Festival du Bois -Songs and dance a plenty

Photo by Billie Woods

It is time to revive all your senses with a taste of “Frenchness” at the 33rd annual Festival du Bois. After so many protocol changes within artistic communities, this weekend festival – which runs Apr. 1–3 – promises to entice you back onto the dance floor with its in-person return to Coquitlam’s Mackin Park.

“Our team has worked hard to bring you the best in entertainment,” says Joanne Dumas, executive and artistic director of the Festival du Bois on their webpage.

Enjoy the community hospitality of song, dance, and cultural celebration – from Quebecois and Francophone music, to global folk and roots and more – by getting acquainted with some of the performers at this year’s event.

North Shore Celtic Ensemble

Claude Giguère has had a leading role in the youth-oriented North Shore Celtic Ensemble ever since he founded the group in 1998. For him, music is at its most engaging when it pushes boundaries and pulls inspiration from multiple different sources.

As such, the ensemble often uses Celtic music as its baseline, but is unafraid to explore many different versions or interpretations of the rich musical tradition.

“The base of all our music was, ‘How do we go from here to there, and how do we open up a bit of a world, something a bit different?” says Giguère. “So the music we play now, we’re inspired by music from Scandinavia, Celtic music, of course, and then some of the modern Celtic musicians who pull things out of different styles as well.”

But Giguère says he and the other faculty only set the stage for the real drivers of the performance: the kids playing the music. With an age range from roughly 11–19, Giguère says the ensemble is an opportunity for youth at a critical age to explore their own creativity and musicality.

“I know the power of music when you feel that you’re at the edge of your own voice as a musician, especially for kids who are not professional,” says Giguère.

Giguère says sometimes the kids are even able to bring their own musical ideas, with faculty helping to arrange the compositions and bring them to life. With the goal of bringing out the kids’ creativity, the ensemble has been a great success.

“We don’t have a rigid format in the way we approach what we do. There’s a lot of room for the kids to bring their own music of their own ideas, and we totally welcome that,” says Giguère. “We don’t want it any other way than that. It’s at times a bit chaotic, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Collage Trad – a West Coast accent and more

Gabriel Dubreuil is also a longtime member of the North Shore Celtic Ensemble, in addition to leading Collage Trad (Canadian-American fiddle traditions, with a heavy helping of jazz and rock). For him, Collage Trad’s music is a great opportunity to showcase traditional fiddle music from the West Coast. It has a less lengthy history than other fiddle styles, but carries with it influences from Eastern Canada and even Appalachian music.

“It’s more modern, I would say, than Quebecois music, but it all comes back to… settlers coming across Canada, bringing instruments,” says Dubreuil. “It’s this mix of different people that come across Canada and their roots here. So it’s quite broad.”

But while Dubrueil has extensive experience with a more folk style of fiddle, he also has jazz background from his time at Berklee College of Music in Boston; and the Collage trad band includes not just two other fiddlers, but also a more rock-oriented trio of guitar, bass and drums.

As their name suggests, ‘trad’ music is a style of music Dubreuil is confident will get people up on their feet.

“I personally like that the drummers really change things up,” says Dubreuil, “especially if you want it to be very dancey. It can be less trancey that way and become really something where you’re able to distinguish between different tunes fairly easily, even if you’re not well versed in fiddle music already.”

Métis Jiggers

Over the years, Yvonne Chartrand has developed her dancing skill, as well as her relationship with her ancestry, through the tradition of Métis jigging. For her, jigging is emblematic of Métis culture and heritage itself, with its dance style bringing together both European and First Nations cultural influences.

“These two cultures mixed and blended to create a brand new unique nation. And so our music is unique, our dances are unique,” says Chartrand.

Chartrand’s Métis ancestry goes back generations to St. Laurent, Manitoba, as she herself grew up throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Having been able to dance, travel, preserve and revitalise various traditions of jigging throughout the country, she sees a level of universality in Métis jigging; and says that dancers from across the country can come together for the same song.

“We all know the dances, we all know the steps. And so it’s very easy for us just to come together and just put on a really awesome show,” says Chartrand.

And yet, Chartrand explains, there’s a level of diversity too: fiddlers and dancers in Saskatchewan, she says, might have a different style than in Manitoba, but it makes for an engaging performance that keeps the dancers on their toes.

“You could have ten fiddlers, and they’ll play the Red River Jig, and they’ll all play it differently,” says Chartrand. “You just have to really listen to the fiddle players, so there’s a beautiful relationship between the musician [and the dancers].”

And as a style of dance that celebrates both the diversity and wholeness of Métis heritage, Chartrand says that jigging has proved to be a deeply valuable piece of Métis history, resilience and culture.

“We’ve come through a lot. And I think the thing that has given us our resilience and our strength is our music, our dance, our culture,” says Chartrand. “It’s my culture and my dance that has helped me to heal and to grow. It’s just a beautiful connection to our community and family. It’s a sense of belonging and a celebration.”

With these artists and many others eager to return to an engaging in-person performance at the festival, Festival du Bois looks to be a joyful and meaningful celebration of cultural diversity and mix – Canadian, Francophone and beyond.

For more information please visit: www.festivaldubois.ca