Quebec Studies

Quebec Song: Strategies in the Cultural Marketplace

Quebec Studies (2001), 31, (1), 50–60.


50 Quebec Song: Strategies in the Cultural Marketplace By Christopher M. Jones Carnegie Mellon University Thirty-five years after the simultaneous resurgence of Quebec nationalism and popular song during the Quiet Revolution, the soundscape in Quebec has changed substantially. The explicitly nationalist tendency of the earlier boîte à chanson era has not been continued by the generations of the eighties and the nineties. Stylistic influences are, if anything, more splintered and diverse than they were for Robert Charlebois on his return from California in 1967. The focused strategies for state support of the music industry have sustained a certain vitality within Quebec borders, but do not seem to have had an echo in terms of presence in external markets. To get a sense of the status of the Quebec music industry at the turn of the century, this paper will look at how Quebec recordings are perceived and presented by Quebec and international retailers, then analyze five recent recordings1 in an attempt to isolate patterns of production, distribution, and influence. The advent of state interventionist policies in cultural domains in Quebec followed soon after the increase in state roles in education, health, finance, and industry that defined the Quiet Revolution of the sixties. The first rush of musical energy had needed no encouragement. The emergence of Quebec political nationalism and the Golden Age of Quebec song were chronologically simultaneous (from the late fifties through the Quiet Revolution until the first Non referendum vote in 1980). During that period, Bruno Roy's assertion that "la chanson québécoise est une manifestation populaire de la conscience collective" (9) did not appear to be hyperbole. The parameters of subsequent musical evolution were present in the profiles of Leclerc, Vigneault, and Charlebois who capped this period together at the Superfrancofête in 1974. Félix Leclerc was the authentic Québécois—with acoustic guitar, boots, and flannel shirts on stage at the Olympia in Paris—seemingly just emerged from the woods, representing the origin myth, an unspoiled New World Man. Gules Vigneault symbolized a confident, expressive nationalism, embodied in Brel-like recitatives replete with québécois landscapes and village narratives. Robert Charlebois was the assimilator, integrating California psychedelia and soul music, beginning the imaginative synthesis of North-American styles which would lead ultimately to Luc Plamondon's unseemly boast: "On est comme dix ans en avance sur eux [les Français] pour l'américanisation du français" ("Pour une chanson" no. 6). The yé-yé contribution of pop derived from Anglo-American models, while irrelevant to the nationalist bent of the recordings issuing from the celebrated boîtes à chanson, augmented the presence of popular francophone music in Quebec. In the mid-seventies the market share in Quebec for francophone music peaked at 25%. When that share slid back to 10% at the end of the decade, Quebec intervened to prop up the industry, beginning with the PADISQ (Programme d'aide à l'industrie du disque et du spectacle de variétés) program in 1983. In 1985 the federal program MusicAction began contributing additional subsidies. These subsidies were critical to the survival of Quebec song. Danielle Tremblay's affirmation is only slightly exaggerated: "Aucun disque québécois majeur de la dernière Québec Studies, Volume 31, Spring/Summer 2001

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Author details

Jones, Christopher