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Louis-Jean Cormier – A politically charged singer (#317)

Here is a more-than-interesting experience I had last night in Dundas Square which demonstrates a couple of things:
(1) the two solitudes which exist between some (but not all) Francophones inside Québec and some Francophones outside Québec, and
(2) the awkwardness which can occur when sovereignists and federalists meet on the field of culture.
I wish the following had not happened, and that everyone could have just behaved without people having to score political points in public like this.
To battle out ideological differences in the written press and on internet is one thing (I do so in my own blog, but people can chose to not read).  Yet to do so in a public square and / or concert?   For crying out loud.  Not cool.
Fortunately, these sorts of “hiccups” occur less and less frequently, so I do believe the situation is much better than it used to be (and indications are that it will continue in that direction).

A snapshot of the de-politicization of young artists in Québec:

If we were to describe Québec’s artists’ “public political” involvement 20 years ago compared to today, the story would be very different.

40, 30 or 20 years ago we would have been able to classify large swaths of Québec’s artists in a category named “the politically involved” — which, by default, would have meant lending their public support towards nationalist and sovereignist movements.

Yet something has happened over the last 20 years.  A new generation of “artists”, and a new generation of “fans” has come along (a generation which was not even born at the time of the 1995 referendum, or at the very least, was quite young in 1995).  These new generations tend to be “indifferent” towards patriotic politics, or at the very minimum, they are un-engaged towards the subject.

What I am saying is not new news.

Many in the Parti Québécois have been openly complaining about this situation (Jean-François Lisée has been the most vocal, but PKP, Alexandre Cloutier and Bernard Drainville have also said they need to do more to try to capture this new and “lost” generation).

The Federalist parties (provincially and federally) also publicly talk about this phenomenon, usually with the tone that Québec’s youth “are just not interested in sovereignist politics” (without mentioning they’re equally unengaged towards federalist positions).

I think that the Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, may have most aptly summed up the reasons “why” youth are detached from “local” nationalist questions.  A few days ago at the Premiers’ Counsel of the Federation she stated that she believes the PQ will no longer succeed in its goal for Québec independence because

“Québecers are no different from British Columbians… There is a generation of people who are forward looking global citizens who are interested in creating wealth, building their lives, being able to be a part of the world — not just a part of Quebec or a part of Canada.”

The above statement is also not new.  Others have drawn similar parallels (I too have made similar statements elsewhere in this blog).  Yet Christy Clark’s wording is perhaps the most “concise” I have seen yet.

In addition to how she views the “average” person, she also added emphasis on the younger generations.

Will this new trend be a lasting trend?  I don’t know.

The PQ believes things are going so bad for them that they have nowhere else to go but up; slowly wooing the younger generation simply by way of the vacuum effect (or even more if the PQ makes an extra effort — which they are trying to do).

Yet there are others who say that this is a lasting trend owing to the fact that the world is a different, more global, more connected place compared to 20 years ago.  They argue that starting now, future generations will remain in this “detached-from-sovereignty” mindset, regardless if the Federalist side seeks to woo these generations or not (unless some major constitutional crisis or major economic shake-up comes along).

How does this fit in with Louis-Jean Cormier?

Louis-Jean Cormier is a very popular singer in Québec, especially with younger people.   Cormier (born in 1980) has become a chart-topping pop-singer (I have written a few posts which provided top chart music listings – and Cormier has appeared in those lists).

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Yet, despite the fact that his fan-base is not politically engaged, he is one of the most politically, pro-sovereignty engaged artists of his generation.

With the exception of a very small handful of other young artists, you would be hard-pressed to find other singers in Québec who are his age or younger and who are as politically engaged as Louis-Jean Cormier.  He is now a rare-breed, and perhaps part of what will continue to be a dying breed ??  Only time will tell (I don’t know any more than the next person).

This past winter, he became heavily involved in Parti Québécois politics, going so far as to write rallying poetry for them.  He publicly supported Alexandre Cloutier for PQ leader, he appeared on the popular television program Tout le monde en parle (in front of a million people), asking the public to take out PQ memberships and to support the cause.

He even described how his first name “Louis” was actually given to him by his parents to signify “OUI” (yes), in support of sovereignty (Louis).

Fast-forward to 8:25 in the video below.

His concert yesterday in Toronto

Louis-Jean Cormier is a very talented singer.  He is very popular and very well known in Québec (and most Francophone music enthusiasts elsewhere in Canada also know who he is – particularly younger people).  I like his music, even if I do not agree with his politics.

He was invited to Toronto to perform at Franco-Fête.

Here is a Radio-Canada interview with Cormier not long before his concert in Toronto:  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/widgets/mediaconsole/medianet/7318918##

Considering the degree of his very vocal politics, I was initially a bit surprised he was invited to Franco-Fête.  After all, he advocates for the demantalment of Canada – a country which Francophones outside Québec tend to be profoundly attached to and engaged towards.

In all honesty, I was not all that keen on attending his concert.  I suspected that it would be filled with nationalist speeches, remarks on giving “us” (outside Québec) lessons on how we should think and act, and I wasn’t sure that the crowd would be very big, nor was I sure if they would be enthusiastic (after all, who wants to attend a concert when the crowd is not enthusiastic?).

Regardless, all said and done, just before the end of the day I decided that if the organizers of Franco-Fête could take the moral high road and place themselves above petty politics by inviting Louis-Jean Cormier in the name of culture and music, AND if Cormier could do the same by accepting an invitation to come to Toronto, then I too should do the same and attend his concert.

If anything, I thought that perhaps a strong and enthusiastic “Québec friendly” crowd may actually send a message to Louis-Jean Cormier that Canada is actually a pretty cool country which holds a special place in its heart for Canada’s and Québec’s Francophone culture and music.

I showed up 20 minutes before the concert, and just as I predicted, hardly anyone was there.  The other Franco-Fête concerts I attended were packed with waiting crowds long in advance.  I thought to myself that perhaps Cormier’s performance wouldn’t fly owing to his political affirmations.

But a few minutes before the concert, people began to arrive.  This crowd was much younger than previous Franco-Fête concerts I attended (mostly an under 30 crowd).   The crowd did not become as big as the other Franco-Fête concerts, it was not as enthusiastic, but Dundas Square (Canada’s equivalent of Times Square) was full of fans by the time the concert started (Dundas Square is not very small, so that says something).

Error 1:  When Cormier was introduced, Franco-Fête’s M.C. not once, but twice introduced him as one of “Canada’s” great singers (or something of the like).  Yes, fine – technically correct — but I think it may have rubbed Cormier and his political complex the wrong way (setting the tone for what you’re about to read).

If it had been any other singer, that would have been fine to say.  But Cormier this past spring was “PQ Darling #1”.   Would you also introduce Mario Beaulieu one of the countries “greatest Canadians” if he were in Toronto (his head would explode).

Granted — we’re all proud of our country despite any issues it may sometimes have.  And granted, if I thought he would be receptive to being called one of “Canada’s” greatest singers, then by all means, do so.

But this is Louis-Jean Cormier.  For crying out loud, don’t rub the “great Canadian” title in his face seconds before you give him a microphone on a stage in front of a crowd he doesn’t necessarily understand or identify with.

Did you seriously think he would take the title of “greatest Canadian” sitting down? 

Because of Cormier’s advocacy, the Franco-Fête should have known such an introduction could have wound him up and ready to fire back – especially in what he may perceive as the Anglo-heartland epicentre of Toronto.

And fire back he did with a couple of shots of his own.

The M.C. should have just kept the peace and should have simply introduced him as “a” great singer who they were happy to have travel from Québec for our entertainment.  If they had done that, then Cormier perhaps may have not felt provoked (regardless if no harm or ill-will were intended).

Error 2:  As I predicted, Cormier spared no time in quickly uttering several “nationalist” words to the crowd with a theme of what could be interpreted by some as preaching morals to Francophones outside of Québec (For cripes sake!  sigh).

He said something to the effect he was going to sing a song about taking political action, and that perhaps it would inspire Francophones in the crowd and outside Québec to rise up and not put up with their situation (am paraphrasing, but it could be interpreted by some as such).

IF this was his intention (and again, it’s open to interpretation), it could be considered condescending and ignorant — as if Francophones outside Québec are “colonized” victims or something.

They’re as engaged as the rest of the lot in the country:  citizens who care about their country and who are working hand-in-hand with their Anglophone compatriots to make it a better place in a better world.

I mean, seriously – who does he think he is and what does he expect people to do?   Take pitch-forks and chase everyone we live with, grow up with, and care about down the street if they’re Anglophone?

Such an approach is a sure-fire way to get people’s backs up.

I believe he must have also been completely oblivious to the fact that around 1/3 of the crowd seemed to be composed of Anglophones who are standing side-by-side with their Francophone compatriots and embracing Canada’s Francophone fact – a trend I have noticed from one Franco-Fête concert to another.  Franco-Fête is not the Fête nationale au parc Maisonneuve.  Francophones and Anglophones in Canada’s other provinces are proud to mix and share in each other’s cultures… Just as there are many in Québec who are also doing so.   His shots were a direct insult to that fan base who came out to see him.

Cormier also said he was happy to be in Toronto and performing a concert in “Canada” with extra intonation when he said “Canada” (inferring he is not in Canada when he performs in Québec).  Again, an insult to the many Québécois in the crowd who have transplanted themselves to Toronto, or others like myself whose lives have much to do with Québec (and for whom Canada would not be the same without).

Error 3:  Of course, the next song was one which contained a line which could be interpreted as a veiled reference to the nasty Anglophones who oppress French, and that you have to fight until you are free (sigh x 10).

A number of us in the crowd couldn’t help but exchange looks, sigh, shake our heads, and shrug our shoulders.  These are Francophones I am talking about.

As far as the Anglophones in the crowd, they simply stayed stone-faced when he sang it – I mean seriously, I wonder what they were thinking.  After all, Anglophones are NOT the devil in disguise, and the proof is that a large part of the audience was Anglophone — who expressively came to watch Cormier perform (It was completely uncalled for to sing insults to them).

Error 4:  One older guy in the crowd with a very noticeable Montréal East-End French accent (perhaps in his late 50’s) standing not far from me pulled out a large enough Québec flag and started to shout pro-sovereignty affirmations in response to the song (I have to ask myself why a guy like that would even be in Toronto if such a place is enough of hell-on-earth that he needs borders to feel secure, but whatever – free country).

Error 5:  A couple of younger people with Ontario French accents and another with a Montréal French accent (all in their late 20s or 30s) standing beside the yelling guy with the flag “took him to task” and quickly put him in his place (I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that means).

That put a bit of a damper on part of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the concert (and it also demonstrates the generational difference involved in these issues).

There are a couple of lessons in all of this unnecessary madness:

LESSON ONE:

If you are famous, especially within cultural circles, and you have already made a name for yourself owing to highly controversial or divisive political actions, you can consider yourself to be forever walking on eggshells in the eyes of one segment of the population or another (regardless of your political stripes).

Thus, people will have pre-conceived notions that you could be entering the stage with an ulterior-motive, and everyone around you will be looking for the slightest message from you (regardless of how subtle it may be).

Thus you can chose to do one of two things:

  1. You can either continue to send messages, regardless how strong or weak they are, or
  2. You can be on your best behaviour, a pleasure for everyone, and you can make an effort to keep things on an even keel by not rocking the boat.  This means remaining politically neutral and choosing your words wisely.

It’s not for me to decide which one of the two choices a person elects to pursue.  But if you do chose the first option, be prepared for a backlash in one form or another (and live with the consequences when they occur – because there more than likely will be a backlash).

LESSON TWO:  

If you provoke someone (ie: you label someone something you know they will react to — such as calling Louis-Jean Cormier one of the greatest “Canadians” out there), then yeah, you’re going to get a reaction.

Even if the intentions were innocent and pure, still, what was the M.C. thinking ??

Had it been Arianne Moffatt, Kevin Parent, Lisa Leblanc, Marc Duprès or Garou or dozens and dozens or other singers, I am more than sure they would have been flattered (even Robert Charlebois would likely be flattered considering he views the nationalist questions from a distance now).

But Louis-Jean Cormier?  C’mon!  He just finished being one of the biggest and most public cheerleaders for the PQ leadership race and recruitment campaigns.

Who is Louis-Jean Cormier’s fan-base?

I asked a Francophone group of younger people beside me if they also understood what was happening (they were perhaps in their early 20s).  I was simply curious to know if they were aware of Cormier’s political activism (I wasn’t telling them anything… I simply asked a couple of questions to see if people in their age bracket were aware or following these issues).

They told me they did not know anything about Cormier’s politics.  I asked why they attended the concert.  They said that Cormier’s music is top of the charts, and they really like his music (the same reasons why I also attended).

That probably sums up his fan base.  It is generally non-political, despite Cormier’s own political affirmations.

But more importantly, it likely sums up young people’s sentiments across the country; they are more interested in their daily activities, relations, global connectiveness, and the welfare of those around them than they are with nationalist politics.

And the concert itself?

Cormier ceased the political rhetoric for the rest of the concert and simply concentrated on his performance. He thanked the crowd and Toronto numerous times for attending.

He seemed to loosen up and have more fun with the crowd as the night went on, and the crowd loosened up too.

All-in-all, with the exception of the one “hiccup” I mentioned above, the rest of the concert was non-political and the crowd eventually got into it.  (These sorts of “hiccups” are fewer and fewer as the years go on, even in Québec.  It is a very noticeable change).

The concert may not have started on the best note, but it ended well.  I think we all had a relatively good time.

Here is a video of various clips I made.

If you fast-forward to the end of the video I made below, the lack of enthusiasm on my face after attending this concert is quite evident when you contrast it to the videos I made for the previous two concerts (especially with the last one in which I was super excited to meet Lisa Leblanc!)

Nonetheless, I was happy to have gone, and Louis-Jean Cormier is an extraordinarily talented singer.  I’m grateful he made the gesture to come to Toronto and play to his fans here.  Sometimes gestures count more than anything.

And one last note:

When I got home, a friend gave me a call and asked how the concert was.

I told him that it went well and Cormier’s performance was very enjoyable.   I also mentioned the little political hiccup which occurred.  My buddy’s reaction: “Câlique!  Y en a encore de ces vieilles chicanes?  Pas croyable!” (For crying out loud, these old muck-ups are still happening?  Unbelievable!).  My buddy is from Québec, he doesn’t speak much English, and he also was turned off by what happened.

When he said that, my response was “Ouais, ça reflète mes sentiments, moi aussi” (My sentiments, exactly). 

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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 🙂

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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 !

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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!)   

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(And why on earth do I look so tiny in all my photos!?!?!?  Really folks, I’m not that tiny — bloody camera!!)

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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:

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/C’est+la+vie/ID/2578643512/

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:

  • 2015-07-24
  • DAWSON CITY, YUKON
  • Dawson City Music Festival
  • 2015-07-31
  • NOMININGUE, QUÉBEC
  • 2015-08-07
  • MONTRÉAL, QUÉBEC
  • FestiBlues International de Montréal
  • 2015-08-08
  • ROUYN-NORANDA, QUÉBEC
  • Osisko en Lumière
  • 2015-08-09
  • RÉGINA, SASKATCHEWAN
  • Victoria Park
  • 2015-09-09
  • VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
  • Upstairs Cabaret
  • 2015-09-10
  • VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
  • The Biltmore
  • 2015-09-12
  • 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!!).
  • 2015-09-16
  • CALGARY, ALBERTA
  • Festival Hall
  • 2015-09-17
  • 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 🙂

(And again, I’m looking so damned short & small !! What gives !?!?!?!)

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One of my favorite posts: Zachary Richard (#315)

(U.S.A. readers of this blog:  You may be very interested in this post, because Zachary Richard is one of your own).

I have wanted to write a blog post on Zachary Richard from day one… but I could never quite find the right context to do so – until now. Over the past few hundred posts, you’ve seen me write about

  1. subjects I believe are good for Anglophone Canadians to know about Québec,
  2. subjects I believe are good for Anglophone Canadians to know about Canada’s francophone culture (regardless of the province),
  3. the odd post in French on subjects, different viewpoints, or tid-bits of information which I think are good for Francophones to know about Anglophone Canada and / or nuances between various provinces
  4. certain subjects from a political angle (even if others may not agree with me, at least it’s always good to know how others view certain topics),
  5. language tid-bits (mostly about French, but sometimes about English),
  6. and many other topics.

I chose the subjects I write about because I like these topics (and, yes sometimes I even write about subjects which are even uncomfortable for me — just to push the envelope a little, because the issues are important).

But only a couple of times times have I written a blog post which had me truly excited. This post is one such post — I’m wearing a big grin right now as I write it  🙂

This picture should set the tone for the rest of this post (a picture of me and Zachary Richard yesterday evening in Toronto)… 

Me & Zach Zachary Richard is one of the few singers I have consistently listened to and followed ever since I was a child. I have no idea how old I was when I could first sing his songs word-for-word, but I was young… perhaps under 10 (so that should tell you how long I have been listening to him.   I think I even have one of his “cassette tapes” in a box somewhere in storage – Yikes 😉 Because I grew up in rural Alberta, like many of my classmates and friends, I grew up listening to country music (although my tastes in music are much wider now — to the point I would say I listen more pop than other genres).

“Country music” is a very large umbrella, and French country music has no shortage of genres.  The topic of French country music was actually one of the first posts I wrote about.  Have a look at that post for reference:

Country music = Québec (#16)

In terms of Franco-Albertains or Québécois, anybody who is anybody knows Zachary Richard’s music. In fact, Francophones anywhere in Canada/Québec, including many Francophones in Europe and Africa, also know who Zachary Richard is. In Canada, you would have to have been living under a rock to not know who he is. But if you are unilingual Anglophone, because of the cultural-reference gulf which constitutes the Two Solitudes, you perhaps do not know who he is.

Zachary Richard is the #1 Cajun music singer in the world.  I group “modern” Cajun music under the overall umbrella of French country music (the above mentioned post). Therefore, Richard is probably the #1 French country music singer in the world (at least in my books).

And if there are any people who would disagree with me, they likely would agree that he would be #2, or at the extreme, the #3 French country music singer in the world. He was the main act yesterday at the Franco-Fête festival in Toronto (which is Toronto’s own two-week version of Montréal’s Les Francopholies).  I wrote an earlier post on Franco-Fête: La Franco-Fête de Toronto – la version torontoise des Francopholies (#309) 

For me, meeting Zachary Richard yesterday perhaps would be like an Anglophone Country music fan meeting Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, George Straight or Tim McGraw – Serious!!  (Hence the HUGE grin I am wearing as I type this post).

A photo I took of Zachary Richard’s outdoor concert in downtown Toronto last night (Dundas Square) in front of a crowd of thousands of fans.

Dundas square is Canada’s equivalent of Times Square in the U.S.A.   (click to enlarge)

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The crowd was mostly made up of Franco-Ontariens and Francophile Anglophones who wanted to see Zachary Richard.  But I also chatted with a number of strangers, among whom were numerous Acadians, Québécois, a Franco-Manitobain, a Fransaskois, and yes… a Franco-Albertain! (all who were just as excited as me to be there !)

This was one of the side stages before the concert, where I had a chance to chat with other people from everywhere around the country.

Side Stage

More about Zachary Richard…

Zachary Richard is CAJUN-AMERICAN, from Southern Louisiana:  the pride of Louisiana Cajuns!  (And boy, do they have a lot to be proud of!!)

However, in Canada, we also consider him one of our own.   In Québec, he is considered as one of their own.  In Acadia, he is considered as one of their own.  In Western Canada, Francophones consider him as one of their own. Really, Zachary Richard  is one of the family.

His lyrics and music style strike a chord and are instantly recognizable.  It all is from the same roots as our traditional French music North of the Border. What is more fascinating about his music is that he writes and sings MODERN Cajun music.  This means that there is a large degree of overlap (if not a near 100% overlap) with modern Acadian music, modern Franco-Ontarian country music, modern French Prairie country music, and modern Québec country music.

Any time traditional North American celtic+folk French music undergoes modernization, it automatically melds under the same big umbrella as modern French country. If you were to hear his music, but did not know the songs were written by Zachary Richard, you could easily think they were written by Crystal Plamondon from Alberta, Renée Martel from Québec, or Cayouche from Acadia.

I’ll keep this puppy in a safe place

Album Zachary Richard actually lived in Montréal for about 10 years (from 1976 to 1986), during which time he must have been influenced by our style of music.  But I am sure that his style of music has also influenced our style of French music in no small way over the years (hence why his music fits us like a glove). During the time he lived in Montréal, two of his albums went gold in Canada.   But since then (brace yourself…)…

  • he has won five Félix (ADISQ) awards for best artist (Québec’s version of the Grammy’s).
  • he has been inducted as a member of the Order of Canada (one of Canada’s highest awards, which are rarely ever given to “foreigners”),
  • he has been made an officer of the order of Arts and Letters of France (one of France’s most prestigious awards),
  • he has been given honorary doctorates from Université de Moncton (New Brunswick), Université St-Anne (Nova Scotia), University of Lafayette (Louisiana).

(… and these are only just a few of his awards). The last several years, Zachary Richard has made a name for himself as being an engaged environmentalist (especially in light of the BP offshore oil disaster a few years ago in the Gulf of Mexico).  Even last night’s concert in Toronto was filled by a few pauses to speak about environmental matters. But he is best known for his defense and support for the French language in North America.

He has North America’s combined culture at heart, and he ardently believes that French is an integral part of that culture – to be shared and embraced by everyone on the continent, by Francophones and Anglophones alike (Bang on!  Where have you heard that one before?) 🙂

With 21 albums under his belt from 1976 to present (an album released every couple of years or so), he is a living legend.  You can’t imagine how excited I was when I found out he was coming to Toronto — and judging from the crowd of thousands who came to see him last night in the streets of Toronto… I was far from being the only one!!.

It was funny, because after the concert, the subway was packed with francophones going home from the concert.  If you didn’t know it, from listening to everyone on the subway, you would have thought you were in Montréal or Paris! – not Toronto.

When I met him yesterday, I told him that I grew up in Alberta, not far from the town where Crystal Plamondon lived (Alberta’s most famous French country music singer).  I mentioned I met her a few times when I was younger.    I was very surprised when he said he also met her personally (there you are… two degrees of separation – still within the mythical “six”).

He said he thought it was great that he was meeting a Franco-Albertain at his concert in Toronto of all places, to which I responded that it was great that there was an Albertan in a Toronto crowd who got to meet him.  That made him laugh.

Here are some clips I filmed from last night’s concert (I went with friends and practically camped out to get a front-row spot).

I make a (terrible) appearance in this video at 45 seconds (head hanging in shame).  I apologize in advance for the horrible singing (but hey, I was excited — and EVERYONE was singing too — so it’s not my fault).  I recommend you tape up all the glass in the house and plug your ears in advance.  Hahaha!!)

(I sent these videos to some friends in other provinces to say I actually went to his concert — made a few people jealous!).

Here is another one in which I made an unfortunate “appearance”

This clip proves that being the first to the front is the best of the best spots.

A whole lot of of people !!!  (Remember the post “A very interesting French-language experience in Anglophone regions of Canada”?   I told ya Toronto has a CRAP LOAD of Francophones and Francophiles !!).

Some samples of his better known songs:

Jean Batailleur (this song is legendary)

Lac Bijou (Zachary Richard singing it with one of France’s biggest names in music, Francis Cabrel).

Dans le nord canadien (Who doesn’t know this song!?!?)

Here are a couple of other interesting videos:

Owing to his superstar status in the French-speaking world, Zachary Richard rubs shoulders with the biggest of the big names… and in this case, in front of tens and tens of thousands of people.

A great interview on L’Invité in France (Note his Louisiana Cajun accent – very special!).

I hope you enjoyed reading this post on Zachary Richard as much as I enjoyed writing it.

As a side note… I’ve now been in Toronto for 20 months.  Moving to Toronto was an interesting transition in the sense that Toronto’s culture is very different than in other cities.  Canada had changed a LOT in the years I had been living abroad, and Toronto’s size made it difficult to get a social foot in the door if you did not live right downtown where you do not need to commute (even my subway ride to downtown is 40 minutes!).   But the more I get out and find my niche, the more I’m enjoying Toronto.

It can be quite a bit of fun when you take advantage of what it has to offer (and it certainly has something for everyone – including those who are looking for a mix of French & English).  You might have to go out of your way to find it in the beginning, but once you meet people and know the in’s and out’s – it certainly is there.

This specific post proves my point 🙂

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La Franco-Fête de Toronto – la version torontoise des Francopholies (#309)

ADDENDUM 30-07-2015

Usually I add addendums at the end of blog posts, but owing to the significance of this one, I’ll it at the front.  By the end of this years Franco-fête in Toronto over the course of two weeks, 100 concerts took place with over 350 singers.  Estimates were that between 700,000 and 1,000,000 (million) people attended the concerts in Dundas Square at one point or another.  HUGE SUCCESS!

D’habitude j’ajoute des addendum à la fin des billets…  Mais compte tenu du succès de la Franco-fête cette année, je le crois une bonne idée de mettre cet addendum en haut du billet.   Durant les deux semaines de la Franco-fête, plus de 100 concerts ont eu lieu avec plus de 350 chanteurs participants dans la place Dundas à Toronto.   Les organisateurs croient qu’entre 700,000 et 1,000,000 (million) personnes l’ont assisté les concerts à un moment ou à un autre.  Un ÉNORME SUCCÈS!


I’m inserting a quick post about an event that is going on right now in Toronto (this will be of interest to followers in South-Central Ontario).

Franco-Fête is the Toronto equivalent of Les Francofolies de Montréal outdoor concert week (click here for last years’ post on Les Francofolies).  

Along with la Fête Franco-Ontarienne in Ottawa, FRANCO-FÊTE is one of the larger French-language concert weeks in Ontario.   This is my first year attending it, and there is no shortage of events!!

The main concerts are being held in downtown Toronto at Dundas Square, in addition to other venues all around the city.

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D.Sq.

Franco-Fête is going on right now.   Some of the big names, from various provinces this year are

  • Arianne Moffatt
  • Radio Radio
  • Swing
  • Zachary Richard
  • Lisa Leblanc
  • Kevin Parent
  • Louis-Jean Cormier

A good number of well-known Franco-Ontariens are also being featured, such as

  • Mélanie Brulée
  • Les Chiclettes
  • Yao
  • Stef Paquette

And there are many many others!

You can find the complete concert and event listings at

http://www.franco-fete.ca/

Last night some friends and I checked out the concert given by the popular Acadian group Radio Radio.

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Have fun!!

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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 meaningI 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.

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(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:

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).

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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).

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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!!