Fête to mark 50 years of music that ‘put the accent’ on Manitoba
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A francophone band that honours Louis Riel and got its start at the 1972 Festival du Voyageur marks its 50th anniversary tonight.
Members of Les Louis Boys who have come and gone and come back again over the past five decades will take the stage at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain.
Edwin Prince and Léo Dufault were in their early 20s for Les Louis Boys’ first shows and getting together now is as much of a reunion as an opportunity to entertain audiences again.
“We’re almost as old as the Rolling Stones but less rich,” Dufault jokes about the band.
Prince said the group started from several bands that played clubs in Winnipeg during the late 1960s and early ’70s that got together to build pride in Manitoba’s francophone culture.
“I asked the guys if they wanted to do a show, to play songs about the history of Manitoba and use Louis Riel as a cornerstone of our first show,” he says. “At the time people knew music from France, Quebec and the French Acadians also. We have our own identity, our own heritage and history and I wanted to put the accent on that in the first show.”
A live recording from a Festival du Voyageur show that included Gabriel Masse, Hubert Fouasse, Gérald Bohémier, Michel Boucher, Marcel Verrier, Paul Belanger, Paul Heppenstall, Marc Allard, Pierre Morier, Marc d’Eschambault, Marcel Druwé, Jacques Dorge as well as Prince came out in 1976 as On est les boss!, followed by the 2001 CD, Rouge.
“We were almost synonymous with the Festival du Voyageur,” Prince says.
He branched out his songwriting to include Métis and Indigenous histories, including songs about the Battle of Batoche, the 1885 event in Saskatchewan where government troops defeated Riel and his Métis and First Nations allies, all set to an eclectic musical style.
Rouge included Prince’s song Le Gibet — which translates into English as The Gallows, which pays tribute to Riel and his final moments before his execution on Nov. 16, 1885, at the age of 41.
“Some are ballads, some are rock ‘n’ roll, some are Pink Floyd-ish and jazzy. I’m not stuck in one particular type of music,” he says. “My influence way back in the ’60s and ’70s of course were the Beatles, the Stones and Santana.”
Prince has also written songs about St. Boniface and Provencher Boulevard, the main street of Winnipeg’s French quarter, as well as recent legal battles to have French language rights recognized by the provincial government.
“I tried to chronicle through my songs about George Forest; he’s the one that went to the Supreme Court to fight that parking ticket that was all in English,” Prince says of the Winnipeg insurance agent whose legal battle from 1979 to 1983 led to Manitoba becoming officially bilingual.
Tonight’s anniversary performance — featuring Les Louis Boys as well as Andrina Turenne, Ariane Jean and Sonia Dorge — is also a fundraiser for Pluri-elles Manitoba, a non-profit francophone organization that provides education, training, health and social services to women, families and communities, and 100 Nons, which builds French-language music and culture in Manitoba.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.