This is a post on Robert Charlebois, part of The Mythic Three series. The introduction to this series gave context for the golden years of Charlebois’ career – a period which defined him and launched the remainder of his career.
From the public’s viewpoint, there are very few musical artists who can stand on the central podium together. Celine Dion is one of them, Ginette Reno is another, as is Robert Charlebois.
I would characterize his genre of music as a “founding genre Québecois-folk-rock”. I use the word “founding”, because he set the bar, tone, and genre for folk-rock in Québec, from the 1970s until today (including much of the Québec’s chart-topping music, period). Francophone artists, not only in Québec, but elsewhere in Francophone Canada, have also largely adopted this style of music as a national template.
Notable characteristics are
- strong lyrics with regional context,
- concentration on vocals (letting vocals carry the music, rather than music necessarily carrying the vocals),
- the use of joual, and the integration of a local accent into the music (as with English music, regional and national accents in French can often disappear when lyrics are sung – but Charlebois’ music very much preserves his Montréal accent (rolled “Rs”, drawn and drowled vowels, local joual). It was Charlebois who made it acceptable and commonplace to sing in a style using everyday colloquial speech,
- a combination of abstract songs, abstract rythms and folk rythms (based on Québec’s unique mix of celtic rythms from pre-republican Celtic-France and Ireland – discussed somewhat in the earlier post “Country Music = Québec”),
- lyrics (often nationalistic) with specific appeal to a localized audience (in the narrowest context, lyrics which Montréalers can related to — and in a slightly larger context, those striking a chord with Québécois at large).
A key factor in his career is that he grew-up and lived in Montréal during some of the most prominent periods in Québec’s modern history (with their epicentre being Montréal), and that his lyrics coincided with these events. I’m not sure he would have achieved the same degree of success if he was physically removed from these events (ie: if he were to have spent the 60s and 70s singing and building a career from Trois-Rivières or Sherbrooke for example).
I’m not going to go into the list and honours he has received… just take my word that you can’t get much more decorated than Charlebois.
But I will give you a very small must-know list of his music. Although these are only a few songs in a long line of super-hits, Québec without these songs simply would not be Québec. Everyone has memories or aspects of their lives they can relate to these songs – they’re pretty much hollow ground.
- Je reviendrai à Montréal
- Tout écartillé
- Les Ailes d’un ange.
He’s also starred in several films.
His career has never stopped – spanning the early 1960s until today. His song and album releases span 40 years, and he has also appeared in numerous films over five decades. We see him at concerts, national festivals, on television, interviews, events, and his albums continue to sell.
When searching for his work, please do not pirate. Robert Charlebois’ smile and heart for his music and fans is as big as anything. Please stick to official sites and support our artists (they form part of our cultural fabric).
Charlebois’ Official website: http://www.robertcharlebois.com/