The traditional Quebec group, Genticorum, was recently honored with two Canadian Folk Music Awards for “Ensemble of the Year” and “Trad Album of the Year”. During the past eleven years they have become a fixture on the international world, trad, folk, and Celtic music circuits.
Following is an interview with the band’s guitar player, Yann Falquet, that recently appeared on the Folkmama Blog.
Folkmama: Can you give me a little background on the members of the band?
Falquet: I’m the guitar playing and I’m the one in the band that had the least exposure to traditional music when I was growing up. When I was 18 or 19 some friends of mine exposed me to the music, the way they showed it to me really grabbed me. They played me the right recordings and took me to the right concerts so that I could really see the rich traditions being played by bands like La Bottine Souriante and La Volée d’Castors. I also started going to an Irish music session in Montreal. It was there that I met a great guitar player called Peter Sand who was backing up all those Celtic tunes with his guitar tuned to an open tuning which is called DADGAD. That tuning really got me excited because it was a whole new way of thinking about the guitar, plus I loved the music that went with it and let me add the people too!
Pascal (Pascal Gemme, the group’s fiddler) had a grandfather who played traditional fiddle so when he grew up he heard the fiddle and he also heard the traditional songs that his granddad used to sing. He studied classical violin when he was young but when he got older he took up the guitar and started playing blues and heavy metal through high school. It was just a little later that he picked up the fiddle and started playing with some friends of his who were starting a band of traditional music. He was really motivated to practice hard. Even though it was a little bit of a late start compared to other fiddlers who started very young he was very dedicated. He played hours and hours. It got to the point where he is one of the best fiddlers in Quebec.
And for Alex (Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand, the group’s Irish flute and bass player) he grew up going to arts focused schools even when he was very young so he always played some instruments. At some point he started playing the electric bass and he played in some garage bands and as I recall he played lots of Grateful Dead and then he moved on to funk But his story was that his dad was always a part of the revival of traditional Quebecoise music folk music which started in the 70s. In his late teens he went along with his dad to some big folk festivals in France and he started to have a big crush on that music. He started playing the Irish wooden flute, but he kept up with the bass and he plays that in the band too.
Folkmama: Can you tell us a little bit about what traditional music from Quebec sounds like?
Falquet: Well it’s true that Quebecoise music has a lot of Irish influence. There are a lot of Irish communities around Quebec City and also Scottish immigrants who brought their fiddle tunes. Our music is really at home in the Celtic world but our songs are really different. The songs that we do in traditional music always have that question and answer format. And that question and answer thing really gives the song a strong energy to have someone sing and then a choir repeating.
Folkmama: When I listen to the band I always hear a lot of pulsing in the singing. And the call and response format gives opportunities for a lot of great harmonies too.
Falquet: Yes, absolutely, because there is always a choir built in to the songs. 100 years ago when people sat in their homes singing there was no set harmonies–just sing the best you can to match the lead singer. But it’s really fairly recently when people started performing together in groups that they realized the potential for harmonizing.
Folkmama: The quality of Genticorum‘s singing is really something that stands out to me. Your harmonies are just gorgeous; really dense and rich. I’m curious how you work up your arrangements.
Falquet: Pascal does the bulk of the work and especially for vocal arrangements he does everything. He comes up with the three parts and we might just tweak it lightly as we sing it together. We obviously sing the song a lot in rehearsal before we play them live and then even after we play them quite a bit they evolve before we record them.
Folkmama: So, tell me about your repertoire. Are they traditional tunes or original compositions?
Falquet: The majority of our repertoire is written by Pascal. This was something that we choose to do at the beginning of the band; it was one of the ways that we could distinguish ourselves from other bands. Instead of recoding a traditional tune that might be rerecorded the following year by another band, we decided to play our own compositions. And since then Pascal has really been the writing guy. Sometime when we find a traditional tune that we really like, and if it fits well with the band or is really unique, we do it. And occasionally too we use compositions by friends of ours.
Folkmama: Is the music in the traditional style?
Falquet: We try as much as we can to play it in the traditional style while also letting our personalities speak through the music. So we make no effort to preserve it and no effort to mix it with other elements. We just try to do what is most natural for us being huge fans of traditional music.
Folkmama: One thing I notice when I see all the bands from Quebec is that they all have such terrific stage presence, and Genticorum is no exception. They just really interact well with audiences and show a lot of energy. Why do you think that is?
Falquet: I think one of the main reasons for that is that our music has been largely associated with holidays—it was the music that was sang at parties and gatherings and the like. These people had hard lives and the way to cope with it was to have a big party and have fun and that has stuck with the music a lot. It might also be something in the personalities of the people in Quebec. I think people here like to seem happy. Also to survive the cold winters you have to have lively parties, play music and dance and move. Also, the lively songs seem to translate best to non-French speaking audiences. For the very lively song you don’t really need to understand the words to be touched by the emotions. It’s easier to share the happy music with the rest of the world.