Posted by: kaleidophonic | December 1, 2011

Winter sounds

Snow falls softly, and muffles all sound around. It squeaks underfoot, it slides off roofs and lands with a thick thud.

Montréal had its first snowfall a few days ago, so I thought I’d welcome in the frosty season in with a few tracks inspired by the special experience of a Québec winter.

First up is Gilles Vigneault, a towering figure of Quebec chanson. In perhaps his best known song, “Mon Pays”, Vigneault sings:

Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver (My country is not a country, it is winter)
Mon chemin ce n’est pas un chemin, c’est la neige (My path is not a path, it is snow)
Ma maison ce n’est pas une maison, c’est froidure (My house is not a house, it is coldness)

This song is known and beloved by Quebecois people everywhere, and while I personally might not swoon over the overdone arrangements or Vigneault’s vocal style, I will admit that he is a damn good songwriter who managed, over a long career, to reflect back to the Quebecois some vital experience of themselves – a particularly important experience during the heyday of his career during which Quebec was undergoing its ‘Quiet Revolution’.

Here’s a vid of some typical contemporary Montreal winter scenes accompanying Vigneault’s song.

The other song that I wanted to post is one that always occurs to me at one point or another during the long Canadian winter: Robert Charlebois’ “Je reviendrai à Montréal” (trans: “I will return to Montreal”).

I first learned this song as part of a high-school french-class assignment: we were given a cassette tape with various Quebecois musicians on it, and told to learn the lyrics. Alongside Félix Leclerc’s “Moi, mes souliers”, Villain Penguin, France d’Amour, and Mitsou were a couple of Charlebois tracks: “Les ailes d’un ange” with it’s great sing-a-long counting chorus: “Un deux trois quatre cinq six sept, Québec!” and “Je reviendrai à Montréal”. This track was written during a self-imposed exile to France, on an album titled “Longue Distance” after Charlebois found his success at home too much to handle (and his critics were asking the impossible: a repeat or return to his incredibly incendiary style of the late 1960s).

In the song Charlebois sings:

Je reviendrai a Montréal / (I will return to Montreal)
Dans un grand Boeing bleue de mer / (In a big sea-blue Boeing)
J’ai besoin de voir l’hiver / (I need too see the winter)

Winter (l’hiver) is mentioned over and over again in the song – clearly this season is a central touchstone of Charlebois’ experience and identity as a Quebecker. In the video below, filmed for the album’s release in 1976, we see Charlebois superimposed over old-timey footage of a Montreal winter, then the city in the 1970s. It’s a great vid. Enjoy!

PS: Watch out for angry snowcats!

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