Monday, April 17, 2006

Music and language (part 2)

My first post on the connectons between music and language was more metaphorical and abstract in nature, treating genres or styles as languages or dialects. Fittingly enough, I'm listening to BBC3's web archive of Dave Douglas' Blue Latitudes (and Douglas' own musings on musical collisions were one of the catalysts for the first post), and I think he successfully relates the domains of "classical" and "jazz" or "composed/notated" and "improvised" - either by linking and bridging or full-on collision.

This post is more concrete and literal, on a subject that's raised its head on occasion during my time in Montreal. It was brought into relief by this entry by Québécoise percussionists/vocalists DobaCaracol, chronicling their experience at Canadian Music Week (CMW). For those who don't speak French, the quick translation/redux is that there's a segregation between the francophone and anglophone music scenes in Canada. While Doba have not faced such ill acceptance in other anglophone countries (they've apparently got quite the tour of Australia lined up), their appearances in Ontario, Greater Toronto Area specifically, have received a lukewarm welcome, to be kind. Their performance at Live 8 in Barrie, Ontario, was greeted by a bunch of blank stares.

Doba characterises this division as being between Quebec and Canada, which I don't abide by for a few reasons. Aside from the fact that Québécois despise Céline and Bryan Adams in equal proportion to the rest of Canada (if not with more vehemence), the distinction isn't drawn by location - it seems to be drawn by language. Chanteuses like Ariane Moffatt get quite the turnout from Franco-Ontarians (and, I would presume, Acadians); and even in Montreal there's a stark delineation between the anglo and francophone pop scenes. If I don't diligently read the French entertainment weeklies, I'll miss out on knowing about francophone shows. While Voir will write about anglophone and/or international bands, Hour and Mirror rarely write about anything French unless it's the Francofolies. In fact, Hour's interview with Plaster was admittedly the first time English press had contacted them. Plaster is an instrumental band, whose members happen to be francophone. It even extends to venues - places like Le Va-et-Vient and Cabaret La Tulipe are generally regarded as francophone venues. For a while, Café L'Utopik and Divan Orange were thus categorized as well, though McGillians have started to infiltrate both of them.

This segregation seems to exist more in the pop world, and less so in the jazz/improvised (musique actuelle)/classical communities here. The OSM has both francophone and anglophone members; not quite sure about the Orchestre Métropolitaine. There's an increasing rate of collaboration between French and English jazz musicians, though I'm told that around 15 years ago they were pretty separate as well. As an anglophone that does attempt to follow the francophone scene, I can attest to the multitude of music that anglos are missing out on. Okay, so no one's missing anything by not watching Star Académie, but it's really a shame that they're unfamiliar on Doba, Ariane, Karkwa, and many other talented local musicians that have nothing to do with Arcade Fire. Moondata's LABProjects pride themselves on joining both languages and multiple genres in their improvised monthly mashups, and they garner a fairly linguistically split audience. EDIT: props to Moondata for doing a Moondata vs. Plaster mashup! This needs to happen more often!

And honestly, it seems like quite a one-sided thing. I had no trouble finding francophones at a K-os concert, but I might have been the only anglophone who caught Séba & Ghislain Poirier at Francofolies the other year. Why should we be content with our linguistic lot?

Question to fellow bi- or multi-lingual music lovers (e.g., paging Mwanji): does this happen elsewhere?

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