Quebecois Roots Trio Genticorum’s Fantastic Voyage Of Rising Hemlines, Singing Oarsmen, and Happy Trappers on Nagez Rameurs


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Three young players with deep ties to Quebecois music sail to Borneo and Egypt. As they travel, they tell wild stories of shrinking skirts and noble cats. They sing forgotten songs of old New France, of its log drives and lost rivers. They play dance numbers with their tongues and feet, and unwind trippy reels.

A tall tale come true, Genticorum navigate the silly and somber moods of North American Francophone tradition on Nagez Rameurs. Firmly rooted in family and regional traditions, the trio’s wit, rich vocal arrangements, and masterful musicianship turn old songs about traveling into catchy and moving glimpses of a quirky New World.

“There’s a big chunk of Francophone repertoire linked to voyagers, because they shaped the colony by exploring and settling the country, and by interacting with the native peoples they encountered,” explains guitarist and singer Yann Falquet. “It’s interesting because unlike a lot of Quebecois songs, many of these songs are not from Brittany or Normandy. They aren’t about France. They tell the stories of people once they reached North America.”


These are stories of the joyful life of a freewheeling fur trapper (“Canot d’écorce”), the struggles of log drivers on Quebec’s rivers (“Grand voyageur sur la drave”), or the hearty calls of oarsmen working for the Hudson River Company (“Nagez Rameurs)”.

Many old tunes, the ones Genticorum tackles with greatest gusto, jump from the New World into a side-splittingly absurd alternate universe. Humor is part and parcel of Quebecois musical culture—“We’re bad at being sad,” laughs Falquet—but Genticorum take the merriment to psychedelic places.

Witness “Quand chus parti du Canada,” a fanciful world tour during which the song’s narrator bemoans the ever-shorter skirts he encounters—and the dreadful threat this shortening trend may pose to males. Or the surprisingly touching waltz dedicated to kitchen appliances, “La valse de poêles,” that the group learned from Quebecois traditional fiddler Simon Riopel.

The more serious side of the New World spirit echoes in the unique sound of Canada’s Métis, the descendents of mixed European (often Francophone) and First Nations backgrounds. Isolated in small communities for centuries, Métis musicians like fiddler and healer Lawrence “Teddy Boy” Houle have transformed Celtic reels to fit their own cross-cultural tastes, changing phrasing and favoring irregular time signatures. Houle shared with Genticorum fiddler and composer Pascal Gemme one of the pieces that became a suite, “Violon Guerrisseur.” “Teddy Boy uses tunes like this one to help induce a meditative state when he heals,” says Gemme.

Another striking and curative tune—“Reel Circulaire”—flows from the creativity of Franco-Americans, a cultural community extending as far south as Connecticut. In small pockets, some families continue to pass along their language and music, as young Franco-American fiddler Daniel Boucher’s distinctive tunes demonstrate.

To tell these uniquely New World stories, Genticorum turns not only to Quebec’s traditional amalgam of French, Scottish, and Irish sounds—Old World songs, reels, mouth music, and foot percussion—but seeks inspiration from new sources. The trio draws on everything from Norwegian folk music to Kraftwerk. The trio—guitar, flute, fiddle, and three strong voices—innovates carefully, adding a poignant harmonium part to a sorrowful ballad on “Grand voyageur sur la drave,” thanks to friend and Celtic music master Grey Larsen. Or laying down an occasional thoughtful groove on the electric bass.

“There’s been a strong Celtic influence on Quebecois bands for a while,” Falquet notes, “but we younger musicians are drawing on all sorts of things, especially the newer roots music from Scandinavia. Not necessarily in the neo-traditional way either. We don’t add percussion or electronics; we just try to take a really fresh, passionate look at the old tunes.”


Even the old tunes that many young players find too square, the dance styles lacking the virtuosic flash of some reels, but still filling the dance floor at the traditional dances Genticorum plays when not touring Borneo, Egypt, or Australia. Gemme, for instance, felt the group needed to revisit the good old dance genre of the galope. So he wrote one, dedicating it to his feline boss, Sir Soft Tummy (“Galope Doux Bedon”).

Or “Les Menteries,” a “song of lies” reminiscent of the tall-tale contests once common at Quebec’s kitchen parties. Gemme, who heard this type of song frequently from his grandfather, has wanted to record this particular lying song, a childhood favorite, for a decade.

“These songs are so out there, with wonderfully bizarre imagery and weird animals doing anthropomorphic actions, that kind of thing,” smiles Gemme. “For the last ten years, I’ve tried to come up with a good version and along the way, I added way too many verses. I had to pick and choose my favorite lies for the album.”

Even at their silliest moments and on their wildest adventures, Genticorum maintain their powerful ties to their musical families and regional roots, hanging out with traditional song-keepers and storytellers, jamming at folk music sessions, and digging in archival collections for intriguing new pieces. “We are within a certain tradition and play with a certain esthetic, without really radical changes,” states Falquet, “and people are able to really enjoy it for what it is, whether they’re Scottish folkies or Malaysian teenagers.”


Guest post via WMNW