French Canadians share story and song

Walking into The Fruited Plain cafe on a typical Monday night reveals a scarcely populated coffee shop. A few patrons, mostly in groups of two or three, spread themselves throughout the room. The room is quiet, save the muffled sound of conversations occasionally interrupted by the howl of an espresso machine steaming milk.

But entering The Fruited Plain this past Monday, Nov. 11 was like stepping into an entirely different world. The usual din and bustle of the cafe were painfully absent, and despite the room being so full, there was hardly space to think. The only thing that could be heard was the haunting echo of four perfectly harmonized voices cutting through the silence with a somber tone.

It didn’t matter that the voices weren’t singing in English; the music transcended the boundaries of language and formed an emotional dialect all its own.

There are four men on the stage. Each is playing strange a instrument, singing in French and speaking with heavy accents. Meet Le Vent du Nord.

The band hails from Quebec, Canada, and has won several Juno Awards (the Canadian version of the Grammy) in addition to the North American Folk Alliance’s Artist of the Year award. Le Vent du Nord has been in Orange City since Monday and has been performing throughout the week.

Le Vent du Nord performs traditional folk tunes from their homeland. Drawing influence from its “francophone” roots, its musical genre is rich with history. Some songs date back almost 400 years. The band has performed all over the world. The members note locations like New Zealand and Glasgow, Scotland as a couple favorite stops.

Their music takes traditional instruments, stories and songs from their culture and incorporates personal style and creativity. Each of the four members brings an amazing level of skill and creative elements to the table.

“The tradition is not usually in a quartet,” said Nicolas Boulerice, Le Vent du Nord’s piano, vocal and hurdygurdy extraordinaire. “I arrange the songs so they fit, and add some personal flavors. For me, I was at University, in jazz piano … and I said,’ It’s weird because I dig that tradition, but I should learn more about my own.’ I started to play more folk and incorporate progressive rock and jazz colors.”

After being together for 12 years and producing seven albums (with an eighth in the works), the group has truly developed their craft.

This leads to incredibly powerful and moving live performances.

Their four-piece acoustic ensemble produces folk beats that stomp and clap their way across an entire room. Playful mandolin and hurdygurdy dance over the top of rich, resonant bass.

The energetic, driving percussion is entirely produced with only their hands, feet and mouths. In addition, the vocals of the group offer a rhythmic cadence; their voices jump around and over one another with synchronized precision.

Le Vent du Nord does more than perform incredible music, they sing and speak with passion about the history and politics affecting their homeland of Quebec. The background of many of their stories and music is steeped in oppression and political unrest. This adds an additional dimension of complexity and emotion to their music.

Their last performance in town is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Unity Christian Knight Center. Tickets are $7, but students can purchase them from the Northwestern Music Office for just $4.