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Long ago, Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer of what is now Eastern Canada, had a dream: that in the new territory he had explored, all might raise their voices together, indigenous and European, of all faiths, a chorus of different perspectives, cultures, and ideas. It was a dream forgotten, deferred, but one that resonates with where Canadians find themselves now.
Le Vent du Nord, feisty torchbearers of Quebecois traditional music, bring this dream (“Le Pays de Samuel”) and others to life on Territoires (Borealis Records; release: February 15, 2019), the group’s richest, most intriguing album to date. From the plight of New France (“Louisbourg”) to progressive social changes (“Evolution tranquille,” a nod to the midcentury Quiet Revolution that led to Quebec’s rebirth), from mysterious monsters (“Chaousaro”) to love’s yearnings (“Le soir arrive”), the now five-person ensemble travels far and wide.
“We wanted to explore the quest for territories, physical or internal, or territories that don’t exist yet,” says fiddler Olivier Demers. “They are also impressions, colors and sentiments, a way of feeling, extreme joy or deep sadness.” The new album has sparked an entirely new show around these themes, a show that will be showcased at Folk Alliance International in Montreal. (the band was awarded Folk Artist of the Year at FAI in 2006!)
Le Vent du Nord’s dream has always been to bring a contemporary, highly original sensibility to the songs and melodies preserved in archives or treasured in family troves. Through thoughtful engagement with songs’ stories and artful arrangements, the ensemble pushes Quebec folk music forward, with an ear open to the world and its current travails. This means finding timely messages in long-lost tales, crafting tight and moving vocal harmonies, and getting whirling dance tunes still cherished in many towns and families to groove hard.
“We’re really added a bit of groovy stuff to this album,” says fiddler and foot tapper André Brunet, who recently joined the group after years with Quebecois legends La Bottine Souriante, “and several songs have a riff with a bouzouki and bass. We’ve left things more open, skipping the answers in the traditional call and response sections and putting a bit of effects on the lead vocal. The sound turned out really rich.”
The richness has developed noticeably over time. With nearly 2,000 concerts, two Juno Awards, hundreds of tours across the globe, and ten albums to their credit, the band has had time to come into its own. “We are proud to call ourselves an established ensemble,” says Demers. “We’re mature and are creating at the peak of our confidence and power.”