Francophone Fun

Boisterous Quebecois trad band rolls into town with French songs, banjos and stomping feet

Les Polues á Colin
Les Polues á Colin

Born in Vermont, raised in French-speaking Quebec, Béatrix Méthé grew up bilingual.

But she's also what you might call bi-musical. Her mother was an American folk musician, her Quebecois father a French trad performer; their daughter writes songs in English and is also deeply steeped in French traditional music.

Méthé and the four other musicians in Les Poules à Colin will perform some of her English songs in Tucson this Friday night, but the heart of their act is la musique française—the Celtic tunes of Brittany, the Cajun rhythms of Louisiana and the francophone songs of Quebec.

"We are inspired by traditional francophone tunes the most," Méthé said by cell last week, shortly after the band landed in San Francisco to begin their first tour of the American West.

"A lot of the music is from Brittany, and we also play Cajun music, which is similar to what we sing in Quebec. It's fun to go back and forth, and trace the different roots" of the music. "Most of the songs are sung in French."

Méthé, a dynamo fiddler who's just 23, also sings for the band. Sarah Marchand, age 27, sings and plays piano; she brings with her the influence of a French Breton mother. Éléonore Pitre, 28, takes on both electronic and acoustic guitar.

Sister and brother Marie Savoie-Levac, 28, and Colin Savoie-Lavac, 25, were the children of a trad-music mom. Marie nowadays plays electric bass, while her little brother takes on mandolin, banjo and foot percussion, a skill, Méthé explains, that's "like Irish step dancing but done sitting down."

While Colin's feet are wildly stomping, he's singing and twanging on a musical instrument in his lap. This feet feat is said to come down from olden-day French fiddlers, lone musicians who made their living "stopping from house to house," Méthé says. Without a drummer to keep the beat, "they played percussion with their feet."

The five musicians mostly grew up Lanaudière, a Quebec region known for its trad music. They were friends as kids, and performed with family bands—Colin and Méthé played together in Dentdelion (Dandelion).

They were still practically kids when the formed Les Poules à Colin nine years ago in 2009. Now they travel internationally, and have produced three albums of music that gives a contemporary twist to trad. The most recent, Morose, was named pop album of the month by the German magazine Stereo.

The band's unusual name—it translates as Colin's Hens—dates back to their early years. With four girls and one boy named Colin in the group, they found it irresistible to adopt the title of "Les Poules à Colin," a silly Quebecois song about a man whose beloved chickens are stolen and cooked.

Their youthful delight in the name faded, but it was soon too late to change it.

"We kept the funny name," Méthé says with a laugh, "but it's a joke for about 100 people who understand."