Why aren’t anglos more curious about local franco music?
The epiphany came to me at Jean Leloup’s inspirational show at Metropolis in the fall of 2015. It remains one of the greatest, most exhilarating concerts I’ve seen in the past decade, as Johnny the Wolf ripped through tracks from his bestselling comeback album Paradis Cité and tunes from his entire career.
As I walked around the club, taking in the show from different vantage points, what really struck me was how almost every person in the 2,000-strong crowd knew all of the words to all of the songs, from early hits like Isabelle and 1990 to the brand new tunes off of his latest album.
It made me realize that Leloup is Quebec’s equivalent of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. Not stylistically, but in the sense of his importance to his audience. He is one of the most iconic figures of his generation.
But here’s the weird thing about that night at Metropolis. There were no anglophones there. OK, maybe there were a few branché blokes hidden in dark corners of the venue, but there weren’t many. And it had me wondering yet again why it is that English Montrealers show so little curiosity about music made en français ici. Anglo rock fans would love Leloup, but most of them haven’t heard his idiosyncratic rock.
Canadian singer-songwriter Louis-Jean Cormier performs on stage with his son as thousands of protesters flood the streets of Montreal during the global climate strike. “If you’re into indie rock, then Louis-Jean Cormier is your guy on the French side,” CHOM music director Pierre Landry says.
MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE /
AFP/Getty Images file photo
How is that my friends who love alt-rockers like Wilco and Radiohead have never given a listen to Hubert Lenoir or Louis-Jean Cormier or, say, Les Louanges, the most nominated artist at this year’s ADISQ Gala. Les Louanges is Vincent Roberge and he makes brilliant late-night funky, jazzy spacey music that I am convinced my alternative anglo pals would adore. Les Louanges is up for nine Félix trophies at the annual Quebec music awards ceremony, including for alternative album, critic’s choice album, singer-songwriter, discovery of the year and song of the year.
The same goes for the main hip-hop nominees at the ADISQ Gala — Koriass, Loud and Alaclair Ensemble. If you dig hip hop then you will totally love these three totally original artists. The ADISQ Gala takes place Oct. 27.
So how to explain this massive anglo indifference to franco music made chez nous?
As good a starting point as any is the reality that Canada remains very much home to two cultural solitudes (and many other solitudes, but that’s another story).
If you dig hip-hop, you’ll love Koriass, Brendan Kelly says.
Marie-France Coallier /
Montreal Gazette file photo
“There are actually two Canadas,” said Nicolas Boulerice, who sings and plays piano in the trad Québécois band Le Vent du Nord, which is up for two Félix trophies this year.
The band is competing with itself in the category of best traditional album, for their album Territoires and for the album Notre album solo, a project pairing Le Vent du Nord with the band De Temps Antan.
“There’s very little animosity today between anglophones and francophones so there is a bit more openness,” said Boulerice. “Nationalist francophones don’t feel they’re in a battle with anglophones any more. So the two sides are talking more than before … but maybe it’s difficult for anglophones to accept their ignorance of francophone culture. It takes a lot of humility to say, ‘OK I have to start from Ground Zero here.’ It might scare people off, to have to try to understand music from another culture.”
There is that reluctance on the part of anglos even though most of us don’t listen to the lyrics all that closely most of the time. What’s important initially is the groove, the riff, the melody and then maybe a little later, you might notice what the artist is singing about.
How is that people who love alt-rockers like Wilco and Radiohead have never given a listen to Hubert Lenoir?
Montreal Gazette file photo
“I listened to a lot of progressive rock when I was growing up,” Boulerice said. “I’m a big fan of King Crimson, Genesis and Yes. But even today I have no idea what they’re singing about.”
The funny thing about Le Vent du Nord is that though they’re very political and very nationalist, they appeal to non-franco audiences in the rest of Canada and around the world because there’s a global interest in traditional music and those types of listeners don’t care what language the songs are in.
Matt Lang — whose real name is Mathieu Langevin — sings new-country-style in the language of Keith Urban and his self-titled debut album is nominated at the ADISQ Gala in the category of best anglophone album, alongside Marie Davidson’s Working Class Woman, Alex Henry Foster’s Window in the Sky, Jesse MacCormack’s Now and The Brooks’ Freewheelin’ Walking.
Lang says it’s not that surprising that anglos listen mostly to music in the language they learned first.
“The No. 1 international language is English and all the music coming from the rest of Canada and the U.S. is in English, so there’s lots and lots of choice in English-language music,” Lang said. “If anglos have the choice of listening to Ed Sheeran or something in French, for sure they’re going to opt for Ed Sheeran. In Quebec, the francophone stations play francophone and anglophone music, whereas the anglophone stations only play English music. It’s like, I don’t listen to Spanish music because I don’t know anything about it.”
Milk + Bone’s audience is mostly francophone, though they sing in English. They’re with a record label that is mostly anchored in the franco community.
ALICE CHICHE /
AFP/Getty Images file photo
Pierre Landry, music director at CHOM, says it’s a shame anglos don’t show a little more curiosity about what’s playing on the franco side of the fence.
“The majority of anglophones will listen to English music,” said Landry. “Unfortunately it comes down to culture. Because they identify with a certain thing, they’ll consume that product. The fact is we’ve got the francophone equivalent of what’s out there. If you’re into indie rock, then Louis-Jean Cormier is your guy on the French side. If you’re into something like Ariane Grande or something a little more pop, then you’ve got Marie-Mai … but because there’s so much English culture out there, it’s easy to neglect what’s happening on the French side. You’re already over-served with English music. I think it’s because they don’t identify with the culture.”
Solange Drouin, director general of ADISQ (Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo), noted that francophone artists have had little success increasing their market share here in Quebec in recent years and said of course these artists would love to appeal to anglophone listeners.
Camille Poliquin, one half of the Montreal electro-pop duo Milk + Bone, said their audience is mostly francophone, though they sing in English. Milk + Bone is nominated at the ADISQ Gala for best anglophone show for their Deception Bay tour. She said their audience is mostly francophone because they are on a record label, Bonsound, that is more anchored in the franco community.
“The two sides of the music industry in Montreal are super polarized,” said Poliquin. “We don’t see the English labels ever and I think we would grow and learn so much (if the industry was less polarized).”
The scenes are still mostly separate, as are the audiences. Two solitudes, you say?