Genticorum, a Traditional Group from Quebec, Plays Near Harrisburg, PA on Friday, March 30th

The trad Quebec group Genticorum was recently honored with two Canadian Folk Music Awards for “Ensemble of the Year” and “Trad Album of the Year”.  During the past 11 years they have become a fixture on the international world, trad, folk, and Celtic music circuits.

On, Friday, March 30 at 7:30 they will bring their high energy performance to the  Susquehanna Folk Music Society stage at Camp Hill United Methodist Church, 417 S. 22nd Street, Camp Hill. Opening for the group will be Matt Brown, an Appalachian fiddler who recently took part in an intensive residency aimed at comparing Appalachian and Quebecoise music. Brown will demonstrate some of the music that he learned during the residency. Additional information at www.sfmsfolk.org

Folk Mama recently caught up with the trio’s guitarist Yann Falquet to talk with him about Quebecoise music, the band’s beginnings and their new CD.

Folkmama: Can you give me a little background on the members of the band?

Falquet:  I’m the guitar playing and I’m the one in the band that had the least exposure to traditional music when I was growing up. When I was 18 or 19 some friends of mine exposed me to the music, the way they showed it to me really grabbed me. They played me the right recordings and took me to the right concerts so that I could really see the rich traditions being played by bands like La Bottine Souriante and La Volée d’Castors. I also started going to an Irish music session in Montreal. It was there that I met a great guitar player called Peter Sand who was backing up all those Celtic tunes with his guitar tuned to an open tuning which is called DADGAD. That tuning really got me excited because it was a whole new way of thinking about the guitar, plus I loved the music that went with it and let me add the people too!

Pascal (Pascal Gemme, the group’s fiddler) had a grandfather who played traditional fiddle so when he grew up he heard the fiddle and he also heard the traditional songs that his granddad used to sing. He studied classical violin when he was young but when he got older he took up the guitar and started playing blues and heavy metal through high school. It was just a little later that he picked up the fiddle and started playing with some friends of his who were starting a band of traditional music. He was really motivated to practice hard. Even though it was a little bit of a late start compared to other fiddlers who started very young he was very dedicated. He played hours and hours. It got to the point where he is one of the best fiddlers in Quebec.

And for Alex (Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand, the group’s Irish flute and bass player) he grew up going to arts focused schools even when he was very young so he always played some instruments. At some point he started playing the electric bass and he played in some garage bands and as I recall he played lots of Grateful Dead and then he moved on to funk But his story was that his dad was always a part of the revival of traditional Quebecoise music folk music which started in the 70s. In his late teens he went along with his dad to some big folk festivals in France and he started to have a big crush on that music. He started playing the Irish wooden flute, but he kept up with the bass and he plays that in the band too.

Folkmama: Can you tell us a little bit about what traditional music from Quebec sounds like?

Falquet:  Well it’s true that Quebecoise music has a lot of Irish influence. There are a lot of Irish communities around Quebec City and also Scottish immigrants who brought their fiddle tunes.  Our music is really at home in the Celtic world but our songs are really different. The songs that we do in traditional music always have that question and answer format. And that question and answer thing really gives the song a strong energy to have someone sing and then a choir repeating.

Folkmama: When I listen to the band I always hear a lot of pulsing in the singing. And the call and response format gives opportunities for a lot of great harmonies too.

Falquet:  Yes, absolutely, because there is always a choir built in to the songs. 100 years ago when people sat in their homes singing there was no set harmonies–just sing the best you can to match the lead singer. But it’s really fairly recently when people started performing together in groups that they realized the potential for harmonizing.

Folkmama: The quality of Genticorum‘s singing is really something that stands out to me. Your harmonies are just gorgeous; really dense and rich. I’m curious how you work up your arrangements.

Falquet: Pascal does the bulk of the work and especially for vocal arrangements he does everything. He comes up with the three parts and we might just tweak it lightly as we sing it together. We obviously sing the song a lot in rehearsal before we play them live and then even after we play them quite a bit they evolve before we record them.

Folkmama: So, tell me about your repertoire. Are they traditional tunes or original compositions?

Falquet: The majority of our repertoire is written by Pascal. This was something that we choose to do at the beginning of the band; it was one of the ways that we could distinguish ourselves from other bands. Instead of recoding a traditional tune that might be rerecorded the following year by another band, we decided to play our own compositions. And since then Pascal has really been the writing guy. Sometime when we find a traditional tune that we really like, and if it fits well with the band or is really unique, we do it. And occasionally too we use compositions by friends of ours.

Folkmama: Is the music in the traditional style?

Falquet: We try as much as we can to play it in the traditional style while also letting our personalities speak through the music. So we make no effort to preserve it and no effort to mix it with other elements. We just try to do what is most natural for us being huge fans of traditional music.

Folkmama: One thing I notice when I see all the bands from Quebec is that they all have such terrific stage presence, and Genticorum is no exception. They just really interact well with audiences and show a lot of energy. Why do you think that is?

Falquet: I think one of the main reasons for that is that our music has been largely associated with holidays—it was the music that was sang at parties and gatherings and the like. These people had hard lives and the way to cope with it was to have a big party and have fun and that has stuck with the music a lot. It might also be something in the personalities of the people in Quebec.  I think people here like to seem happy. Also to survive the cold winters you have to have lively parties, play music and dance and move. Also, the lively songs seem to translate best to non-French speaking audiences. For the very lively song you don’t really need to understand the words to be touched by the emotions. It’s easier to share the happy music with the rest of the world.

–Jess Hayden

To learn more about Genticorum, here are two good You Tubes to watch.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh_3t1694bk&feature=relmfu and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnjxIAmdhw8&feature=relmfu

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Premier Old-Time Fiddler Bruce Molsky & Monster Multi-Instrumentalist Sweden’s Ale Möller Perform March 23, Harrisburg, PA

Bruce Molsky stands today as the premier old-time fiddler in the world. He’ll join forces with Sweden’s Ale Möller, a multi-instrumentalist who’s a giant on the world music scene for a concert that compares American with Swedish folk traditions. See these two virtuosic musicians perform on Friday, March 23rd at 7:30 pm at the Fort Hunter Barn in Harrisburg, PA. More information on this Susquehanna Folk Music Society sponsored concert can be found at www.sfmsfolk.org

Folkmama catches up with Bruce Molsky by phone in the airport as he waits for his flight to Scotland’s Celtic Connections. Molsky talks about his past collaborations, his memories on first meeting Ale Möller and a bit about what it’s like to play together.

Folk Mama: I’ve followed your career for a long time and you’ve performed for us a number of times and one of the things that I think about you is that you’re incredibly versatile as a musician. You know in terms of who you play with, all the different instruments you’ve mastered and the different styles that you play. You’ve played for Susquehanna Folk as a solo musician and then you performed with Darol Anger and a few years ago for a magical concert with Ale Möller, and soon you’ll appear with Ale again. I’d like to hear a little more about the collaborations that you’ve done.

Molsky: I think the first time I was asked to collaborate outside the genre that I’m most associated with, (old-time music) was with Mick Maloney–you know the Irish- American expert. Maloney used to run these big shows every year in Philadelphia and Washington for St Patrick’s Day. He’d always have these amazing Irish American musicians and he always wanted to have me too! You know he knows so much about the music and there is such a strong link between Irish music and Scottish music and so much of the American stuff. At this experience is what really put the idea of doing collaborations in my head.

The first time I ever toured professionally as a collaboration was 1994. That was with a tour that really changed my life. It was with a group called Fiddles on Fire and it was in England and Scotland. That was my first introduction to all these other kind of fiddle styles because there were musicians from Sweden and South India, England, Scotland, Ireland and France. That was when I first met Alasdair Fraser, who was on the tour with Kevin Burke, Chris Wood and Ellika Frisell. And it was Alasdair who first started twisting my arm about becoming a professional musician because I was the only one on the tour that had a day job. And one thing led to another.

I played with fiddler Ellika Frisell and her Sudanese kora playing partner Solo Cisshako. The two of them have this really great cross cultural think going on. A few years later we got to take this trio to the Nordic Roots Festival in Minneapolis, a great festival run by Rob Simmons.  I’ve also done a lot of work with the Norwegian hardanger fiddler named Anndjørg Lien who is quite an innovative fiddler but was originally a traditional player. We did a CD together called “Waltz With Me”. And another musician who I have gotten a chance to do some touring with is Anon Egeland who is also a Norwegian hardanger fiddler player.

So that’s been some of my Norwegian connections. And then of course there is Mosaic and Fiddlers Four and here lately this collaboration with Ale Möller and Ale Bain. We’re going to do some touring together in Britain in the fall and the plan is to produce a live CD at the end of it. So, we’re feeling pretty serious.

Folkmama: I know that you do a lot of touring in the Scandinavian countries. Someone made an interesting comment to me about this one time. He said that in these countries they think of you as a “fiddling god”. I was curious why you think get such a strong response there.

Molsky: When I decided to make music my thing I promised myself that I would stay true to the music before anything else. When I close my eyes and play I definitely go somewhere. I want my audience to go there with me. As far as the audeinces over there are concerned—I do a lot of things technically and do a lot of things that are my own invention and it’s all about language for me. So if they are connecting with what I am doing they are relating to the message that transcends the music. There is nothing that makes me happier when I play a piece of music is to have someone enjoy it. You know culturally and personally I like so many of the people that I’ve met in the Scandinavian countries and I feel really comfortable there.

Folkmama: You’ve played for us before in several different configurations, but I think that Ale Möller is someone who is a little less known to us. I wonder if there are some things that you can tell us about him as a musician, and even as a person.

Molsky:  I should start by telling you that the very first time that I met Ale we were in a hotel room and we decided to play to a tune together and he said, “Play me American tune.” So I started showing him something and before the second time through the tune he had not only learned the melody but he had nailed the phrasing, the accent and the language of it. And it just blew me away because he has that kind of focus.

Ale is an interesting character because he’s lived in Sweden all his life, but one of his parents is Norwegian and the other one is Danish, so he grew up in all those musical traditions and he’s got those three Scandinavian countries in him. Plus he was trained in a conservatory as a jazz musician. One of the things that really powers him is that he is an educator. He really loves knowledge. Whenever I present him with a tune of any kind he absolutely has to take it apart and put it back together again. And he looks at all possibilities and he’s fearless about challenging the constraints that a lot of people put on style. Ale is really a rhythmic experimenter. He’s very careful when he steps outside of the line of traditionallity. He has some really great ideas about moving energy through a piece of music and building intensity.

Ale has deep respect for all these different traditions and yet he plays his own music his own way. He’s got a big band—the Ale Moller Big Band—which includes musicians from all over—there’s a Quebecoise guy in there, singers from Greece and Senegal—he’s got all these different people and it all kind of works. Another thing about Ale is that he’s done a lot of work in the theater and he has a really strong sense of presentation. He’s a monster—he gets it.

Folkmama: So when you collaborate with him, someone walking into your concert—what are the kinds of experiences that they are going to have?

Molsky: It’s like we are just two mature musicians up on stage just kinda having a conversation and wanting people to be part of that. We throw a lot of musical phrases and ideas back and forth to each other on stage and we have developed a repertoire together that we really like playing. And it’s joyful and it’s intimate. It’s not a formal kind of concert, it’s a party!

—Jess Hayden, March 2011