Wind of North 

Quebecois folk musicians, Le Vent du Nord, blow into town for WAC Performance Series

click to enlarge Traditional Take Le Vent du Nord carries long-held musical traditions forward.
  • Traditional Take Le Vent du Nord carries long-held musical traditions forward.

Who: Le Vent du Nord
When: Thursday, March 12, 8 p.m.
Where: MY Millennium Place
Cost: Adults $22, students & seniors $19, WAC members $16

In the English-speaking world, the music of Le Vent du Nord is enough to make people pause and take notice. That's because the French foursome plays traditional Quebecois folk music - not exactly something we hear on Much Music every day.

The four singers and multi-instrumentalists at the heart of this group are Nicolas Boulerice on the hurdy-gurdy, Simon Beaudry on fiddle, Olivier Demers on acoustic guitar and Réjean Brunet on accordion. The group formed about eight years ago, after the original members met during a wedding. Since then, two members have left, replaced by Simon Beaudry and Réjean Brunet. All of the members come from strong musical backgrounds, many with professional musicians in their ranks.

Boulerice, himself, has been on the folk circuit for the past 10 years, starting with the Ad vielle que Pourra and Montcorbie, and working with artists like Ovo, Les Batinses, Dobacaracol, Les Zapartistes, Benoit Charest and Michel Faubert. He is also a founding member of Roués et Archets, a record label specializing in Quebecois traditional music, and co-founder of the Chants de Vielles festival in Calixa-Lavalee, Québec.

Demers
is is a trained violinist and guitarist who began playing chamber music before moving on to jazz. He has worked with artists like La Bottine Souriante, Michel Faubert, The Bills, Dany Bédar, Boom Desjardins, Les Ours, Mario Pelchat and Ovo. But he now calls himself a violoneux (fiddler), having devoted the past 10 years of his musical career to traditional music. Brunet first began playing Quebecois traditional music as a very young boy. After performing with his brother and recording three albums, he joined La Volée d'Castors, touring with them for eight years.

Beaudry
inherited his traditional musical background from his grandfathers - a fiddler and singer - and went on to earn a music degree at Joliette College. Performing as a solo artist and as a duo with his brother, Beaudry drew on a traditional repertoire from the great Quebecois songwriters in cafés around his hometown.

The group recently has been busy in the studio working on their fifth full-length album, but during a rehearsal break, Boulerice took the time to answer some questions about the music of Le Vent du Nord, starting by explaining what a hurdy-gurdy is.

"It's from a very old French tradition, but even in Quebec, it appeared during the 18th century, so it's not very famous. It's more like a French or Spanish instrument from the Middle Age."

After a quick listen to any of the tracks from their latest album, there are some obvious similarities between traditional Celtic music from the Maritimes and the folk music from Montreal.

"One day the Irish came, in 1940, when they came around Montreal, we share a lot with those people," Boulerice explained. "We had the same religion - at that time it was important, but now we don't care - so even if we didn't have the same language, we were close with those people."

From this shared history came an intertwining of cultures.

"So the music was very much influenced by the Irish," he added.
Le Vent du Nord's repertoire is quite varied, drawing from a pool of traditional folk songs and their own original creations.

"At the beginning, we had a few bagpipes and a few hurdy-gurdys, but those instruments sound really old, old music," Boulerice explained. "With Le Vent du Nord, we like to play the 19th century traditions, also the 18th century traditions, so we mix Celtic roots with the French roots."

While all come from traditional roots, they try and keep their sound current by combining rock and progressive elements into many of their original songs, integrating different genres of music along the way.

"For us, the tradition is still in movement," he said. "We are not museum musicians - we want to keep those traditions alive because we love the sound, we love the music, we love the rhythm, we love the spirit of those traditions and it's so nice to keep those songs alive with stories."

Today, they travel around the world sharing the traditions with other communities.

"When we go wherever, we have enough things in common with the people to be close, and we have enough differences to be exotic."

The Juno Award-winning Quebecois group has produced chart-topping traditional folk albums, touring extensively across North America and Europe in the process. They were featured alongside the Chieftains on CBC television, next to Flook on BBC television in Scotland, and have performed with Michel Faubert and Yann-Fanch Kemener for Les Grands Concerts Radio-France in Paris. They also took part in Chants du Pays in 2007 alongside La Bottine Souriante, Les Batinses and La Volée d'Castors.

Most recently, they returned from yet another UK tour in mid-February, which included a special performance at the 16th Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland.

"It was a special Quebec year, so we had six bands from Quebec," Boulerice said.

And if you don't speak French, don't worry - the group's simple, soulful sound and catchy beats seem to transcend language barriers.

"It's music from the people," Boulerice explained. "Even if people don't understand the language, if they don't speak French, the music is strong enough to get everyone to stand up and dance with us!"

Many people have never experienced this type of music before, and their reactions are usually positive.

"We play so many gigs for English speakers, or people who don't speak French, so for us, its very normal," he added.

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