'Nous wave' music sweeps Quebec

Popular songs of Mes AÏeux touch on themes of identity at the heart of reasonable-accommodation debate

Canada-Québec : deux solitudes

The title of the song is Dégénérations. One verse seems to deplore the passing of the era in Quebec when "your great-great-grandmother had 14 children, and your great-grandmother has almost as many."
And the next condemns the contemporary Quebec woman for promiscuity, casually having abortions to escape the consequences of her foolishness, yet yearning for "a big table surrounded by children."
Audiences ranging in age from the 20s to the 50s cheered at the end of each verse of the song when the septet Mes Aïeux (My Ancestors) performed it on their Quebec tour last year.

Dégénérations was so popular even without radio air play that public demand forced stations to add it to their play lists last year, more than two years after the song came out on the group's third album.
Two weeks ago, at the annual ADISQ awards ceremony for the Quebec recording industry, the song was recognized as the most popular of the past year based on radio play. The group's live album Tire-toi une bûche, which includes a performance of Dégénérations, won another Félix trophy for popularity.
The reproachful tone of Dégénérations is an exception to the ironic humour that characterizes the live performances on Tire-toi une bûche and the accompanying DVD, on which Mes Aïeux is seen performing in mid-19th-century costume.
The group coined the word "funklore" to describe its music, a mostly good-time fusion of lyrics about Quebec folk legends, electrified traditional fiddle tunes and the horns of 1970s rhythm and blues. Its album was released last November, just in time for play at holiday parties.
Coincidentally, it also was only 11 days after Mario Dumont sparked the current revival of French-Canadian nationalism in Quebec by declaring on the front page of Le Journal de Montréal that the accommodation of religious minorities had "got out of hand."
You might call Mes Aïeux's music souche-rock, or "nous wave." Some see Dégénérations as the theme song of the current identity crisis, and Mes Aïeux as its house band.
The group, which was formed shortly after the narrow defeat of the sovereignist side in the 1995 referendum, has said in interviews the only way for Quebec's identity to survive globalization is for its people to rediscover their roots.
That's the message in the video for the song Dégénérations. And Mes Aïeux opens its shows and introduces the song by reading what purports to be a letter written in the early 20th century exhorting the writer's descendants to sing, so that "Quebec will not die."
There has long been a musical accompaniment for Quebec nationalism. Jacques Parizeau, former Parti Québécois premier, has joked the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s was essentially the work of "three or four ministers, 20 civil servants and 50 chansonniers," or singer-songwriters.
One of them was Félix Leclerc, for whom the recording-industry trophies won by Mes Aïeux are named. Another is Gilles Vigneault, to whom Mes Aïeux plays a brief hommage with a brief excerpt from one of his tunes on the Tire-toi une bûche DVD.
In the 1970s, the annual Fête Nationale music festivals on Montreal's Mount Royal and the revival of traditional Quebec music by such groups as le Rêve du Diable preceded the election of the first PQ government in 1976.
More recently, the hip-hop group Loco Locass had a hit in 2004 with its song Libérez-nous des libéraux (Liberate Us from the Liberals), referring to the Charest government.
And until Mes Aïeux took over the title last year, the hottest group in Quebec was Les Cowboys Fringants, who are credited with leading a revival of la chanson engagée - songs with a social conscience, about topics from Quebec politics to globalization.

The popularity of Dégénérations and the group that composed and performs it was already well established when the current revival of French-Canadian ethnic nationalism in Quebec emerged late last year, so maybe it was a harbinger. Maybe Mes Aïeux was both behind the times and ahead of them at the same time.
You can find the lyrics and a brief excerpt of Dégénérations and other Mes Aïeux songs at [mesaieux.qc.ca->www.mesaieux.qc.ca]
Or hear it with English subtitles at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=cKCRHhmHvjg
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