Petit Fou
(Borealis, 2001)

If you travel north to Eastern Canada, somewhere the music changes from the "kitchen junket" type of contra dance music you hear in parts of New England to a distinctive French-Canadian blend.

If you stop along the way at an inn for a few days and venture out to see folk performances in a hall or barn now and again, you might see cloggers, old-timey fiddlers, a folk band consisting of an accordion, a fiddler and a guitarist and maybe even a banjo player, or a bones or spoons player. Some of the music will be Celtic in orientation, some will be square-dance music and some will be sung in French.

Somehow, an amalgam of these make for the sound that characterizes Matapat. Matapat's art is French-Canadian traditional folk music, in particular, Quebecois.

At first you might think you're listening to Celtic music from the British Isles or Ireland, but then the French accent emerges here or there. As you get deeper into the CD, you hear distinctly French music, sung in French by French-speaking residents of the Quebec area; you might be fooled into believing you're hering a folk ensemble in the Loire Valley or just outside Paris.

Benoit Bourque, Gaston Bernard and Simon Lepage are three talented QuÄbec musicians and dancers who whip up a storm with their infectious brand of French-Canadian music on Petit Fou (Little Fool). Veterans of groups like Eritage, Ad Vielle Que Pourra and Ouzo Power, Bourque, Bernard et Lepage are known across North America for their dynamic performances that combine French-Canadian music and dance with Celtic, jazz and world music influences. In Matapat, Bourque, Bernard and Lepage let loose on fiddle, accordion, bass, vocals, mandolin, bones, spoons and feet to create an exciting new album of tunes and songs.

With contemplative instrumentals ("La Valse Matique"), sad love songs ("La Musette et le Hautbois," "Beau Rossignol Sauvage"), joyous tune medleys ("La Suite du Bourque âmissaire," "La Traverse du Saguenay/Le Grande Triomphe"), modern mouth music ("La Turlutte ł 'Pit'") and incredible stepdancing ("Valse Clog/Valse de Cesny"), Matapat will please and surprise you with its inventive arrangements and superb musicianship.

Petit Fou includes a fusion piece, "La Vieielle Galope (The Good Old Galope)," which combines elements of Quebec-style mouth music familiar to aficionados of Celtic music, in particular Scottish and Irish traditional folk music, with the sound of the tabla, the drum we think of when we hear Indian ragas such as those played by Ravi Shankar. The sound of Indian improvisational singing, bones playing and foot-tapping are also in the mix. According to the liner notes, "the melody uses a mode that's unusual in our tradition. This scale inspired us to explore the shared ground of traditional music of other cultures, in this case, Indian." But for the most part, these are traditional tunes highly representational of their specific culture.

Others are compositions based on traditional tunes or variants of traditional tunes perhaps heard less than their alternates, such as "La Jolie Rochelle," a rare version from the folklore archives of the Quebec's Laval University, but arranged to allow an andro (a Breton dance, in this case a hanterdro-andro) to be danced. Yet another is a purely original composition by Bourque titled "Soupir de St.-Albans," a waltz in a tempo somewhat between French and Quebec style waltzes.

- Rambles
written by John Cross
published 25 January 2003

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