Festival du Bois – Sirène et Matelot’s Acadian roots run deep

Lennie Gallant and Patricia Richard tap deep into their Acadian roots, as their music balances a sincere concern for global and environmental issues with the spirit of modern upbeat Acadian music.

Maillardville’s annual Festival du Bois (Apr. 16–30) goes virtual this year holding host to a wide range of Canadian and Francophone musical performances.

One such performance is that of Sirène et Matelot, ( the Siren and the Sailor), consisting of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) natives Gallant and Richard.

“Our concerts are very lively,” says Gallant. “We like to have a lot of fun as well while touching on some very serious subjects. I think people come to our shows so that we take them on a journey. We touch on some serious stuff but we like to have a lot of laughs and a lot of humour.”

Sirene et Matelot. | Photo by David Brosha

A connection to the land

Gallant’s and Richard’s roots to both P.E.I. and Acadia run deep. And being performers and songwriters, having such a deep connection to the land and its history has informed the duo’s approach to music just as much as their values and concerns in life.

“The [name] ‘Siren and the Sailor’ stems from being here. I look outside right now and I see the water. It’s always an inspiration for us. And not coincidentally a lot of our songs centre on that theme as well,” says Richard. “I grew up right by the water… and I guess the sea means a lot to me and Lennie. Most people don’t know but he’s done a few Atlantic passages so he’s had his share too.”

Having that connection to nature and to one’s surroundings has fostered a level of care and reverence for the environment, and for Richard and Gallant that care has translated into a number of songs which speak to the importance of being continually mindful and conscientious of humanity’s relationship with the land.

For example, their song ‘Trois hommes en noir’ [Three Men in Black] pays tribute to the environment as well as to Acadian folklore. In it, the duo invokes a trio of wary characters traditionally known in Acadian folklore for presaging or causing havoc upon others. But in Richard and Gallant’s own modern twist, they use these characters as a means of speaking to the dangers of complacency and apathy on an environmental, political, and global level.

“We take an old tradition and we try to bring it into a broader perspective and a bit of a warning, because these three characters, they always were a bit of a warning in folklore. And so we kind of think it’s a warning to the world, what’s going on with the state of politics and the state of the environment, the state of how we treat each other on the planet,” says Gallant.

Acadian identity

Indeed, between their growing prominence, their concern for issues affecting P.E.I and the world, and their celebration of traditional folklore, Gallant and Richard have become somewhat of ambassadors for Acadian heritage and culture. Naturally, this has caused the pair to reflect on what it means to be Acadian or what constitutes ‘Acadian music.’

And as strongly as it might manifest in the form of writing songs in French, a liberal usage of the traditional foot-stomping “podorythmie” technique, or a care for the ocean and the environment around them, for Gallant and Richard, it’s important to have an open-minded and broad view of what can constitute Acadian culture and music.

“Being an Acadian is who you are. I think it just happens naturally to express being Acadian in what we do. Some people when they hear the words ‘Acadian music,’ they might think of traditional fiddling and that type of thing,” says Richard. “It’s not only that for us, it’s the language, it’s the people, it goes deeper than that. I just think it’s a matter of being authentic and your roots are going to come out through your music.”

For more information, please visit www.festivaldubois.ca.