La Bottine Souriante
La Bottine Souriante
"If there was one band that had everyone talking," recalled Kenny Mathieson in Folk Roots, "it was the gloriously electric La Bottine Souriante, whose infectious music left the idea of crossover floundering helplessly in its miraculously integrated wake. They lit up the first week wherever they played, and the sight and sound of the entire band … will stick in the memory."
In English, 'La Bottine Souriante' means 'the laced boot,' or 'the smiling boot.' In the language of music it means "a blending of Irish and Breton Styles into the highly individual and often erratic cadences of the Quebecois," according to Diane Laloge in Music Scene. The Globe and Mail's Chris Dafoe called the group "one of the most adventurous and exciting ensembles in Canada."
A one time member of the group, Andre Marchand, described the traditional Quebecois folk sound as "crooked music," explaining in an interview with Laloge that, "In Quebec, 'crooked music' is determined by who's playing and what side of the bed he/she got out of." La Bottine Souriante's version of 'crooked music' features an accent on rhythm. Since the beginnings of La Bottine, the group has made full use of 'clogging,' a folk art form indigenous to Quebec. Members have been known to strap plates on the feet of cloggers to emphasize the effect of their rapidly tapping steps. Combined with the playing of spoons, which adds a bright staccato to the lilt of a fiddle, as well as a host of other instruments, the entire sound becomes a unique and exciting listening experience.
The foundations of the music La Bottine has brought to the world are the traditional folk songs of Quebec. "I've always sung traditional songs in a modern way," lead vocalist and main spokesman Yves Lambert said in the Globe and Mail. "I never wanted to sing in a museum kind of way, I'm not an ethnologist." Lambert secures most of the music for the group, spending day after day in old farmhouses and churches near his home in Joliette, digging up old songs. A great deal of their music comes from their home region of Lanaudiere, north of Montreal.
As Regent Archambault said about Lambert in a Globe and Mail interview, "He's the one with the connections. He is the one who knows somebody who knows somebody who know a song." Lambert added, "There's a mystery in music from the past that makes other things come out in me. That oral connection with the past, music that was passed from mouth to mouth, has a magic for me that popular music today does not. The most creative music today is traditional, whether it comes from Africa or Quebec."
"Popular music," Lambert continued, "is a hundred ways of saying 'Oh, baby, I miss you!' Things are uniform today. The imagery of modern writers lacks magic for me. I need the old mystery to keep going." "One thing for sure," pianist Jean Frechette told Li Robbins in Folk Roots, "we want to respect the traditional music. We can try something new, but the first goal is to respect that music and to play that music so people can hear it more–in Quebec and everywhere in the world."
Tradition itself is based on evolution. Frechette continued, "We live with the music, and we're trying to push it to a higher level to bring in other influences. And when you think back on it," he pointed out, "Irish people came here and they influenced the traditional music." Lambert told Robbins, "You know I've played in this band for twenty years. There've been many different stages. It's easy right now," he pointed out, "because the music is so good. It's solid, tight, powerful, secure." Frechette added, "What I like the most is it's an original band, a sound I've never heard before. I've never played in a band as creative."
For the Record …
Members include Regent Archambault , acoustic and electric bass; Michel Bordeleau , foot tapping, drum, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, vocals; Andre Brunet , fiddle, guitar; Robert Ellis , bass trombone; Denis Frechette , piano, piano accordion; Jean Frechette , saxophone and arrangements; Yves Lambert (the only remaining founding member), button accordion, harmonica, lead vocals; Jocelyn Lapointe , trumpet; Andre Verrault , trombone.
Group first appeared on the folk music scene, 1976; released their debut album, Y'a Ben du Changement, 1979; added a new brass section, 1988; started Les Productions Mille-Pattes, a record label/production company, 1993; released En Spectacle, 1996.
Awards: Juno Award, Best Roots/Traditional Album for Je Voudrais Changer d'Chapeau, 1989; Juno Award, Best Roots/Traditional Album for Jusqu'aux P'tites Heures, 1992; Felix Award, Folk Album of the Year for Jusqu'aux P'tites Heures, 1992; Felix Award, Best Sound (Technical) of the Year, 1993; Prix Desjardins de la Culture, Artist of the Year, 1993; Miroir de la Chanson Francophone, Special Jury Prize, 1994; Excelsior Prize, Personality of the Year, 1995; Maximilien-Boucher Prize, during the 50th Anniversary of the Gala des Grands Prix Rebiouaux de la Societe Nationale des Quebecois de Lanaudiere, 1995; Felix Award, Folk Album of the Year for La Mistrine, 1995; BBC Best Live Folk Act, 2000.
Addresses: Record company—Milles Pattes, 503, rue Archambault, Joliette, Québec J6E 2W6, Canada, website: http://www.millespattes.com.
While the material that La Bottine Souriante performs stems from longstanding traditions, some of their song material is a bit on the blues side as well. Yves Lambert, the only remaining founding member of the band, introduces one of their songs as "Acadian Blues," and at the encouragement of the crowd, explains the story behind the song. He says that there is a man about to be hanged, and at the exact moment the rope snaps, the man ejaculates. The sperm falls to the ground below and from that place the Mandrake flower grows. The Mandrake story comes from Acadian folk lore and the melody is derived from a musical style called the 'hanged-man's reel' but taken together, they create a completely new song.
Preserved Quebec's Musical Heritage
For over 20 years, La Bottine Souriante has remained a significant force in preserving Quebec's vibrant musical heritage, but their distinct sound has still continued to evolve. According to the band's press kit, "while remaining true to its roots, La Bottine allies its homage to tradition with a dash of jazz, salsa, and pure folk, to the delight of its equally diverse audiences."
La Bottine Souriante first appeared on the Quebec music scene in 1976. They soon developed a loyal following around the province and released Y'a Ben du Changement, their first album, in 1979. A year later they released their second album, Les Epousailles. These early years of the group were not without conflict. The Globe and Mail reported, "there was a constant turnover as the purists and the innovators fought it out." For instance, at one time, former guitarist Andre Lambert stopped playing full time with the band because, according to the Globe and Mail, "(he) couldn't condone the liberties taken with the old melodies."
The band's evolution took a drastic turn after the failed 1980 Quebec referendum, during which the group had collectively and loudly endorsed the 'yes' side. After the loss, there was a heavy backlash against anything that reflected traditional Quebec, particularly artists who had supported the losing side. "Overnight," reported the Globe and Mail, "La Bottine found it couldn't get a booking in Montreal to save its life." Lambert recalled, "Traditional music was banished after 1980. There was a real witch hunt in the media." It was at this time that the group spent a great deal of time touring outside Quebec.
The band did not stop making records, though. Chic'n Swell, their third album, came out in 1982, La Traversee de l'Atlantique was released in 1986 and Tout Comme au Jour de l'An, their first gold album, followed in 1987. By 1988, when the bank poked their guitars back into Quebec, they had evolved musically. On their travels, La Bottine had built a following around the folk circuits across North America and Europe. They had added a brass section, and had become more experimental. "I started by just wanting to change hats a little," Lambert admitted in the Globe and Mail. "But then I found the beat was natural, that it felt right for us. We've done two albums now with that brass section, and so it's not just a passing phase."
Je Voudrais Changer d'Chapeau was released in 1988, and this effort earned the group a Juno Award for Best Roots Traditional Album. Jusqu'aux P'tites Heures was also a success when it came out in 1991, quickly reaching gold status in Canada.
La Bottine Souriante established Les Productions Mille-Pattes in 1993, in order to promote the pursuit of traditional and traditionally-inspired francophone music. Besides their own recordings the successful label now represents other Quebecois artists, including Michel Faubert, Danielle Martineau & Rockabayou, and Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer.
La Mistrine, possibly the group's most popular recording, was released in 1994. The album went gold and was nominated for a Juno Award and two Felix Awards. They won the Felix for Folk Album of the Year. One reviewer from the Globe and Mail called La Mistrine "a sampler of many wares. At the traditional end, it contains a beautiful call-and-response song, 'Dans nos vielles maisons,' still much loved throughout Quebec, and respectfully rendered. At the creative end, it offers us 'Martin de la chasse-galerie,' a new take on the old legend of the flying canoe, with an original melody by the band, and a smart, funny set of lyrics by singer-songwriter Michel Rivard. It is still the story of the lonely lumbermen who sell their soul to the devil in exchange for a quick flight to Montreal to visit their families, but it is rife with modern slang."
En Spectacle, the band's most recent recording, arrived in record stores in 1996. It was nominated for a Juno Award, and La Bottine Souriante received a Felix nomination for Concert Performance of the Year.
Breathtaking Live Performances
Throughout their career, critics have continually praised La Bottine Souriante for their extraordinary energy and musicianship. "Seeing La Bottine live in their home town right before New Year's is more like a catharsis than anything else," gushed Robbins in Folk Roots. "All of the beauty, mystery and wildness of their music is distilled and celebrated in its perfect setting." Frechette admitted to Robbins, "the music is on the crazy side, and people have that too–everybody's got that. La Bottine can touch that in people. The exchange between the band and the audience always happens, even in England and Scandinavia."
Carl Witchel proclaimed in Hour, "An evening with La Bottine Souriante will feed your soul, move your body and blow your mind." Sue Wilson wrote in the Scottish newspaper The Herald, "Their marvellous density of melodic and harmonic colour, drawn from an instrumental palette comprising fiddles, accordions, harmonica and a four-strong brass section, was matched with exhilarating precision-honed rhythms, assertively led by the breathtaking foot percussion of Michel Bordeleau: a fiddler, guitarist, vocalist, drummer and drumkit all in one."
With over 20 years as a group behind them, La Bottine Souriante has built a legion of fans around the world. Their sound has progressed into uncharted territory for folk music, while they have remained true to their deep traditional Quebecois roots. La Bottine's appearances at folk festivals, in TV specials, and even at New York's Lincoln Centre have solidified their popularity outside Quebec, even though most of their songs are performed in French. As far away as Scotland, Wilson aptly captured the La Bottine experience: "Quebec's La Bottine Souriante are just about as much fun as you can have in public."
Y'a Ben du Changement, Mille-Pattes, 1979.
Les Epousailles, Gamma, 1980.
Chic'n Swell, Mille-Pattes, 1982.
La Traversee de l'Atlantique, Mille-Pattes, 1986.
Tout Comme au Jour de l'An, Mille-Pattes, 1987.
Je Voudrais Changer d'Chapeau, Mille-Pattes, 1988.
Jusqu'aux P'tites Heures, Mille-Pattes, 1991.
La Mistrine, Mille-Pattes, 1994.
En Spectacle, Mille-Pattes, 1996.
Folk Roots, June 1996.
Globe and Mail, December 10, 1991; September 29, 1994; December 5, 1996.
The Herald, January 17, 1997.
Hour, December 28, 1995-January 3, 1996.
Montreal Gazette, December 27, 1996.
Music Scene, August 1986.
The Scotsman, January 17, 1997.
Vancouver Courier, March 2, 1997.
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