Sounds of Quebec: Le Vent du Nord

Quebec: you might think of the city, with its bustling streets and its buildings, large and small, which recall older times. You might think of forested landscapes far to the north; you might think of it border crossings; you might think of the politics and the history of the French community; you might think of the prevalence of the the French language. You might think of romance. You might think of the strong Celtic nature of the French community in Quebec. You might think, perhaps, of a clear winter evening under northern skies.

You will find all these dreams and memories of Quebec in the music of the band Le Vent du Nord. Since coming on to the music scene nearly a dozen years ago now, they’ve created a distinct voice for themselves, and for music from the native province, music which both honors history and yet is completely contemporary as well. All this is well heard on their album Tromper Le Temps, which. as I write this, is nominated for a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy.

The disc opens with a with a song well conceived to speak of Quebec: it’s called Letter to Durham (my apologies to French speaking readers, as my computers is not allowing diacritical marks at present, I’ll give titles in English). Nicolas Boulerice was inspired to write the words to this as he considered the differences between French Canada and English Canada one Quebec independence day. Durham was sent out from England after the rebellion of 1839 to make recommendations as to how to make Canada one community. That is a subject, as Boulerice points out, still in for discussion. Always Lovers pairs a traditional poem with a melody composed by Simon Beaudry and Fished with a reel by Oliver Demers to lift the mood of lovers’ parting and waiting to one of hope. The farmer and the Devil might sound like the title to a bluegrass tune — and it could be — but in the hands of Le Vent du Nord it is a song of ecological protest about the danger of shale gas mining. Stories of children, hockey games, travels by Winnebago, and other interesting subjects unfold through the disc’s thirteen tracks.

Boulerice plays the piano and the hurdy gurdy, an instrument that’s part of what gives Le Vent du Nord its distinctive sound. Simon Beaudry plays bouzouki and guitar, Rejean Brunet adds accordion, bass, and jaw harp, and Olivier Demers brings in fiddle and mandolin. All four of the men sing, and in live performance, the sight and sound of their percussive foot tapping is a vital part of their music as well.

The songs on Tromper Le Temps range from lively reels and fast paced songs to quiet ballads, though the emphasis is for the most part on the high stepping pieces common to Quebecois music. All the music is in some way original to members of the band, most written together or separately by band members, with a few pieces that fuse traditional elements with band written ones. All the lyrics are in French, but if that is not one of your languages, don’t let that put you off: energy, thought, and humor come through in voice and instrument, and liner notes, in both English and French, tell the stories of the songs, and how they came to be.

If you’ve traveled to Quebec, Tromper Le Tempswill no doubt call to mind vivid memories of the place and people. If you’ve yet to go, this breeze of Quebecois music is a fine companion to dreaming of and preparing for such a journey.

Photograph by Kerry Dexter, made at the Celtic Connections Festival with permission of the artists, the venue, and the festival. It is copyrighted — thank you for respecting that.

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