The end of another Ohio winter (even one as strange as this one has been) is the perfect time for a good old-fashioned Québec kitchen party. Much like a bluegrass picking party, a kitchen party in Québec offers plenty of music and singing, some high-spirited dancing and a pervasive feeling of warmth, community and friendship. Just what the doctor ordered for an end of winter/hello to spring blow-out. And there is no better group to apply this magical tonic than the Quebecois acoustic power trio known as De Temps Antan.
De Temps Antan consists of Éric Beaudry (guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, vocals, foot percussion), André Brunet (fiddle, vocals, foot percussion) and Pierre-Luc Dupuis (accordion, harmonica, vocals, foot percussion). Formed in 2003, De Temps Antan is an off-shoot of La Bottine Souriante, the hugely popular and influential 10-piece Québec band.
The size of La Bottine Souriante precluded it from playing smaller venues, which led directly to De Temps Antan. “The project for the trio was born in 2004, following a request by a friend who does bookings for a room,” says Pierre-Luc Dupuis. “He wanted to hear the three of us playing together. It meant really bringing things down to basics, to the essence of the music.”
The band’s name is a pun that doesn’t really translate from the French, but it means, roughly, both “of olden days” and “from time to time.” The joke dates to the band’s early days when they were all still members of La Bottine Souriante. “It’s because we were only able to perform every now and then, between our commitments with La Bottine,” says Dupuis. “We still managed to tour a bit and to make an album, A l’Année.”
The essence of Quebecois music can be distilled to a single word: fun. Writers generally use the French phrase joie de vivre, but fun serves just as well. “We work a lot to bring the spirit of a kitchen party,” says André Brunet. “It’s really fun to bring people there. Even if they don’t know what to expect for sure, people will go home from the show smiling.”
“Our approach has stayed the same in many ways [as when the three played in La Bottine Souriante], even though we are a much smaller band,” adds Pierre-Luc Dupuis. “You have to play grooves and have fun on stage. You have to be tight and keep the same energy. For us, it’s not only the story of the music we need to tell, but we try to live the story on stage, to really get across what you’d hear and feel and do during a family party.”
The repertoire of De Temps Antan is a highly entertaining mixture of traditional songs and tunes and material written by the three band members. “A goal of the band is always to find songs that audiences are not used to hearing,” says Brunet. “Lots of French songs are about church, drinking and women. Finding good old songs is nice, but they are rare.”
Rare or not, the band members have collected hundreds of old songs and tunes from their region and beyond. “A lot comes from our own families,” says Dupuis. “On the album [À l’Année], especially, there’s a lot from the village of Saint-Cí’me, where Eric was born. You get a sense of the richness of just one little corner of the country. Our aim is to keep the essence of that music, but to have an open-minded attitude—in short, to let it live.”
In another aspect of keeping the tradition alive, Andre Brunet has made fiddle history as well, representing his home province with distinction. In 2008, competing against more than 20 top fiddlers from throughout Canada, Brunet took top honors at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition. A year later, he won the Annual Pembrooke Old Time Fiddling and Step Dancing Championship in Ontario. Brunet was the first Quebecois fiddler to win either prestigious title.
De Temps Antan has recorded a pair of critically acclaimed albums: À l’Année and Les Habits de Papier. The albums contain traditional material as well as original songs and tunes by the band members, but the music ranges far beyond the band’s Canadian home. De Temps Antan forges a pan-Acadian sound that merges traditional Québec music with the Cajun style of south Louisiana (a perfect example is “La maison renfoncée” on Les Habits de Papier).
Part of this musical connection is historical, rooted in the forced migration of the French Canadians to Louisiana in the 1700s (as immortalized in Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline”). The more recent part of the connection comes from the band’s travels, particularly engagements at music festivals in the U.S., where the three musicians have had ample opportunity to play with and learn from Cajun and old-time country fiddlers. Adding bits and pieces from those styles is just another way the men in De Temps Antan are moving the tradition forward.
Two elements that are deeply characteristic of the traditional music of Québec —the ubiquitous foot percussion and the “mouth music” known as turlutte—might look exotic to outsiders, but each in fact represents a practical solution to a musical problem. The foot percussion, essentially a seated form of clogging that seems to be unique to Québec, stems from the days when a solitary fiddler would be the only one providing the music for a house full of dancers.
To make the music louder and to provide a steady beat that could be heard by the dancers, a chair for the fiddler would be placed atop the kitchen table. “The fiddler would get up on the table and tap in middle of kitchen,” explains Dupuis. “That would make it much louder and get everyone in the whole house dancing.”
To Andre Brunet, the tradition is even more deeply rooted in the Quebecois soul. “We start tapping the feet before walking when we are young,” says Brunet. “It’s the basic rhythm of the Quebecois spirit. It’s just a groove.”
Cityfolk Presents De Temps Antan
April 24, 2012 8pm at University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre
The World Rhythms Series is co-sponsored by Cityfolk and the UD Arts Series
(Written by Jon Hartley Fox)