The award winning and highly acclaimed band Le Vent du Nord is a leading force in Quebec’s progressive francophone folk movement. The group’s vast repertoire draws from both traditional sources and original compositions, while enhancing it’s hard-driving soulful music (rooted in the Celtic diaspora) with a broad range of global ...
Long ago, Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer of what is now Eastern Canada, had a dream: that in the new territory he had explored, all might raise their voices together, indigenous and European, of all faiths, a chorus of different perspectives, cultures, and ideas. It was a dream forgotten, deferred, but one that resonates with where Canadians find themselves now.
Le Vent du Nord, feisty torchbearers of Quebecois traditional music, bring this dream (“Le Pays de Samuel”) and others to life on Territoires (Borealis Records; release: February 15, 2019), the group’s richest, most intriguing album to date. From the plight of New France (“Louisbourg”) to progressive social changes (“Evolution tranquille,” a nod to the midcentury Quiet Revolution that led to Quebec’s rebirth), from mysterious monsters (“Chaousaro”) to love’s yearnings (“Le soir arrive”), the now five-person ensemble travels far and wide.
“We wanted to explore the quest for territories, physical or internal, or territories that don’t exist yet,” says fiddler Olivier Demers. “They are also impressions, colors and sentiments, a way of feeling, extreme joy or deep sadness.” The new album has sparked an entirely new show around these themes, one audience will get to enjoy back to Folk Alliance in Montreal. (after been awarded Folk Artist of the Year at the annual conference in 2006!)
“History is always a question of point of view, not just of some objective reality. It’s our way of seeing and understanding. In Quebec, we’ve started to talk more about indigenous people and that’s good news,” reflects hurdy-gurdy player Nicolas Boulerice. “The English Canadian perspective is a totally different version of the story. When I started to read things about Champlain, I learned that he dreamed of combining the knowledge of the two societies. Even if we still need to apologize and rebuild our bridges, we need to remember the dream.”
Le Vent du Nord’s own dream has been to bring a contemporary, highly original sensibility to the songs and melodies preserved in archives or treasured in family troves. Through thoughtful engagement with songs’ stories and artful arrangements, the ensemble pushes Quebec folk music forward, with an ear open to the world and its current travails. This means finding timely messages in long-lost tales, crafting tight and moving vocal harmonies, and getting whirling dance tunes still cherished in many towns and families to groove hard.
“We’re really added a bit of groovy stuff to this album,” says fiddler and foot tapper André Brunet, who recently joined the group after years with Quebecois legends La Bottine Souriante, “and several songs have a riff with a bouzouki and bass. We’ve left things more open, skipping the answers in the traditional call and response sections and putting a bit of effects on the lead vocal. The sound turned out really rich.”
The richness has developed noticeably over time. With nearly 2,000 concerts, two Juno Awards, hundreds of tours across the globe, and ten albums to their credit, the band has had time to come into its own. “We are proud to call ourselves an established ensemble,” says Demers. “We’re mature and are creating at the peak of our confidence and power.”
Creative confidence allows them to glimpse and channel unexpectedly timely messages in tales and tunes centuries old. They took a ballad about a near-miss with execution, “Adieu à village,” and transformed it into a darkly hopeful environmental fable. “The song has a very particular story that talks about a guy who was meant to be hanged but at the end by chance the rope broke. That meant he was pardoned and set free,” recounts Boulerice. “We took the idea that the environment makes us all this man. We don’t deserve a second chance, but sometimes we are given one, if we can be smart enough”.
For Le Vent du Nord, it’s natural for folk music to be shifting and fungible, for its meaning to change as singers and players change. It comes with the territory: “All the borders of our life are in movement all the time,” muses Demers.