“When Blou came into being in the 1990s, people couldn’t figure our music genre out. They were able to make out elements of bluegrass, traditional, rock and folk music, but nobody could put their finger on it. So we coined a word describing our Acadian, Cajun and Zydeco musical roots. The name was ‘Acadico,’ and it stuck.”
That was 20 years ago, but singer-songwriter Patrice Boulianne remembers it as if it were yesterday. The new name was given to Blou’s debut album, Acadico (1998), as well as to the opening cut of the band’s most recent collection, 20 Temps, a witty title referring to Blou’s 20th anniversary. The rapid acceptance of Blou’s coined genre was an indication of the significance of a unique music style that has allowed the musicians to perform in dozens of countries and collect numerous industry honours at home, including as part of the Gala de la chanson de la Nouvelle-Écosse and the East Coast Music Awards.
“Being able to perform your Francophone songs in 36 countries around the world is something that makes you appreciate your native language enormously.”
By now, Blou has become the personal project of frontman and self-appointed Acadian culture ambassador Boulianne, a St. Mary’s Bay (NS) resident. “Being able to perform your Francophone songs in 36 countries around the world is something that makes you appreciate your native language enormously – it’s something you want to keep close to your heart. Sharing your mother tongue with people who can’t speak it can fire you up. And when I look at Radio Radio and Lisa LeBlanc right now, I can see that other artists are now picking up the torch,” says Boulianne, an artist who has steadfastly refused to move to Québec.”
Why? “Because the landscapes and the people of Acadie [a French-speaking area of Eastern Canada comprising roughly the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunscick and PEI] are my main source of inspiration,” he says. “Even if it’s hard, sometimes, with the Harper Government’s cuts in artist travel grants. I don’t think the Conservatives understand the importance of those grants for Francophone artists living outside Quebec. You’d think this was their way of getting you to sing in English, a language that makes exports and distribution easier. And not just for music either. The theatre, creative writing and the visual arts, too, are negatively affected. We are watering down our cultural heritage, that’s what we’re doing.”
By way of paying tribute to his Francophone roots, Boulianne recorded duos with Daniel Lavoie, Lina Boudreau and Mary Jane Lamond on the 20 Temps album. “I picked Daniel Lavoie as a way of celebrating my Manitoba origins,” he says. “Before moving to the Maritimes, I spent my early years on the Great Plains in the small town of St. Claude, where my father went out of his way to buy Francophone recordings by Beau Dommage, Paul Piché, Francis Cabrel and many more. I also brought Lina Boudreau into the project because she represents Acadie with one of the region’s finest singing voices. As for Mary Jane Lamond, she embodies Nova Scotia’s Celtic music influences.”
A true blending of influences, the 20 Temps compositions fall into two categories. Some of the songs – namely “Sors tes souliers de danse” [“Get Out Your Dancing Shoes»], “Oh! Madeleine” and “Anna et Louise », a tribute to Louisiana – reflect the upbeat spirit of the Acadico style. But Blou’s sixth album also reflects a more intimate folk style on “Là où on s’aime” (“Where Love Is”), a song on Bouliane’s mother’s struggle with Alzheimers, and on “Lettre pour Annette,” written in memory of friend who died suddenly in her early forties.
“It took me a long time to find the courage to include more personal songs in the Blou repertoire for fear that they may not fit into the band’s more energetic style,” says Bouliane. “A balance had to be sought, and I also had to find the right words and the proper phrasing to convey the feel of these personal songs.” Written as an attempt to bring out his personal pain and anxiety – admittedly, a kind of therapy – “Là où on s’aime” is now the theme song of Nova Scotia’s Alzheimers Society.
Released just a few months ago, 20 Temps brings out another side of Patrice Boulianne’s personality that Blou fans in other countries will soon be able to discover for themselves. “Thanks to RIDEAU’s networking program as well as to the ECMAs and FrancoFête en Acadie, my booking agency (À l’infini) has been able to develop an impressive network of contacts that help me keep an eye on our European connection,” says the tireless Acadian culture ambassador. “I’m going to be back there soon.”