Elizabeth Szekeres gets us ready for this year’s Festival Mémoire et Racines
I might just have to clone myself about four times to go to everything I want to see on this year’s program at Festival Mémoire et Racines in Joliette, QC. After two years of restricted pandemic programming, this great festival is back in full force.
Mémoire et Racines, now in its 28th year, is the largest festival of traditional and roots music in Québec. For years, it has been on the cutting edge of folk music. While that might sound like an oxymoron, it’s absolutely applicable since this festival has been instrumental for years in focusing attention on the completely vital and vibrant traditional music scene in the province.
Over the years, the artistic directors of Mémoire et Racines have used their programming forum to showcase new talent, to provide mentorships, and to focus attention on the ‘patrimonie vivant’ – the living history of music, dance and storytelling that goes back at least four centuries in this province. One might say that Festival Mémoire et Racines has been instrumental in growing pride in the culture of Québec for almost three decades.
This year’s festival promises to wow us all many times over. Some of the highlights include a special performance celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of Québec’s venerable band, Le Vent du Nord, and a special focus on women, cultural diversity and Indigenous artists.
Here are some of the performances we cannot wait to see:
Félix Award winners Bon Débarras will showcase their new album, Repères, performing here with Innu poet Joséphine Bacon. The theme of this new music is an allegory for grounding yourself, getting in touch with your roots. Bon Débarras has in recent years moved boldly into new repertoire steeped in poetry, rhythm and the effervescent Québecois culture that gives new meaning to the phrase “joie de vivre.”
Les Grands Hurleurs, fiddler Nicolas Pellerin’s band, performs with a new lineup that includes Tommy Gauthier and Olivier Rondeau, known for their work with the Yves Lambert Trio. The band is showcasing their newest album, Ellipse, which has breathtaking instrumental tunes as well as stunning vocals rich with harmonies.
Le Vent du Nord’s 20th anniversary performance is headlining the Friday night Gilles Cantin main stage, with invited guests: rapper Biz, pop musician Stéphane Archambault and the Gruv’N’Brass brass quintet. I won’t give any more away, but it’s safe to say that it should prove to be an astounding set.
Kongero is an a cappella quartet, four beautiful women who hail from Sweden. With gorgeous polyphonic tunes and impeccable harmonies, they sing of life, love and dancing. We may not understand their lyrics, but the gorgeous sounds of their harmonies speak the universal language of love and beauty.
The Trio Chant d’Elles is a band of three women, three generations from the same family from north of Lanaudière region, way northeast of Montreal. This is an area of Québec known for its living heritage. Songs from their French and Acadian ancestors have been handed down within families there for generations.
Mama’s Broke is a female duo from Nova Scotia who have been influenced by the American folk music scene. I look forward to hearing their original material, influenced by great old-time and bluegrass music, but with a darker twist.
Himmerland is very much a northern European melting pot, with members from Denmark, Scotland and Sweden. Their original compositions are well-seasoned with the flavours of the varied heritages of the group’s musicians.
Central America is not to be missed here either. Le Mariachi Oro Blanco de Montréal will perform on the grounds of the festival at supper time on Saturday. This lively and vivacious band, with its roots in Mexico, but now based in Montréal, will give us all a reason to not miss the food tent with its flavours of the many cultures that inhabit today’s Québec.
Nina Segalowitz will be demonstrating Inuit throat singing, the goal of which is to last as long as possible before breaking into hilarious laughter.
Dance has always been a huge part of the party at Mémoire et Racines. Friday and Saturday night Québecois square dances are hugely well attended inside the air conditioned dance hall. This will be the first year the dances are re-starting following a pandemic hiatus, so they are bound to be even more popular. Dance callers Gérard Morin and Yaëlle Azoulay will lead us through the figures while the music of Dâvi Simard and Bon Debarras create the rhythms and the atmosphere.
Djely Tapa, of a griot family of troubadours, originally from Mali, won the 2020 World Music Album of the Year Juno for her album Barokan. In her band, we will hear the gorgeous kora, a calabash-based harp with 22 strings. In her performance, Mandinka traditions and desert blues are gently influenced by contemporary electronics. Djely sings in several languages of the need to protect water resources and the power of women and youth.
The McDades are well-known to festival audiences across Canada, but the three siblings who are the core of the band, Shannon, Jeremiah and Solon, grew up in Edmonton. With renowned guitarist Andrew Hillhouse, the siblings put on a fiery performance of Celtic and Canadian folk music, incorporating global rhythms and jazz improvisation.
Zigue is Claude Méthé, Dana Whittle and their son Aimé Méthé, from Lanaudière Region of Québec. Claude is very well-known in the province – a fiddler, vocalist and prolific composer; his tunes and songs are played widely in traditional music circles. With Aimé on banjo and fiddle, Dana on guitar, vocals and foot percussion, and Claude on fiddle, Zigue will take us on a journey through the heart of the QuéTrad universe.
The weekend would be incomplete without some learning. Several hands-on workshops are being presented, including Indigenous hoop dancing from Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo from the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake; step dancing with Yaëlle Azoulay and Véronique Plasse; body percussion from Dominic Desrochers; tap dancing with Majiza Phillip; a fiddle workshop with Claude Méthé; and a square dance callers’ workshop from Gérard Morin.
Emerald Rae, fiddler and folksinger from Massachussetts, is this year’s City of Joliette/Mémoire et Racines artist in residence. She will perform with Lanaudière multi-instrumentalist Jean-François Gagnon-Branchaud.
Dâvi Simard, fiddler, multi-instrumentalist and composer, is from Lac St. Jean, north of Québec City. He will perform his solo album, “Dâvi Simard – Violoneux,” on stage here with Dávid Brunelle (Les Mercenaires de Terroir) and Louis-Simon Lemieux (Les Chauffeurs à Pieds). Dâvi honours his Acadian and Québecois ancestors with a particularly sensitive and beautiful take on the tunes and songs he has collected, composed and performed.
Grosse Isle from Québec, will knock your socks off with its melding of the musical traditions of Ireland and Québec. Sophie Lavoie, (fiddle and voice), Fiachra O’Regan (uilliean pipes and whistles), and the legendary guitarist and vocalist André Marchand have come up with a truly original take on traditional music from the two distinct cultures that have rubbed shoulders in Québec for over a century.
The Ziguezon youth stage at Mémoire et Racines has lots for young people this year too. Les Petits Tounes, currently the most popular kids’ group in the province, will transport you to the world of children’s rock and pop through songs about topics such as camping, dinosaurs and the tooth fairy.
As well on that stage, we will have an introduction to weaving a ceinture fléchée, the distinctive woven arrow waist belt worn by the Québecois, the Métis and the French Voyageurs. Storytelling will also make an appearance on the Ziguezon stage in a weaving of Québecois legends with the tales of the Atikamekw Indigenous community of the Lanaudière and Mauricie Regions, where some 90 per cent of people speak their language.
Kids will also be thrilled to see and hear an instrument from Arabia: the oud. They will also learn something of the musical styles this instrument is used for in the various Arabic cultures. And, who doesn’t want to learn about the traditional games children played in times past? These are just a few of the wonderful things that will be happening on the Ziguezon stage over the weekend.
Afternoon side stages on Saturday and Sunday will really challenge our schedules. Many unique performances will happen only once. Virtuoso players of accordion, violin, and plucked strings will try to outdo each other on workshop stages. Voices too! They will share tunes and songs from each musician’s repertoire. The best thing about those workshop stages is the cross-pollination that occurs, the sharing and collaboration among some of the best musicians in the world.
Storytelling for adults will happen on the Excusez-Là stage. Creative liar Jerome Berube from Côte Nord near Labrador will take us on a tour of the worst times of our youth: epic fails, first times and huge mistakes. But will we know which of these tales is actually true? Dominique Deslongchamps takes us to Black Lake, a town founded by asbestos mines, where stories have long been told. Patrick Cortois from the Innu nation of Lac St. Jean won last year’s lying contest. Patrick will regale us with stories he has collected from the folklore of his community. And, Saulo Giri, whose family originated in Panama, will conjure the tales of his grandmother. In Chepo, Panama, the characters in the vivid legends really seem alive and stir up astounding magic.
Some of the other performances? The grandfather of Québecois call-and-response singing, Jean-Paul Guimond, joins with musical friends to showcase a new album presented in collaboration with Le Conseil Québecois du Patrimonie Vivant. Living history indeed!
Eric Beaudry from De Temps Antan will do a solo show. Students of the Camp Violon TradQuébecois will showcase the fantastic tunes they learned at camp, and students of the CÉGEP Joliette folk music college will blow us away too. Benoît Fortin (recorder) and Colin Savoie-Levac (guitar) promise to show us their unusual explorations of traditional music; the exuberant call-and-response band Les Campagnards will sing their hearts out for us; and Les Flâneurs will make us want to dance with their Cajun-Zydeco music of Louisiana.
A very special performance late on Saturday afternoon will be presented by Robert Legault et Les Mercenaires du Terroir. Robert Legault is a very well-known harmonica player who has performed with some of the most legendary bands in Québec. With him are: André Marchand (guitar, shruti box); Dávid Simard (feet, fiddle); Dávid Brunelle (harmonica, fiddle); and Louis-Simon Lemieux (harmonica, fiddle, guitar and feet). This is a rare appearance by Robert Legault, so this is sure to be a packed house for this band as they blaze through their set like a comet through the heavens.
Lots more details are to come on the festival website: https://www.memoireracines.org
Advance tickets are now on sale and you can reserve a weekend campsite in the nearby parc Maria-Goretti alongside the L’Assomption River if you act fast.
See you there!