Two musical solitudes

Winnipeg francophones and anglophones team up for eye-opening bilingual gig


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/01/2017 (2200 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SUPPLIED Ariane Jean & JP Hoe

Despite the fact Winnipeg is home to both a French and English music community teeming with talent, the two don’t cross paths often. This is something Le 100 NONS would like to change. 

The non-profit organization — which works to build Manitoba’s French-language music industry and culture — has developed Franco Roots, a bilingual concept show that pairs one French-speaking performer and one English-speaking performer (who has some previous knowledge of the French language). Each duo has been tasked with penning a song in French they will perform on Jan. 26 at the West End Cultural Centre. 

Ariane Jean, programming co-ordinator for Le 100 NONS, notes it’s not uncommon for francophone artists to write and sing in English, but the opposite — English artists writing and performing in French — is more rare, so Franco Roots will give those artists a chance to reconnect to their French roots and try something new in terms of songwriting. 

“As a francophone, we do tend to cross over if we want to make a career in Winnipeg and beyond, and we often do mingle with the anglophone musicians,” jokes Jean, who is also one of the artists performing at Franco Roots.

SUPPLIED Haley Carr and Denis Vrignon-Tessier (Les Surveillantes)

Jean is partnered with JP Hoe, and they will be joined by four other pairs of singer-songwriters: Grant Davidson (Slow Leaves) and Justin Lacroix; Haley Carr and Denis Vrignon-Tessier (Les Surveillantes); Erin Propp and Suzanne Kennelly; and Marti Sarbit (Lanikai, Imaginary Cities) and Pierre Freynet.

“Any time two or more artists get together to create, something good comes of it. In this case, we’ll have at least five new songs but on top of that, the artists involved in the show will have made new contacts, they will have learned about and from each other and they will have grown from it, both from an artistic and personal point of view. Some of them will even reconnect with their French roots and continue to expand on that,” says Jean.

All the pairs participated in a French songwriting workshop several weeks ago that provided them with some tips and exercises to help with the writing process. The workshop was geared more toward anglophone artists to get them more comfortable with the idea of writing in French, which was a stressful, but worthwhile experience for Carr.

“We all had a really good laugh, it really broke the ice, everybody was equally embarrassed… I might have been slightly more embarrassed,” she says with a laugh. 

“It gave us a chance to laugh at ourselves, and made me feel a little bit better, like we’re all just learning; none of us are experts in this language. It was good. And there were a few cool little ideas that came out of that and one was the inspiration for one of the songs that we’re going to do.”

SUPPLIED Erin Propp and Suzanne Kennelly

“Even for myself, even if we were sort of secondary participants because the focus was on practising French a bit more, just the fact of… whenever you go to a workshop, you’re encouraged, because that’s the point of being there, you start writing and a couple of those things,” adds her songwriting partner, Vrignon-Tessier.

Carr and Vrignon-Tessier are working on three songs — for one, Carr wrote lyrics in English and Vrignon-Tessier wrote the music, the second, Vrignon-Tessier wrote French lyrics and Carr the music, and the third is a “from the ground up” collaboration, with both of them working on the French lyrics and the music together.

“Denis had a good idea on how to get started by doing a writing exercise, so we gave each other parameters for writing and then we both went home and tried to write just lyrics that fit each others’ rules,” explains Carr. “He wrote in French and I wrote in English and we sent them to each other and tried to write music for each others’ words. And then it just came out both of those things turned out better than I expected, so we were like, ‘Oh cool, we’ll use both’… so now we’re just working on the third.”

“More foundational than that… we just spent some evenings talking, like, ‘What’s your life like?’ Just to get an idea of who we are a little more as people and what we would maybe want to write about,” continues Vrignon-Tessier. “I think having done that allowed us to gravitate towards a similar wavelength for how we’re going to approach each others’ song.”

SUPPLIED Marti Sarbit (Lanikai, Imaginary Cities) and Pierre Freynet

Carr says she’s not a fluent French speaker (though Vrignon-Tessier points out her vocabulary is better than she thinks), but has discovered through the writing process there are certain words in French that express her thoughts more accurately and concisely that simply do not exist in English, and that the language barrier has actually opened doors to phrasings that a native French speaker perhaps wouldn’t have considered.

“It can lead to fun surprises in the way that you say something or think about something in a way that you wouldn’t do in French because you’re like, ‘Oh, that seems weird, a little awkward, but it sounds kind of neat, we could write it that way,’” says Vrignon-Tessier.

“When it’s not your first language, you don’t even know what the guidelines of how to say things are, you’re just trying to say what you’re trying to say and sometimes it comes out kinda cool,” adds Carr.

Both Carr and Vrignon-Tessier say that if the opportunity came up, they wouldn’t hesitate to take part in Franco Roots again in the future, and Jean would love to see it become an annual event. 

SUPPLIED Justin Lacroix and Grant Davidson (Slow Leaves)

“We actually did have some people on both sides that would have loved to have been a part of it but just couldn’t make it work because they were on tour or whatever, so I know that there’s more interest on the musicians part and I’m sure after people see the show, they’re going to want to come back and see more,” says Jean.

“It’s a total cliché, but I think the audience will find that music truly is a universal language. That one can easily fall in love with with new artists and new music they may not understand but can still connect to.”  

Twitter: @NireRabel

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