In the latest of her Global Music Match dispatches, The Magpies’ Holly Brandon meets up with Canadian trio VISHTEN, whose music thrillingly combines a rich cultural heritage with contemporary rock
MULTI-INSTRUMENTALISTS Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc and Pascal Miousse — Vishten — have been dazzling audiences with a fierylend of traditional French songs and original instrumentation for over a decade.
The name Vishten is a nod to the eponymous song whose lyrics are a percussive amalgam of French, Mi’kmaq and English, a musical realisation of the band’s fascinating Acadian heritage.
For millennia Acadia, a region in north-eastern North America, was occupied by the Mi’kmaq people. It was colonised by the French in 1604, hence the strong Francophone influence in the songs, while subsequent settlers from Ireland and Scotland left their Celtic stamp on the music
In the 1750s, following the British conquest, the Acadians’ refusal to swear allegiance to the British crown resulted in a deportation that saw the expulsion of almost 12,000 Acadians to the British-American colonies further south. When they returned, they added their newfound US influences to the Acadian musical melting pot.
Consequently, within Acadian music there is much variation and a clear sense of the history that has led to its stylistic uniqueness. Pascal pinpoints his bowing style to his home on the Magdalen Islands, distinct from neighbouring islands’ fiddle techniques.
But it’s not only emigration that has led to these regional accents in the music, the radio has a lot to answer for. Prince Edward Island had access to Cape Breton radio and its Scottish musical influences, while southern Nova Scotia’s access to US radio from Maine has given a strong bluegrass flavour to the music.
Their music reflects their community’s wonderful patchwork heritage and on their latest album, aptly named Horizons, they broaden their style still further, seamlessly fusing Celtic and Acadian genres with modern rock and indie-folk influences.
Its success has not gone unrecognised, with the album receiving a nomination for a Juno — Canada’s top music award — last year.
The island environment is clearly important in Vishten’s music. Their fiddle tune Trois Blizzards was inspired by a particularly harsh winter isolated in a cottage, as 20 feet of snow fell outside. And those sounds of the winter, the creaking of boats and the whistling of the wind, are reflected in the foot percussion and distinctive bowing style.
The song Terre Rouge references the famous red sand of Prince Edward Island — the dramatic island landscapes have clearly left an impression on their music. And how could they not.
Community and family are an important part of the music too, with twins Emmanuelle and Pastelle jesting that they “met a while ago.” They were raised in a world where traditional music, percussive dance and kitchen parties were part of everyday life.
Keeping the music alive for the next generation is hugely important for the trio, as it is for the whole community, with fiddles thrust into the outstretched hands of toddlers and step dancing proving more popular than ever.
Not only is it being kept alive but there is a real sense that this music is being moved forward. The genre brings a breath of fresh air that is hugely popular in the British folk scene, with bands like The East Pointers leading disco trad dance parties into the night.
Vishten have toured extensively in this country — they are notably unimpressed by our inability to deal with a smattering of snow — and, all being well, they will be back again in Spring next year, with critically acclaimed duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita.
They are hugely popular in Britain and there are reasons why they and their Acadian compatriots are such a hit here. Their music is always looking to the future, it’s music that is very much alive.