Weave together a four piece brass ensemble, a piano and an upright bass with a traditional Québécois folk band and you have the unique and powerful sound which will open this year’s Empire Life Kingston Jazz Festival.
In association with Festival de la Francophonie La Bottine Souriante offers one of the most original sounds to grace the Grand Theatre stage during Jazz Fest, with a fusion of traditional French folk music, salsa, jazz and its own salute to Québec, June 14 in the Regina Rosen Auditorium.
“In English La Bottine Souriante means the smiling shoe,” explains Benoit Bourque, who plays accordion and bones for the legendary ensemble. “There is a lot of foot tapping in our music, to accompany the instruments, so it gives a regular rhythm; this is very typical of Quebec traditional music. The smiling boot shows the music is a happy music for dancing. Also if you look at a really old shoe, sometimes it opens to show the nails in the sole and looks like it is smiling,” he adds. “This also shows this is music that has been played by the poor people.”
Often compared to a kitchen dance party on stage, the Juno Award and Félix Award winning group has toured extensively across North America and Europe since forming in 1976. It was in 1990 that La Bottine Souriante started to grab the attention of music lovers worldwide when, in order to add an element of jazz to their music, an experiment became their trademark sound.
“When the band started it was 4 or 5 guys playing traditional instruments guitar, fiddle, accordion, harmonica,” says Bourque. “We had started to integrate piano and upright bass 25 years ago, then the piano player brought in the jazz progression of the chords. The pianist was a big fan of Latino music and was also a trumpet player so as a special project he wanted to experiment with a brass section. The reaction from the audience was really good!”
As La Bottine Souriante began to be viewed as World Music rather than simply Folk, they received a lot more recognition. With such an original trademark sound, it wasn’t long before La Bottine became a Québec icon, but Bourque says it’s not easy blending all their instruments together and layering jazz ornamentation over folk music, without compromising the traditional sound. “The music we play is the music to share, the music of parties mostly, the music that draw s people to move, to dance, to participate,” he says. “Our music is very contagious.”