The morning at Mémoire et Racines got off to a gentler start with a workshop stage of plucked strings: guitar players from many different traditions including Flamenco.
Mémoire et Racines is very much a family friendly festival. La Marche du Crabe conducted workshops for children to experience a little taste of the circus. We watched an exercise where a child learns to easily stand on the shoulders of an adult. How to become fearless in just an few easy steps!
Flying fingers was the order of the day at the accordion workshop. Five masters of the instrument strutted their stuff, including Xabi Aburruzaga, who hails from Pays Basque in Spain. We all had to pick our jaws back up off the floor after his performance. There was one piano accordion and seven diatonic accordions on the stage – those are the ones that make your head hurt when you try to play even a basic musical scale. They are that complicated!
Call and response singing is at the heart of every folk music event in Québec. It was no surprise then to hear audience voices enthusiastically raised across the park in reply to the lead singer’s refrain. The workshop: Voices From Here and There had singers from all over the French world, including Québec, Acadia and Prince Edward Island. The audiences here are not shy at all about raising their voices to join in the vocal fun.
Everyone looks forward to the Saturday afternoon fiddle workshop at Mémoire et Racines. Host Pascal Gemme today was asking his fellow fiddlers how they came to the instrument. Family tradition plays a big part for many, but for others, it is the serendipity of coming across a style of traditional music that is so compelling it informs one’s future in music. We had tunes from the Magdalen Islands, from Indigenous traditions of Arctic Canada, and Scotland, as well as Québecois. But the highlight involved South American fiddle music, which was played with very interesting rhythms from a Brazilian drummer. After that, the session devolved into something of a theme party for crooked tunes played on fiddles with strings turned to alternate tunings. Pascal finished up the session by teaching a tune—one he has no title or source for. Easy to learn, the audience picked it up with voices while all the fiddlers joined in. Such is the community here, that these joyful things happen with ease.
To finish up the wonderful afternoon of music, we were delighted to participate in making music with other members of the trad community here at Mémoire et Racines. For many years, the festival has encouraged late night jamming in the park after the stage performances have concluded each day. This year, many of us were really pleased to find a couple of daytime jams on the schedule. Even better, those jams are being facilitated by experienced players. Today was accordionist Carmen Guerard. Sunday will be fiddler Alexis Chartrand. We had a huge variety of instruments today. Fiddles and diatonic accordions were joined by ribs, flutes, harmonica and whistles, to name just a few. Making music as a community goes right to the heart of what QueTrad and this festival stand for.
The Saturday night main stage performances began with the highly energetic bluegrass/old time band: Veranda.
Playing fiddle, mandolin, double bass, banjo and guitar, these five performers wowed the audience with their French style of hillbilly music.
Second up Saturday night was Genticorum. This QuéTrad band, one of our absolute favourites, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band’s founding. Au Coeur de l’Aube is the title of their newest CD and logically, they are presenting that music this evening. You can read my recent review of the album HERE. This was a remarkable performance: three terrific musicians absolutely at the peak of their powers. Composers, collectors of music and masters of a sound that is both calming and exciting, Pascal, Nicholas and Yann are letting the music grow around them. They start a phrase and let it build; we feel enveloped by the beauty and emotion. Whether it is a song, or a tune with no words, the music is layered and coloured with an equally sensitive use of dynamics. You can’t help but love Genticorum. Original band member Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand joined the set to sing the song “Genticorum” from which the band took its name 25 years ago. What an emotional moment that was. The band finished their set with a blast of reels from around the French communities in Gaspe, Québec and Franco-America, followed by the waltz “Fortcalquier,” from the pen of the late pianist and great friend, Mario Loiselle. Pass the hankies.
Now here’s a party! Maria and the Band hail from Toronto but play Forro music from Brazil. There are two women on percussion and another on Brazilian rabeca fiddle. Rounding out the band are two men on piano accordion and electric bass respectively. You can just imagine walking down a dark street in Saõ Paulo, hearing this music leading you into a sultry hot night. Lead singer Jerusa Leão has a beautiful voice and a great way with rhythm on her single drum.
the Saturday night finale was the 30th Anniversary Réunion of La Volée d’Castors. This band of venerated musicians has come back together for this very special occasion. Four former members join tonight with the five current musicians to create this super band celebrating the music of New Acadie, the group of four historic villages near the festival site. Traditions from their Acadian ancestors run strong here. This beating of beavers has much more to do with rhythm and strength of performance than anything else. These seven men exhibit total command of their material. One suspects these might be songs they’ve sung all their lives, handed down through the generations. Their unison singing creates a commanding presence and their harmonies are stirring. May they have many more years to come.
And Saturday night continued long after the main stage closed. Québecois square dances continued in the dance hall and late night sessions started up around the grounds. And the schedule promises more musical fun tomorrow!