As we enter the fourth week of Global Music Match, I am so excited to introduce you to the incredible Canadian trio, Vishtèn! Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc of Prince Edward Island and Madgalen Islands’ native Pascal Miousse, they have been dazzling audiences with a fiery blend of traditional French songs and original instruments 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. Whilst 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 nearly twelve thousand Acadians to the lower British American colonies. When they returned, they added their newfound American influences to the Acadian musical melting pot.
Consequently, within Acadian music there is much variation and there is a clear sense of the history that has led to these stylistic distinctions. Pascal pinpoints his bowing style to his home on the Magdalen Islands, distinct from neighbouring islands’ fiddle techniques.
But it’s not only emigration patterns that have led to these regional accents in the music, according to Vishtèn the radio has a lot to answer for. Prince Edward Island had access to Cape Breton radio and its Scottish musical influences. Whilst Southern Nova Scotia’s access to American radio from Maine gave a strong bluegrass flavour to the music.
Vishtèn’s music reflects the community’s wonderful patchwork heritage and in their latest album, aptly named Horizons, they broaden their style further still, seamlessly fusing the Celtic and Acadian genres with modern rock and indie-folk influences. And its success has not gone unrecognised, with the album receiving a Juno Award nomination in 2019.
The island environment is clearly important in Vishtèn’s music. Their fiddle tune Trois Blizzards was inspired by a particularly harsh winter, isolated in a cottage, as twenty foot of snow fell outside. And the sounds of the winter, the creaking of boats and the whistling of the wind, are reflected in the foot percussion and distinctive bowing style. Whilst their 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 another important part of the music. Two thirds of the band go way back. Twins Emmanuelle and Pastelle jest that they ‘met a while ago’. And 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 band, 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 amongst the UK folk scene, and with bands like The East Pointers leading disco trad dance parties into the night, it is no surprise.
Vishtèn have toured extensively in the UK (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 2021, with critically acclaimed duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (hopefully during a snow-free season). They are hugely popular in the UK and there’s a reason they and their Acadian compatriots are such a hit here. Their music is always moving forward. It’s music that is very much alive.
Next week we'll be introducing you to Finnish duo Zäpämmät!
The Magpies x