes on the album are penned by the Boys, it somehow retains all the sounds of Québecois roots music, both maintaining and furthering the tradition and culture that refuses to lie down. It’s a poignant reminder that for all the reasons why Québec could be a separate country, there is an overwhelming reason why it should be a separate country. And that is: it has a distinct heritage, spirit, and soul that is unique, and this culture can—and should—be preserved in the country of Québec.
To hear tracks and get a tour schedule visit: http://www.leventdunord.com/
Le Vent du Nord: Lettre à Durham
Le Vent du Nord: Toujours amant
Thanks to Dejah Léger for conducting this interview in French with Simon Beaudry, thanks to Simon for his openness and honesty, and thanks to Louis Léger for help translating the French. Hearth Music is a family business and we don’t hesitate to proclaim our love for our French-Canadian heritage!
This post originally appeared on the Hearth Music Blog. Check out our website and roam through our blog and Online Listening Lounge to discover your next favorite artist! We’re dedicated to presenting today’s best Roots/Americana/World musicians.
NOTE: This article has been modified since publication.