Thursday, April 03, 2008

The successes of Félix Leclerc vs. Feist

Things are starting to become a bit more clear in terms of why Feist's successes in France problematize her categorization as "Canadian," while the successes of Félix Leclerc in France do not problematize his status as a contributor to Quebec culture within Canada.

To recap a bit of what I wrote yesterday, there is a historic boundary in Quebec music. On one side are songwriters (and Michèle Ollivier calls these "rock artists" as well), and on the other are interpreters - Ollivier calls them artistes populaires (they primarily perform songs written by others).

I suggest that Feist's work in the French language can be placed in the second category, as she does not write her songs in French. She usually performs known works (like "La Javanaise" with Juliette Gréco or Gainsbourg's "Boomerang"), while her more recent song in French for the movie Paris, Je t'Aime was written by Elizabeth Anaïs and Christophe Montieux.

Here is what Ollivier says about Félix Leclerc's successes:
[His] success in France as a songwriter-interpreter in the 1950s contributed to the emergence both of a new style of popular music and of a strong nationalist movement in Quebec. (98)
Ollivier suggests that there is a high level of "prestige" associated with Leclerc and artists like him in the Quebec music scene. This "prestige" also corresponds to those artists that are considered "song writers." rather than those who were only trying for quick and temporary successes. (98, 103) Again, from Ollivier:
Félix Leclerc experienced a phenomenal success in France. His success abroad gave new legitimacy to local artists and paved the way for the development of a new genre of popular music artists, who became known as the chansonniers. (99)
One might wish to compare Feist to three Quebec singers that Ollivier mentions: Céline Dion (large success in the United States), Roch Voisine (large success in Europe), and Ginette Reno (large success in the rest of Canada). Feist is different that these artists in that she is completely outside of the Quebec music scene. Her French work does not find its origin in Quebec. Her origins might be placed in Nova Scotia (by birth), Calgary (early music formation), Toronto (as a base of operations and beginnings of success) and even Berlin or Paris ("origins" of her currently popular persona).

Quebec does not figure at all in the career of Feist. Therefore, when she aligns herself with French singers and chanson, this does not gain her any prestige with Quebec audiences, because she's not from there. Leclerc and these others were able to remain Québécois(e) because of the strong ties to that province; their global successes followed them back to their home to reinforce that original nationalist association (I cringe to use the term "nationalist"). Or at least that's what I think.

Feist is English-speaking and Canadian. Her alignment with France and French culture problematizes her status as Canadian. If she was from Quebec, or if she was French-Canadian, perhaps her successes and acceptance in France would imbue her with "prestige" back at home.

Source: Michèle Ollivier, "Snobs and Quétaines: Prestige and Boundaries in Popular Music in Quebec," Popular Music 25:1 (2006), 97-116.

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