You may recall I mentioned the singer Cayouche in the post titled “Country music = Québec”.
Cayouche is difficult to describe because there’s little in the way Anglophone singers to truly compare him with. His real name is Réginald Gagnon, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows him other than just “Cayouche.”
From the most basic set of information (age, genre of music, origins), you may not think there’s anything extraordinary about him:
- He’s 60 years old (singing for the public for around 20 years).
- He’s not Québécois, he’s Acadian (originally from Moncton, but I believe he lives somewhere around the Acadian Peninsula now, perhaps Paquetteville).
- His style of music is similar to a 1970’s, early 1980’s country.
But boy is he popular! And not just with fellow Acadians, or others of his generation. He draws in crowd-after-crowd of 20-somethings and 30-somethings, from all across Québec and Francophone regions of Ontario, in addition to his native Acadia.
Strangely enough, you may rarely see him on television (I have never seen him on TV — he’s more an in-person kind of act)… but a big big chuck of Québec, especially Québec City, seems to know him. Perhaps owing to certain cultural demographics in Montréal, a lot of Montréal ubanites, especially Le Plateau, may not know him… so this can serve as a good example of how there can often be a disconnect between Montréal culture, Montréwood, and what’s actually popular in the rest of Québec.
It’s as much (or more about) the mystique and legends surrounding Cayouche (kind of like that crazy, almost unbelievable story of what Detroit’s Rodriguez “Sugar Man” is to South Africa), how and where he performs, his persona, the way he looks, the words he chooses when composing his songs, as much as it is his actual tunes.
- Santa Clause (belly and beard) goes Willie Nelson (bandana, guitar and all) – now you have the look,
- After leaving the military, he lead a wandering life on the road, performing from bar-to-bar across Canada, bit-by-bit leaving a name for himself… especially in Francophone regions of the country. The urban myths aren’t true that he would down a 24 pack during his performances, but he does bring a few beers on stage to lubrifier his performances as the night goes on (“lubricate” doesn’t quite work in English, like it does in French) – now you have the mystique and legend factor,
- He’s illiterate (having to compose songs purely from memory), with a very rural style of heavy-accented regional French, often crass, which makes his lyrics unlike anything else standard recording artists would choose. His language is sometimes crude, sometimes not so politically correct (such as his well-known drinking & driving song, L’alcool au volant), and the lyrics are smash hits with a lot of younger guys (you’ll see him at outdoor concerts across Québec, and guys in their 20’s, à moitié chaud, will be holding a beer over their heads, singing along with him, word-for-word) – now you have the words,
- He’s always smiling, always laughing, telling jokes and coming across as a simple, humble, next-door type of bon Jack. You’d think he was just one of the guys from the audience who decided to get up on stage while everyone was having a good time, and just add a bit more to the mood – with the only difference being he is the show! – now you have the persona.
I get the impression he’s doing a good number of summer festivals each year, and quite a number of other performances in bars & pubs. Usually someone who relies on these types of venues for their bread-and-butter will tend to stay in the shadows of popularity, but not Cayouche. People across Québec know where he’ll be, and they turn up in droves! He has become one of the biggest selling and best known Acadian artists in history. It’s how he’s done it (by staying out of the concert halls and away from Montréwood) which lends to much of his appeal with Québécois, Acadiens and Ontarois – an average Joe Blow, like everyone in his audience. There’s an amazing connection.
In closing, the one thing that has me a bit stumped is his accent. I’m not a linguist or an expert, but to me, although his vowels definitely have an Acadian accent, his vocabulary and intonations don’t always sound like Chiac French from his Native Moncton. And there seems to be a good number of differences between the way he speaks and Acadien Peninsulaire French where he currently resides (lots of what he says sounds like it could almost be Sudburois French, or Ontario “Nickel-Belt French”; a type of unique accent spoken in Sudbury, Ontario — I would have almost pegged him as being from Sudbury if it wasn’t for his vowels. Even some of the things he says makes me think of Rivière-la-Paix French from the Peace River district in Northern Alberta, where I lived for a while as a child). Feel free to offer your comments on this if I’m wrong … it’s a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s owing to his many years spent travelling around, meandering from place-to-place on the road, bar-to-bar, which could have given him a mixed-style of hors-Québec French accents. Avec sa personalité et son choix de paroles, son français est pas mal franc comme un deux par quatre. But regardless, it makes me, and everyone else smile any time he speaks. It’s great, and it’s part of his unique character which makes him so popular in Québec.
We don’t have many characters like Cayouche in Canada — this kind of legendary icon. Lets keep his flame alive and support him by getting out there and buying his work. He adds something very special and unique to Canada’s music culture. That alone deserves our support.
His music is for sale through various venues. When searching for it, please stick to officially sanctioned sites and do not pirate (he says he’s still working – and he seems to love what he’s doing and his fans – plus it’s likely his bread & butter… so don’t rip off his work. He’s a good dude, so return in kind and pay for his songs).
Somebody seriously needs to make a movie about this guy!!