Fuso, real first name Guillaume, was born in France and arrived in Québec nine years ago, and in 2016, he released his first Anglophone album. One radio single came out of it, “Rain Is Falling,” then…  nothing. That is, until he recorded a French version of his romantic ballad “Love” and released it to Québec radio. The lyrics were tweaked, and he switches from English to French throughout the sunny melody, tailored to please the most demanding Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson fan.

“The original version of ‘Love’ was bilingual, too,” Fuso explains. “It came that way naturally. When we decided to modify it for the radio, I only needed to modify a few passages. Yet, it was a much more complicated process than I expected. I wanted to keep the sound, and especially the message, intact. We tried different lyrics before settling on the right ones. It was a fun challenge.”

Since then, the French version of “Love” has become his first Top 10 hit, with all four Québec radio networks playing it in heavy rotation. The self-taught songwriter and SOCAN member doesn’t hide his elation at the song’s popularity, especially since his song started its ascension as iHeartRadio’s “Coup de cœur.” “I was super-happy and surprised by the success of my ‘coup de cœur’ composition!” says Fuso. “And that’s on top of the reception beyond my wildest dreams of my first single, ‘Rain Is Falling.’ I couldn’t be happier!”

The young songwriter will now spend the fall of 2017 on the road and in the studio, as his latest concerts have allowed him to “road test” a few new songs. “I had a great time opening for artists I admire, like Jérôme Couture,” says Fuso. “I see him as a musical mentor, and above all, as a man with his hand on his heart. I had a tremendous time sharing the stage with him. I have a chance to go back onstage and open for him in October in Granby, and I hope it’ll happen again and again!”

Some say that you have to be patient and wait for the right moment on the sidelines until it’s your turn. If that’s the case, Émile Bilodeau’s turn came early and suddenly. Barely 21, the singer-songwriter still lives with his parents in the Montréal suburbs, and doesn’t have a driver’s licence. But when he sings, he’s got only one tempo: full speed ahead.

Émile Bilodeau

Photo: Léolo

“When I write, I tell myself, ‘if it rhymes, it works,’” says Bilodeau. “I’ve always loved the musicality of words. I only check if the meaning is right afterwards. I like it when form takes over meaning. Then, when you examine my lyrics, you notice the cadence work. It looks uncontrolled, just a bunch of easy-to-memorize words, but I always go over my texts after the initial, automatic writing.”

Self-taught, Bilodeau went all-in to the music world when he ended up in the finals of the 2015 Francouvertes competition. His artistic toolbox might seem empty, considering that he has no music studies to speak of, but he’s adamant that his label, Dare to Care, has found “all the friends he needed,” he says with a laugh. Notably, his first album was produced by Philippe B, and he hopes to work with him again on his sophomore full-length.

Not completely in the margins, but not fully encamped in commercial music, Bilodeau is quite proud of being able to straddle both worlds. Although he’s managed to place a few songs on commercial radio stations, he also boasts other, less-formatted ones that were championed by independent stations. “It’s a privilege to reach all kinds of audiences,” he says. “I’ve wanted to earn a living doing music ever since my childhood. I started school in a sports program… I don’t want to generalize and say jocks only listen to CKOI, but I’m always flattered when my friends from Cégep tell me they’ve heard me on the radio.”

“My career started with a bang! It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”

Whatever the case may be, Bilodeau couldn’t be prouder to proffer an alternative, in a less accessible style. He’s particularly fond of the rock/jazz fusion of his song “America,” which finds more airplay on college radio. “I like it when people who discovered me through CKOI come to see my live show and realize, ‘Hey! he’s no Marc Dupré,’” says Bilodeau. “The format changes from one song to the next. In Québec, there are three people who decide what the entire province listens to. I hope I can usher in some new people to start doing their own research, to discover new stuff that wasn’t decided for them.”

The young artist’s first album, Rites de passages, released in 2016, reveals that he’s certainly not a man of few words. As a matter of fact, it’s his straightforwardness, energy and political edge that attract attention, in his sometimes amusing, sometimes militant songs. He’s already been compared to idealistic champions like Dédé Fortin, and he doesn’t mind being identified as a guardian of French-language preservation, or a defender of his generation’s interests.  “I think it can be comforting for people to see a young person who cares about the French language,” he says. “I make it my duty to say that French is important, and that we need to say it to people my age and younger. We must avoid demonizing Francophone music, only exposing the younger generation to Céline Dion, and pretending that’s all our music is about. If they like metal, we must expose them to Francophone, Québécois metal.”

Although a second album isn’t on the agenda just yet, the musician’s impressive, prolific creativity never sleeps. “I’m really proud of the fact that my whole live show is nothing but original songs,” says Bilodeau. “I wrote new songs as soon as my album was in the can, so that my show was nothing but me,” he says, while adding that he wants to do a collaborative song soon. “I’m trying to go outside of my comfort zone. I’ve written one-and-a-half songs on the piano, so far. To me, that’s really original, because I really don’t know how to play that instrument,” he says, laughing.

Touring, the road and the stage: that’s the music school Bilodeau chose. “If I put my capo in the wrong place, or start a song a half-tone below what I’m supposed to, my musicians just adapt and tell me I’m an idiot,” he says. “They’re the ones who allow me to be good.” He feels happy and privileged to be allowed to “learn as I go, in front of 5,000 people instead of five,” and he’s adamant that his originality stems directly from his inexperience. “My career started with a bang!” he says. “It’s a lot to chew on, but I’ve got great jaws!”

Québec’s undisputed queen of country music is celebrating her half-century onstage this summer with the release of her 50th album, a compilation of new duets with her musician friends, produced by her no-less famous younger brother, Paul. “Everybody tells me I don’t look my age,” says Julie Daraîche. “But I’m not afraid to tell my age, and I even like it. During my concerts, I ask people, ‘Do you want to know how old I am?’ And when I tell them I’m 70, everybody is like: ‘Wow!’’

At 79, Julie Daraîche still performs regularly; she’ll be at the 50th edition of the Festival Western de St-Tite, “On the main stage, we were supposed to play only one show, but they’ve just announced an additional matinée show,” she says. “I’ve played St-Tite a lot, but nowhere near as often as Paul; he’ll be playing for a 50th consecutive year! That’s amazing! In the beginning, I remember he played the small clubs. Things flew left and right in there, those were real honky tonks!”

Just a few days ago, Daraîche was onstage for Marie King’s farewell concert; King, at almost 85, decided to definitively hang up her cowgirl hat. “The place was packed!,” says Daraîche, visibly excited. “I thought she was positively radiant! She sang quite a few songs on her own. I would ask for Marie King records when I was a child, she was always a major influence of mine, because she was the first local woman to have a career in country. She was so glad to see me. I told her, ‘I’m always here for you. I was there for your 50th career anniversary. I’m here for your farewell concert. I’m really proud to be here for you.’”

“We sold records like crazy, but we didn’t know that gold records for 50,000 copies sold meant money. We never saw cheques back in those days; it doesn’t matter, we’ve made up for those times now!”

Julie Daraîche

Julie Daraîche, 1966, at the Roché Percé bar in Montréal, where it all started for her. (Source : Dani Daraîche)

That must be country music’s secret: it’s a fountain of youth. The queen giggles. It keeps you busy, too: 50 ans d’amour, her 50th album in as many years, is no small feat. “That’s it: one per year!” she says. “I imagine there were years where we released more than one, like when we released on K-Tel and were never paid. Marie King did some, too. We sold records like crazy, but we didn’t know that gold records for 50,000 copies sold meant money. We never saw cheques back in those days; it doesn’t matter, we’ve made up for those times now!”

And that’s while also giving a chance for newcomers to make a place for themselves. Instead of courting pop artists for her new album, Daraîche chose to invite her own clan of country artists to collaborate with her. Family first: a duet with Paul, on top of his producing duties, and others with her daughter Dani and niece Katia. Then, her friends: the star of Bouctouche, Rhéal Leblanc; Louis Bérubé, another Acadian, the host of the Chanson Via Country program; up-and-comer Nicolas Dufresne, a fellow Gaspésien…

“We were recording the album and I felt like we were missing a song, then it hit me: I needed a song on the village where I was born, in Gaspésie,” says Daraîche. That village is St-François-de-Pabos, which has since been annexed to the town of Chandler, with its view of the Baie-des-Chaleurs. Daraîche still has a house there, “because I need to go there as often as I can to rest.” The song, “Saint-François, où je suis née,” (“Saint-François, Where I Was Born”) “is a nice little song,” in the words of the woman who admits to not having composed much in her life, “because we had such a wonderful composer in our family, my brother Paul.”

Pabos to Montréal

Gaspésie, Québec’s Country Music Promised land! “That’s had we had,” Daraîche explains. “When we were young, we had battery-powered radios, but we barely got any signal, especially if the weather was bad… But we managed to get a station from Nashville! We were charmed! Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Hank Williams. Those melodies, those songs, they were beautiful.” At the time, the Québec country scene was already quite vibrant, thanks to artists like Soldat Lebrun, Paul Brunelle, and Marcel Martel “who we revered. We wouldn’t miss him when he played in Gaspésie, once a year. We’d save our pennies all year long. Admission was 50 cents.”

Paul, Julie and her children left the Gaspésie for Montréal in the mid-‘60s, hoping to find work. “When my career started, I was a waitress at the Rocher Percé bar,” she says, citing the place on Rachel Street, which later became Au Pied du Quai, before Daraîche, her husband Bernard Duguay, and her brother bought it back and turned it into the Verres Stérilisés institution that it is today. “The Duguay brothers worked the door” she recalls. “The owners, Mister Desfossés and Mister St-Onge, were from Carleton-sur-Mer, and they loved country music. It was on one of the owner’s birthdays that I sang onstage for the first time. You had a bar full of Gaspésiens, and the party went on until 5:00 a.m.”

Her first song? “Mister John B” by Sylvie Vartan (a French adaptation of the Beach Boys’ version of “Sloop John B”). “And ‘Si le chapeau te fait,’ (‘If the Cap Fits’) by Daniel Guérard,” she recalls. “The Duguay brothers would accompany me on guitar and violin. That’s how it was until one day, the boss said to me, ‘Listen, Julie, I’d really like to see you onstage more than behind the bar, it’ll draw more people in.’ ‘What do you mean? I’m no singer.’ And I was a really good barmaid. But he said, ‘Sure, but don’t you see how much people love you?’ So we formed a trio,” Julie et les Frères Duguay.

It is with said Duguay brothers – including Bernard, who she was with for seven years, and who passed away last spring – that Julie recorded her first long-player and first gold record. “We were together professionally from 1967 to 1977,” says Daraîche. “They were good singers.”

A Winner

Being a country artist in Québec in the 1970s wasn’t a cakewalk, even less so for a woman. “Don’t forget I had children, too,” she says. “I managed to have a career and raise children at the same time. When success came knocking, I had to play all over the province. I would settle in a town for a while and tour the region for a while, and then move on, but I still kept my apartment in Rosemont [a popular neighbourhood in north-central Montréal]. When their classes would end on Fridays, I’d get on the road with my kids to play gigs all the way to Sunday night. They would sleep in the car while we drove back to Montréal, and they’d be back in school on Monday morning.

“It was rough back then, especially with all the dope going around. I had a hard time with that, I would see people who did some and I didn’t want my kids to have any part of that life,” she says. But all of them followed in her country-music footsteps: her daughter became a singer, and her son played drums in her band for fifteen years. “I told them that’s not how it has to be, that even though I was in the same business, I never touched drugs,” she says.

Despite it all, Daraîche has nothing but fond memories of her five-decade career. “My fondest memory? Paul and I at the first ADISQ gala, where we won the Best Country Album Award,” she says. “Now that’s a fond memory. A close second is singing in the first major venue in Gaspésie. It used to be my school when I was a child.” What about touring the U.S. in the ’70s? “Yes, with Marcel Martel and his wife, and our country dancers, the Grenier brothers. We’d travel all the way to Connecticut. Massachusetts was also a hotbed for country, it was incredible. When we sang “Un verre sur la table” (“A Glass on the Table”), everyone knew the lyrics…”

On the verge of beginning her own farewell tour, in 2018, the queen of Québec country says she’s serene and happy. “Very!” she says. “I’ve had husbands pass away, and today I have a friend who lives with me, an angel. I have my children, I even have great-grandchildren, and I see them often. I sing, I travel, I have a good life. I’m a happy woman.”