I’ve written here before about my 1999 journey to Québec and my first experience of Les Francofolies, discovering the Québecois music scene for the first time. I was so entranced by the music I heard during those cool Montréal summer days and evenings that a fair amount of my travel budget went towards CDs, several of which remain in my regular listening to this day.
In addition to bringing home discs from several Québecois artists, I also found some European artists that I have followed (or attempted to follow) since. A certain music store directly across from the Berri-UQAM metro station can be blamed for this, as these albums were available for sampling in the store.
The first album was “Hors-saison” by Francis Cabrel, who I would later learn is an extremely well-established artist in France. The opening beats of “Le monde est sourd,” a bit jazzy, a bit rock, a bit country, hooked me immediately. Other highlights on the album for me include “Comme eux” and the title track, an absolutely gorgeous piano ballad.
What I didn’t fully appreciate until I had the opportunity to read the liner notes later (since I have more luck reading French than hearing it) is how political some of the songs are – and how relevant they remain, 18 years later. From the first track (whose title translates to “The world is deaf”), where Cabrel sings about the deafness of so many to the problems in the world around them, to “Cent ans de plus,” in which Cabrel sings of slavery’s effects and says, “Bien rouge le sang de l’Afrique / sur la jolie fleur du coton“ (Very red the blood of Africa / on the lovely flower of cotton), it strikes me that he could just as easily write many of these songs in 2017.
The second album I bought and loved (and bought again when I feared I’d lost it in a move) is “L’arbre et la fruit” from Jérôme Cotta – his debut album. Until recently, I thought it was his only album, as I’d never seen another, but I was thrilled to find that he has since released several albums (in English) as Jehro.
As with “Hors-saison,” the first few bars of Cotta’s album entranced me. Acoustic and slide guitars, strings, and great percussion sounds sparkle throughout the album. Here, too, Cotta’s lyrics are just as timely now as when they were released. From the track “Des milliards des personnes”: “Y’a des milliards de personnes / Des milliards de couleurs / Des milliards de valeurs / Vu d’avion ça résonne / Comme un battement de coeur” (There are billions of people / Billions of colors / Billions of values / Seen from a plane they resound / Like a heartbeat). Words of inclusiveness, carrying a message that’s even more important today than it was twenty years ago.
I suspect we all have albums we purchased throughout our lives that remind us of certain times and places. For me, these two CDs will always remind me of bright, cool summer days in Montréal, when music echoed in the streets and I discovered a whole new world of song that I’d not previously known.