Posted by: kaleidophonic | May 24, 2012

You know what this revolution needs? More cowbell!!

So, in my last post I wondered where the movement here in Quebec would go, after Tuesday’s massive march through downtown Montreal. In that post I mentioned a text message I received that evening, about people standing on the street corners banging pots and pans, in solidarity with the students and in open defiance of Charest’s Loi 78.

As it turns out, that was the beginning of a new and beautiful thing. Forget the Quiet Revolution. The Noisy Revolution has come.


I started hearing about the pot-and-pandemonium that night, and then it started spreading yesterday. Word was, that in every neighborhood people were declaring their opposition to Bill 78 by banging their pots and pans for 15 minutes at 8pm every night. There’s a Facebook group (of course), its on Twitter, and a Google Doc to download posters and info. There is even a Google Map so people can see if anyone in their own neighborhoods were joining in the fun. When I checked the map last night there were only two lonely dots in my neighborhood (Verdun) which is south-west of downtown and kind of a sleepy, mind-your-own-business kind of place. I havn’t seen many red squares, the symbol of this movement, around here.

But not tonight. Oh no.

It started around 8pm.  I heard a few clanking sounds from down the block. Then it got louder, and there were whistles and cheers, and I realized that a remarkable thing was happening. The people of Verdun were marching down Wellington street, banging their pots and pans.

But I was in a panic. I had just sat down to eat! I ran around a bit like a lunatic until I realized that this might happen again tomorrow night too, so I stayed in and finished my meal. What can I say, you can’t win a revolution on an empty stomach!

But then at 9.30 pm I heard it again. And it was bigger, it was louder. They came down Wellington again, and this time I couldn’t miss it. I grabbed my cowbell and a drumstick and sprinted up the block. I’m not sure how many people were out there, and at first it looked like mostly high school kids, maybe a hundred, maybe two hundred. But as we walked down the main street we stopped at each intersection and clanged and banged, cheered and chanted, and people started coming out of their apartments, down the winding staircases with pots, frying pans, wooden spoons, drums, whistles, flags. Some stood on their balconies and clapped along to our marching rhythm, we cheered them and they cheered us and everyone was having a great time.

So much for Charest’s attempt to stifle and silence dissent. We’re making some noise, a real pot-and-pandemonium, rattling the windows and walls. Making our discontent audible, in whatever simple way we can.

This method of voicing political opposition isn’t new. Students and citizens here have borrowed it from Chilé, but it has an even longer tradition, probably back as far as the old practice of charivari. There is a long history behind this kind of noise-making. I wish I had time to give you a proper historical accounting for this kind of sonic practice, but I want to get this out there fast, so I’m cheating a bit and using this ‘fact sheet’ instead:

“A cacerolazo is a form of popular protest where neighbourhoods create noise by banging pots, pans and other utensils. It’s practised in Spanish-speaking countries and possibly started in Chile in the 1970s, with protests against the administration of Salvador Allende.

The word comes from Spanish cacerola, which means “stew pot.” With the addition of the suffix –azo, which means a punching or striking action, it creates a perfect metaphor for this type of demonstration.

In French, it’s called a tintamarre, which means “clangor” or “loud and often repeated noise.”

The word comes from the French Acadian dialect – Acadians are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in what is now Eastern Canada’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island) and part of Quebec.

It may have begun with the tradition of people marching through the community to celebrate National Acadian Day, making noise with improvised instruments and noisemakers.

Some also link it to an ancient French folk custom of charivari, where neighbours noisily serenaded newlyweds at their new home by pounding on pots and pans.”

The folk custom of charivari wasn’t only practiced as part of a wedding – it has also been used to signal discontent with political figures, and has deep roots in Canadian history (or, more accurately, the history of New France, before the nation of Canada existed as a political entity). Maybe in a day or two I’ll post on this again, with some more detailed history about cacophony as a political statement.

In the meantime, if you’re in Montreal, keep a pot and a wooden spoon handy. I’m keeping my noisemakers close by, because if there’s anything this revolution needs, its more cowbell!!


  1. I almost, but did not quite, resisted the urge to point out that charivari goes back to at least the Middle Ages and so clearly everything comes back to medieval history once again. 😉

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