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My lucky week : Lisa Leblanc (#316)
Lisa Leblanc … is only one of the hottest-trending French-language singers and musicians in North America! And I just met her at the Franco-Fête in Toronto !!! (Toronto’s equivalent of Montréal’s Francopholies festival — Woo hoo !! – and again, there was no shortage of attendees… Dundas Square was packed!)
Best of all — I managed to get a front row spot!! I apologize to everyone who I pushed to the ground, bit, kicked and punched as I wrestled my way to the front… I sincerely hope your injuries heal in a timely manner 🙂
Man, I so wanted to go to see her in concert last year when I was passing through Québec – but I missed one of her concerts by two days. But today’s concert more than makes up for not seeing her last year.
This post will be quite straight forward in the sense that there’s not much to say… other than she’s riding the crest of the wave of fame and popularity – the top of the charts.
She’s not Québécoise. She’s Acadian from New Brunswick; from the little village of Rosaireville, a whole 57 people!! (and her Acadian accent is as charming as she is). Yet she has conquered Québec to the point of pushing her way into top of the pile of Montréwood’s celebrities. She has won over the hearts of Francophones & Francophiles in Québec and elsewhere across Canada (you’ll see what I mean when you have a look at her concert locations lower down in this post).
But her style of music (modern Acadian with a huge dose of rock and folk-jive) has taken the radio, billboards, and pop-culture scene by storm.
I’m finally getting the hang of this video thing (super easy & fast)… so here’s a collage of short films I made this evening. Check out the crowd getting into it at 1:05 !
And here is a final video I made which ended with me meeting Lisa Leblanc!!! (Like anything in life, persistence and “insistence” pays off — and boy, can I be a persistent bugger!)
If I had written this article even 10 minutes earlier, I would have told you that 100% of all Francophones under 40 in Québec and elsewhere in Canada know who she is (after all, you would be hard pressed to not hear her on French-language radio at least once a day). But within the last 10 minutes, I boasted to a buddy in Québec that I just met her, and he didn’t know who she was (WT.Heck É.D.!!). I suppose that means that only 100% minus 1 knows who she is (that buddy of mine sucks!). But that’s still a good score.
Her last album went platinum (the one I bought tonight at her concert).
Last November, the CBC radio program “C’est la vie” conducted an amazing English language interview with Lisa Leblanc. It was her formal introduction to English Canada. I highly recommend you listen to it if you wish to know more. The link is as follows:
In tonight’s crowd at Dundas Square in Toronto, I chatted with three people from France. They said that she’s even known in France where she has given concerts (I had no idea her reach in popularity stretched so far).
Her #1 song: “Aujourd’hui, ma vie c’est d’la marde” (“My life is shit”)
Everyone across Canada, you are all on notice… Her next concerts will be given at the following dates and locations:
- DAWSON CITY, YUKON
- Dawson City Music Festival
- NOMININGUE, QUÉBEC
- MONTRÉAL, QUÉBEC
- FestiBlues International de Montréal
- ROUYN-NORANDA, QUÉBEC
- Osisko en Lumière
- RÉGINA, SASKATCHEWAN
- Victoria Park
- VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
- Upstairs Cabaret
- VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
- The Biltmore
- EDMONTON, ALBERTA
- STUDIO 96 (OMG, This joint is still open??? I used to go to the place at the same address in the 1990s when I turned legal and was living in Edmonton – yikes!!).
- CALGARY, ALBERTA
- Festival Hall
- OTTAWA, ONTARIO
- CityFolk Festival
And one last note, I unexpectedly ran into Steph Paquette in the crowd (one of the best known celebrities for Ontario’s 600,000+ Franco-Ontariens!). But I’ll leave him for another post 🙂
24 June: La Fête nationale du Québec / La Fête St-Jean Baptiste (#293)
June 24 is known as “La Fête nationale du Québec” (the Québec national holiday) or “La Fête St-Jean-Baptiste” (the national holiday of French Canadians and the Canadian Francophonie) in other parts of Canada.
Note: When we use the word “national” in French, it does not always have the same connotation as English. It has two meanings: (1) Country, and (2) a people sharing a common heritage. Both meanings exist in both languages, but in English, the latter meaning (a people sharing a common heritage) is rarely used. Thus, many Anglophones are unaware that “nation” also carries the second meaning.
However, in Canadian French, the second meaning is used just as frequently as the first meaning. I mention this because I have encountered numerous Anglophones who are only aware of the first meaning, and who become offended when they believe the word is only being used in the sense of a “country”.
It is a holiday celebrated across Canada, in all major cities, and in all provinces and territories.
The politicization of the event in Québec
La Fête nationale du Québec is a time when Francophones celebrate their shared heritage. In Québec, it was made a statutory holiday in 1977, when it took on a much more “political” tone starting during the Quiet Revolution years of the 1960s (it is not very political elsewhere in Canada). It was also during this time that it was named “La Fête nationale du Québec” by the PQ government.
The political nationalist aspect of the holiday in Québec peaked during the time surrounding both referendums. However, the event’s political nature has slowly been eroding away, bit by tiny bit.
(Above) The main concert stage at the 2014 Fête nationale in MONTRÉAL.
In both a move to (1) velcro the event more exclusively to Québec (basically wrestling it away from other Francophones elsewhere in Canada – a political move in and of itself), and (2) with the aim to make the event more “inclusive” feel for non-white and non-Francophone Québecois (again a political move to woo the “minority vote”), the Parti Québécois governments under Bernard Landry and Pauline Marois insisted that only the name “Fête nationale du Québec” be used in anything publicity related, or anything receiving government funding.
You can imagine how well this went over with Francophones outside of Québec. The Canadian Francophone family was already left broken by what I call the “First night of the Long Knives” in 1967. Refer to the following two posts for the context of what happened:
- Conditioning: The goal of the “Estates General of French Canada” (#279)
- Conditioning: Modern Canada’s “First” Night of the Long Knives – a trigger for the all the rest (#280)
Nonetheless, La St-Jean-Baptiste has persevered across Canada.
The beginning of the depoliticization of the event
But the nature of the event across Canada, and in Québec has begun to change over the last four or so years.
In Québec, the former PQ Landry and Marois governments planned to use the event to “infuse” sovereignist sentiments into the hearts of all Québecois by opening the event to everyone and anyone. Yet, it looks like their plans backfired. By welcoming everyone into the fold (an all-inclusive event), larger and larger sectors of Québec’s society began to call for the depoliticization of the event.
Just to name a very few examples (among many others):
- The last four or five years have seen calls to allow English-language music groups to be allowed to play at La fête nationale (and they have, mostly in smaller local neighbourhood parties). Until now, English music has been banned by the organizers.
- There have been calls for the main events on stage to have fewer political discourses (and you can easily get the feeling that some participants of the main events carry an awkwardness about them — as if they know they are walking on eggshells).
- This year alone, there have been calls for the event to be wrestled away from the annual organizer and “trustee” of La Fête nationale; le Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois (MNQ). The MNQ is a sovereignist organization which, bluntly put… is more than less than partial. And boy, have they and their political allies (notably the PQ, and the Société St-Jean Baptiste) been fighting calls to take the party away from them (a move being championed by the CAQ provincial political party).
The last two years in particular (and especially this year) has seen private French-language media outlets call for outright depoliticization of the event, period. We have never seen this happen before in Québec — not on such as scale as we have seen this year.
Such changes in public sentiment in Québec clearly has people in the sovereignist camp worried. They’re on the defensive in the media.
This year, prominent sovereignists have been appearing on program after program on both television and on the radio to argue that they have never highjacked the event (a charge being thrown at them from all directions). They therefore argue that changes to the event are not necessary. They are also trying to argue that the current format is a “natural fit” for Québec. (hmmmm….)
Adding to sovereignists worries, all Federalist politicians (both at provincial and federal levels) have fully embraced La Fête nationale as their event as well (I don’t think that Landry or Marois envisaged that would happen when they “welcomed” everyone and anyone to join in the party and call it their own). Federalists (both Francophone, and more and more Anglophones) have begun to flock to the event.
A couple of years ago I attended daytime Fête nationale celebrations in the far East-End of Montréal (the most Francophone and nationalist region of Montréal). Even in the East Island, there were a good number of Anglophones in attendance (contrast this with other Fête nationale celebrations which I attended in Montréal and elsewhere in Québec only just a decade ago, when I heard Anglophones being jeered at for just speaking English in public). What a difference only a few years has made!
The true inclusive nature, hospitality, sincere openness and genuine good cheer of Québec’s people are radiating with the all-inclusiveness and depoliticization of La Fête nationale.
I am sure sovereignists must be finding these changes more than awkward.
But I think it is a great thing if everyone can take pride in La Fête nationale in Québec, and La St-Jean across Canada and throughout Canada’s Francophonie. Our French language and culture is something very special about our country from coast to coast. It belongs to all of us in Canada – regardless if we are Francophone or Anglophone. This is precisely what these events should be about — and what they are finally becoming.
The NDP in Ottawa even once tabled a bill to make it La St-Jean Baptiste a national holiday across Canada (in the next few years we may see this happen yet). And say what you will about Stephen Harper, but he has attended every single Fête nationale in Québec since becoming Prime Minister 10 years ago.
Traditionally, the media in Québec has stayed pro-status quo (even when the event had a much stronger sovereignst feel). But the media is slowly starting to take a stance towards depoliticization.
Two cases in point:
- The nationalist French-language magazine L’Actualité (a rough equivalent of Maclean’s in English Canada) published an article yesterday named (translation) “5 Ways to Depoliticize La Fête Nationale”. Wow !! Such an article in this type of magazine would have been truly inconceivable even a couple of years ago. The cracks in the impregnable wall are showing. Times are changing – and La Fête nationale du Québec may be a bellwether of changing public sentiment.
- (example in addendum) The morning of June 24, RDI Matin gave a televised report regarding the main stage festivities. The report was pre-recorded. It discussed Gilles Vigneault’s singing of Gens du pays on stage. The reporter wanted to state “Gens du pays est devenu l’Hymne national lors de la fête” (“Gens du pays has become the national anthem during the holidays”). However, in a move rarely seen by the public, Radio-Canada edited the reporter’s statement by cutting out the word “national”. The edit was very deliberate and quite obvious because they did a poor editing job by missing the “na”. The statement thus became “Gens du pays est devenu l’hymne na-(cut/coupe) lors de la fête”. Regardless, it is more than obvious that main stream French-language media in Québec are themselves making efforts to depoliticize the event. And again, we never would have seen this even two or three years ago.
Outside Québec, as the rest of Canada has secularized over the past 50 years, the former religious nature of the St-Jean Baptiste event has subsided with time. La St-Jean has now become a giant community music and BBQ festival for Francophones, and now Anglophones too want to celebrate their Francophone compatriot’s and Canada’s francophone heritage. It has become an “everyone-is-welcome” event.
Each provincial Francophone organization holds their own events across Canada. Events are as diverse as the Albertan St-Jean, Manitoban St-Jean, and Acadian St-Jean (just to mention a few).
Lit in blue tonight for the St-Jean-Baptiste in Toronto.
Photos (above and below) of the Bloor Viaduct in TORONTO, Ontario tonight (one of Toronto’s most iconic bridges).
Yet some regions of the country wish to reignite a much more grandiose feel to the festival season. Therefore Ontario has broken from tradition and has enlarged the St-Jean Baptiste. In addition to the St-Jean Baptiste, there are now two other major events: The 4-day long Fête Franco-Ontarian the beginning of June, and the week-long Franco-Fête in July. Both events attract crowds of tens of thousands of people in as diverse of places as Toronto and Ottawa, as well as many other towns and cities.
Where is this heading?
I don’t know, but I have some guesses.
It is obvious that there is no longer as strong a sovereignist grip on La Fête Nationale in Québec. Indications are that the sovereignist grip will continue to become loser with time (unless Canada hits some sort of constitutional or national crisis spurred by messy politics provoked by one side or the other).
It is also obvious that other areas of Francophone Canada are asserting a greater regional ownership over similar events.
As all such events across Canada become more an more neutral (first religious, and now political) we may one day see a convergence of like minds among event organizer across Canada. The legacy of the original St-Jean may one day become a unifying event cross the country, involving Francophones and Anglophones alike – with Francophones as the bridge (regardless of politics).
A future pan-Canadian reunification of the event may also become the catalyst for an official reunification of the Francophone Canadian family across Canada (take a moment to read the two posts I mentioned earlier above if you have not already done so).
It may be a while before we get there… but nothing is impossible. Surprises come in small doses. And if you have been reading this blog for some time, you will have noticed that there have been a number of pleasant surprises during the last while.
The main event is the 24th of June. But regardless of where you are in Canada, you can watch the live concert on television on Tuesday, June 23rd, at 9:00pm. It is broadcast live in French, and everyone in Canada has Radio-Canada.
There usually is a re-broadcast. It should be re-broadcast on 24 June both on Radio-Canada, and across the world in 200 countries on TV5.
Check it out.
If it is your first Fête nationale / St-Jean, I wish you a happy holiday & festival !!
Peu importe où vous êtes ou qui vous êtes, bonne Fête Nationale, et bonne St-Jean!!
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!!