Monday, June 15, 2009

How to Look Like a Closed-minded and Xenophobic Society

La Fête Nationale is a civic holiday in Québec. Being a Quebecker (or Québecois si vous préferez) of anglo heritage, it’s my party too and I think uninviting two Québec artists because they sing in English is really small-minded:
La Fête nationale doit être célébrée en français, affirme l'Association culturelle Louis-Hébert, commanditaire du spectacle L'Autre St-Jean, qui confirme avoir exigé le retrait de deux formations musicales parce qu'elles chantent en anglais. Cette décision a été vertement critiquée par des artistes et des membres de la communauté anglophone, mais plusieurs organisations souverainistes l'ont appuyée.

«Ce que nous voulons, ce sont des groupes qui chantent en français le jour de la Fête nationale», a affirmé Mathieu Bouthillier, vice-président de l'Association culturelle Louis-Hébert.
The CTV report sums it up in English like this:
A group of Anglophone musicians has been banned from playing at a St. Jean Baptiste celebration.

The band, called Lake of Stew, is made up of three brothers from the Mile End. They play folksy, bluegrass music - and they sing exclusively in English.

A few weeks ago, they were invited to perform at the first edition of a St. Jean Baptiste celebration called "L'Autre St-Jean".
(Absent from that CTV report was any mention of the other anglo act getting the ax; namely, Bloodshot Bill.) My tax dollars know no language; however they help to sponsor many events meant to bring us all together in a celebration of the richness of our culture.

And today's Quebec is overwhelmingly mature in its openness to different cultures, particularly here in Montreal. So I find it rather strange, this worry that the sounds of English lyrics during la Fête nationale might spark protests. As for the event organizers, it speaks volumes that they lack confidence in their supposedly proud and self-assured fellow Québecois' ability to deal with a little English mixed in with the festivities. In fact, it smacks of intolerance of the reality of the very existence of one culture in particular: anglo Quebeckers. Would these acts have been uninvited if they were made up of francophones (bons gars) who happened to sing all Elvis and Beatles covers?

Besides, does anyone doubt that music forms from many anglo cultures – like American Bluegrass for example – were important influences to francophone Québec acts like les Cowboys Fringants? I know a lot of francophone musicians who write exclusively English lyrics just for reasons of personal preference or aesthetics. There is no need to politicize the language of lyrical content. This bone-headed move is simply a matter of intolerance trumping inclusiveness.

By the way: If you can read French, you'll notice a good majority of commenters on the La Presse story are equally appalled. That's heartening and not at all surprising. The great majority of Québecois are open-minded and generous people, which is why I am proud to call myself one, despite the few yahoos that always manage to make dubious news for the rest of Canadians to muse over.

Tip of the hat to Fagstein; he has lots more on this, including links to the petitions.

Meanwhile: courtesy of youtube, here's a sweet little taste of the hazardously English-singing Lake of Stew:

And the equally dangerously English psychobilly of Bloodshot Bill:

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