This is the first in a four-part post series titled “The Mythic Three”.
We’ll look at three of Québec’s biggest music icons, Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage, and Harmonium – all hugely popular during the post-Quiet Revolution and nationalist re-affirmation years of the 1970s.
Although there are other cultural icons whose careers spanned this era (Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Claude Léveillée, Jean-Pierre-Ferland, Michel Tremblay, Richard Séguin and Yvon Déchamps, to name a few), these three icons of contemporary music together formed a core rallying point of a generation which marked Québec’s period of self-empowerment, re-affirmation, and modern transformation, embodied through music. Apart from their music, they represented a wave of sovereignist nationalist fervor in the 1970s. Even for certain aspects of society to this day, they continue to embody a certain degree of nationalist aspirations.
Irrespective of one’s age, Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage, and Harmonium are viewed and treated more as revered cultural institutions of Québec society, rather than mere pop-stars.
However, what I believe has changed, in the context of modern politics, is the de-politicization of their fan base. I believe their modern fan base of today, myself included, is more attracted to their music, for the sake of music, than to their role in the politics of yesteryear.
Below is a timeline which places things into context (click to enlarge).
As you can see, the music composed and sung by Charlebois, Beau Dommage and Harmonium came in an age charged with emotion, intensity, and rapid changes for Québec. It gave their music a special meaning and significance, as well as an association to society as a whole. Often their songs had charged words, reflecting the political climate and tendencies of the day – as well as nationalist and sovereignist political aspirations of the artists.
It’s a fascinating story of how culture, music, politics, change and social upheaval meld together, and the associations people continue to make when they hear such period music today. Their songs continue to be played on the radio – quite often in fact. When played now, however, they’re played as popular songs – no longer as a nationalist statement in themselves (but that in no way takes away from their significance in history 30-40+ years ago).
Charlebois’ career has continued strong into the present. Beau Dommage, as a group, has intermittently come back together for special events, recordings and performances. 2014 Québec is a very different era than it was in the 1970s. With hindsight, society as a whole continues to appreciate their musical contributions, and cherishes the role they played in history.
The next three posts will touch a bit upon each of these three symbols of an era.