Roots music group
Although the traditional music they play has been a part of their culture for generations, the members of Prince Edward Island's Barachois (Acadian for shallow pools of water separated from the sea by sand dunes) are consistently praised by critics for their new and unique sounds. Barachois' strict attention to its Acadian musical roots is not surprising, considering that the founding members of the group—Albert Arsenault and Helene Arsenault-Bergeron—are the children of renowned Prince Edward Island fiddler Eddy Arsenault. Forming a band that plays traditional Acadian music was a natural step, having grown up surrounded by music. "I grew up in a musical family. I can remember my father playing the fiddle everyday," Helene recalled on the Barachois website. "On Sundays, after Mass, he'd take out the fiddle and some of the kids would join him. One of my brothers had a cheap set of drums and we had an old guitar and a pump organ. We'd have big parties at my grandparents. My grandfather and aunts and uncles step-danced and some sang. Dancing is something that I can't remember learning; it was just always there. The music was always there in my ears, too. So it was just something that I took for granted."
Louise Arsenault (no relation), a childhood friend of Helene and Albert, had a similar upbringing. "I also grew up in a musical family," she explained on the website. "My father played the fiddle and my mother played the pump organ. I started playing fiddle when I was seven. I've learned a lot of tunes from my dad. He used to take me to all the music contests when I was growing up."
Helene's cultural awareness, which is evident in Barachois' music, is relatively newfound. "We didn't grow up talking about being Acadian," she reflected on the website. "We just were. We spoke French at home, and English when we left the area. We didn't learn about our culture in school. It's just in the last few years that we've been discovering a lot about our history. There's a lot of pride in one's culture; it's kind of a trendy thing nowadays."
In keeping with its culture, Barachois' recordings are all in French, but critics seem to agree that the band's appeal crosses the language barrier. "This is our first Acadian release from the Maritimes, with vocals in French, but don't let that deter you," noted a review reprinted on their website. "Barachois will carry you along with their enthusiasm and joie de vivre ... It's guaranteed you too will be singing along like a native before very long."
Humor is an important element in traditional Acadian music, and Barachois is noted for the hilarity incorporated into their performances. All of the members of the group have significant acting and stage experience, and Chuck Arsenault worked previously as a stand-up comic. Helene told Steve Winick in Dirty Linen, "Our parents are also great storytellers, very humorous," she explained. "A big part of my upbringing was clowning around. It's as much a part of the music as the notes or the songs or the names of the tunes themselves. That's what comes out when we play."
Barachois demonstrated their flair for goofiness and humor at the 1997 East Coast Music Awards when they recruited New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna, ECMA chair Moka Case, and other prominent audience members to join them on stage. The members of Barachois promptly placed cardboard containers on their guests' heads and used them as percussion instruments. A review of the concert in the Guardian noted that many audience members were near tears, they laughed so hard.
On the serious side, the members of Barachois conduct careful research when selecting traditional songs for their albums. Helene explained the process on their website, "For our first album, a lot of the material was from field research that Georges Arsenault had done. He'd made recordings back in the 1970s of older women just singing into a tape deck in their kitchens. This music has passed from generation to generation—great, old Acadian music. Albert and I picked out some of the songs that had potential. Then we got together with Louise and made some primitive arrangements based on the influences from our childhood."
Critics have also praised Barachois for adding contemporary and personal elements to their tradition-based tunes. "Barachois dig into traditional music for their material, but put a different twist on old-time favourites," observed Beth Johnston in Rising Tide. Such an approach is crucial to keeping Acadian culture alive, according to a review reprinted on the Barachois website: "The act of recording traditional Island Acadian music, much of it collected by folklorist Georges Arsenault, will help ensure its survival and, in the process, bring it to a much wider audience. Just as important, Barachois' spirited and accomplished performances give new life to the music and to the traditions they represent."
While the members of Barachois enjoy sharing their traditions with wide audiences, Helene and Albert insist that they would be doing exactly the same thing at home if nobody came to hear them. "Whether we are doing it for a living or not, we'd still be playing music," Helene said. "We'd still be having the house parties and having a hoot," added Albert.
Barachois released three studio albums, Barachois in 1996, Encore in 2001, and Naturel in 2001, as well as the live album Party Acadien in 1997, before disbanding in 2003. The decision to end the band was difficult, but the split was amicable. On their website, Barachois explained their decision: "Collectively, the group members decided some time ago that eventually they would wish and need to return to a more normal lifestyle, and that time has come."
For the Record . . .
Members include Albert Arsenault (born on August 11, 1964, in St. Chrysostome, Prince Edward Island), fiddle, percussion, bass, vocals, dance kazoo, piano, jaw harp, knives and forks, foot percussion; Helene Arsenault-Bergeron (born on October 27, 1954, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island), piano, reed organ, guitar, fiddle, vocals, foot percussion; Louise Arsenault (born on February 28, 1956, in Mont Carmel, Prince Edward Island), fiddle, harmonica, guitar, vocals, dance, foot percussion; Chuck Arsenault (born on April 10, 1969, in Montague, Prince Edward Island), guitar, french horn, tuba, trumpet, vocals, harmonica, dance. Albert and Helene are brother and sister, Louise and Chuck are not related.
Band formed in Abraham's Village, 1995; released Barachois, 1996; released Party Acadien, 1997; released Encore, 2000; released Naturel, 2001; group disbanded, 2003.
Awards: East Coast Music Award, Best Francophone Recording for Barachois, 1997; Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation Publishing Award, 1997.
Addresses: Contact—House Party Productions, RR No. 1, Box 24, Wellington, Prince Edward Island, C0B 2E0, Canada. Website—Barachois Official Website: http://www.barachois.com.
Party Acadien, 1997.
The Guardian, February 17, 1997.
Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada, Autumn 2001.
Rising Tide, February 13, 1997.
Barachois Official Website, http://www.barachois.com (February 14, 2005).
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