Archive for the ‘The Interviews’ Category
So, imagine you’re a twenty-something son of immigrants living in Montreal’s English-speaking and federalist bastion of DDO, a prolific hiphop artist who drops online EPs and mixtapes with a frequency that can’t be healthy, and who’s first full-length English-language album had both the Hour and the Mirror, Montreal’s English-language alt-weeklies, hyping you as one of the best upcoming local MC’s, able to combine « standard braggadocio with some intelligent introspection ».
What’s your next move?
Why, a double French-language LP and a single titled FLQ in which you give shout outs to Québec sovereigntists René Lévesque and Pierre Falardeau and spit: « Yes, I’m Québécois. No, I don’t know Canada. », of course…
Karma Atchykah drops a bomb.
You’re throwing around a lot of very charged imagery on your first single: the FLQ, giving props to René Lévesque and Pierre Falardeau. Coming from an immigrant… from the West Island… who is known for rapping in English… that confuses a lot of people who aren’t sure what you mean. Why don’t you tell me what you want to say with that song.
With that song I’m just trying to rally as much people as I can. To be in Montreal, to be a Quebecer, to me, means a whole lot more, especially in 2010, you know? I was born in the 80’s, grew up in the 90’s, I’ve been in Montreal for 28 years of my life. It really got diverse and I felt there was a need that we redefine what it means to be a Quebecer for these times. And I feel that FLQ was about Quebecer pride, but at the same time had shock value. That was the effect.
What was the reaction from Anglos, from your friends who know you from the Anglo scene?
[Laughs] The Anglos, I would have to say, focus much more on the vibe of the song, on the beat itself, the more the technical, musical stuff. And they definitely feel it’s a cool song. I don’t have any people who are… against the song, in that sort of way. Like, an Anglo station maybe might feel the FLQ reference was not something to joke about or this and that, but I really don’t have that kind of feedback going about. People definitely see that the song has that type of energy. Maybe it’s due to the fact I do music in both languages. Even though people have prejudice towards French music and say they don’t listen to French music, they’ll listen to my music and say « I don’t generally listen to French music, but I like your stuff. »
What about the other side? I was reading the comments on YouTube, and some people had retarded opinions and wrote stuff like: « It’s cool that one of our guests is representing Québec », as if you weren’t really Québécois. Do you get some of that?
I get a bit of « he’s not really Quebecer » and this and that. But what am I? I was born here, I’ve lived and worked here all my life. No matter how deeply involved I am with my origins, doesn’t change that my birthplace is still here. This is what I wanted to do with the song. It’s cool to be catchy, this and that, but you also want to have a discussion such as this. And it sparked that discussion. If you want to go down to the basics it’s really quite simple: no one is really at home here, no matter how many centuries you’ve been here, you know. I guess technically the natives are the only ones who can really claim that they were here before everybody, but even then, it’s what you do with your life that’s going to matter at the end of the day.
You have to admit, the Québécois are always a little bit insecure. A few of prominent artists have complained in the past that it’s badly seen in the Québec cultural community not to be a nationalist. Is this just your way of making friends in the industry?
I felt the need to demonstrate Québec pride for several reasons. One reason actually being the fact that this is my first French album, so I really wanted to make a strong point. I’ve always had the problem of people not necessarily knowing where I’m from. Especially the English music followers thought maybe… Ontario, or people maybe thought I’m form some part of the States and a lot of people would not know that I’m from Québec and Montreal. To me it felt right. A lot of the calculation was about what needs to be represented to make a distinct sense of this guy is from here, he’s repping here and he’s not trying to be from somewhere else. That might just be in the case of Québec, that you have to show Québec love if you want them to sense that, oh yeah, this guy’s from here.
But now you know that because you’ve rapped: « Oui, j’suis Québécois. Non, j’connais pas le Canada » [Yes, I’m Québécois. No, I don’t know Canada.], you can’t accept Canada Day gigs anymore.
If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll tell you Québec first. And that’s not a lie, not a front I’m putting up. When I was kid growing up, René Lévesque and people like that were still fresh in people’s minds and the sense of nationalism was very strong. The sense of Québec outside of Canada was very strong in my mind. As a kid growing up I wasn’t actually understanding that Québec was actually part of Canada. People talked about Québec so strongly I thought, Ok, this might be a country. I’ve always had a sense of me being part of Québec, even though I only knew Montreal. Would I refuse Canada Day? Well I guess it would be a little bit weird for me to do it, but it also depends when in my life I get to it. And I’ll still rep Québec before I rep Canada, regardless. I’m not gonna be doing Canada Day this year, that’s for damn sure, though!
You’re about 10 years younger than me. I went to a very multiethnic school in NDG where white Québec-born kids like me were a very small minority. I feel, maybe in Montreal, there’s a new generation who define identity differently. It’s not the federalist dream of a fully bilingual, bicultural Canadian nation or the old school Québécois image that some nationalists would like us to be. There is a feeling of else coming together. Do you feel that?
Definitely so. I could definitely say that for Montreal, for sure. In the rest of Québec it might be a little less diverse… and even that’s becoming more mixed.
Yeah, Québec City…
Québec City is definitely there too, but there are smaller towns, towns that are way more francophone, that are getting more diverse. Whatever it is, let it be. Whether it stays more homogeneous or it gets more diverse, I don’t really care, That’s just the natural course of things. I think it’s a cool thing, but there’s got to be an openness. There’s just got to be an openess.
How do you feel the majority in Québec is reacting to minorities? To the Immigration generation, let’s call it that? I wrote recently on how what you see on Québec TV looks nothing like what you see on the Metro. There’s something wrong, don’t you think?
I feel… it comes from both sides. If you’re the person that feels misrepresented, you still have to step it up a notch. If you want something to change, you’re better off trying to change it yourself. Perfect yourself. Be in their face, to the extent that they can’t really deny you at that point, you know what I mean? Is it fair, is it not? That’s a different question right there. But you have to do your part in order to have people notice you.
From my very first video, the 3-in-1, I got a response quicker than I expected, but on the other hand, I had made a conscious effort of making sure this thing made me proud and represented the people and got the diversity of me and my sound out there. That type of move is an example of how you get that diversity out up front.
Lots of political talk on my blog, so do you have any thought about politics you want to share? Sovereignty, independence, do you have anything to say about that? Does it matter anymore?
I don’t even know anymore if it matters. I think Québec as a culture, in Canada, is and alway will be something distinct, and you see it in the entertainment business. That’s my personal point of view, and I might be biased. I know people in Ontario might have a different perspective, but Canadian identity is a little harder to distinguish than Quebecer identity from the American and other influences. This is something Quebecers, in the present moment, have to be proud about. And keep that pride alive.
The question of an independent country really has to do with economics. If you don’t have a strong leader, to convince people about things, I don’t think Québec will ever be ready. I think one of the strongest ones was René Lévesque, ’cause he could even get an immigrant to feel concerned. I think if René Lévesque was still alive he would be convincing more people now. But who’s in the movement right now? You have to keep in mind some of the people who sort of wrecked things, like Parizeau being a sore loser… There’s some major faux-pas that were done. I’m not against it, but I’m not particularly for it, in the situation that we’re in today.
Special Black History Month edition AngryBoys and Girls. It’s the story of Michel Adrien and Ulrick Chérubin, two buddies from the town of Jacmel in Haiti who both ended up as mayors of Mont-Laurier and Amos, two lumberjack towns of Québec’s North West.
The story of both men starts in the late 60 and early seventies when a whole generation of scholars, professionals and intellectuals was chased out of Papa Doc Duvalier’s Haiti. Quite a few of these men and women came to Québec where they found a surprisingly familiar society that spoke French and shared their catholic faith. Québec was also a society that, unlike Haiti, was now moving on after the long reign of it’s own tyrant, Maurice Duplessis.
Michel Adrien came to Québec in 1969 and took a job teaching high school physics for a year in Mont-Laurier, a small city of some 13 000 souls in the Laurentians. Québec’s Quiet Revolution had lead to massive education reforms and there were many jobs jobs for all those who were willing to do a tour of duty in the woods.
He remembers the Mont-Laurier of the late 60’s as an effervescent regional hub. Black people were rare, but not unheard of as many came to work in the many government agencies in town.
“What was funny was the reaction of parents when we has PTA meetings. The students, for the first few weeks had a natural curiosity that lead them to ask questions, but once they got their answers, I’m the teacher. That’s it. Often they would forget to even mention it to their parents who would freeze when they first saw me. But I’m talking about the first few years, here. Young people have a wonderful ability to adapt.”
Adrien made friends and signed up for a second year. Then a few more. He met a girl. Classic. He founded the city’s astronomy club, the bike club and was eventually elected union representative, first at his school, later at the regional level. “You have to remember the era was one of major union militancy in Québec. That position had some kind of power.”
Michel Adrien’s childhood friend, Ulrick Chérubin, came to Canada a few years later, to a New Brunswick seminary where he studied to become a priest. The seminary closed and he moved to another seminary, in Trois-Rivières. There he met a woman that asked him he had ever thought of being a father instead of a priest. “I told her I had never considered it”, he lied.
After leaving the Church, which was a very fashionable thing to do in those years in Québec, Chérubin recycled his theology credentials into a teaching career. Like his friend, he headed north, to the small city of Amos in Abitibi. Amos is almost exactly the same size as Mont-Laurier and is also dependent on the forestry industry.
Chérubin’s political career started after retirement, following a dream in which his deceased mother reprimanded him for watching to much TV. In 2002 he was elected mayor with an ultra-thin majority of only 50 votes. A year later his childhood friend Adrien was elected mayor of Mont-Laurier.
In 2005 Ulrick Chérubin was re-elected, his time with a record-breaking 84% of the votes.
Québec’s Haitian community is usually associated with the urban neighbourhoods of North East Montreal, but there is actually a surprisingly long history of Haitians not only living , but becoming political leaders in Québec’s and French-Canada’s remote communities.
The first black mayor in Canadian history was Dr. Firmin Monestime, an Haitian who was elected in the little bilingual logging community of Mattawa in Northern Ontario in 1964, only one year after Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. The first black mayor in Québec was René Coicou, another Haitian who in 1973 was elected in Gagnon, an ultra-remote mining town half way between Montréal and Irkutsk that was shut down and evacuated in 1985. Another Haitian political figure is the Parti québécois’ Jean Alfred, the first black member of Québec’s National Assembly, elected in the Outaouais ridding of Papineau in 1976.
Could being one of the few visible minorities in an area where people from a different postal code are foreigners actually be an advantage in the highly public profession of politics?
“I don’t think so”, says the mayor of Amos. After some years, people don’t see my colour. They see Ulrick, a guy who’s active in the community. I forget I’m black.”
“I would say it can be an advantage”, the mayor of Mont-Laurier disagrees. “People go through three phases. First, I’m the Black guy. Then I’m Monsieur Adrien. Then I’m Michel.” That said, Montrealers might find it odd to find a black mayor in Mont-Laurier, but his constituents got over his skin colour a long time ago, he swears. “When I’m in a public forum, talking about Mont-Laurier, no one finds it caricatural or unusual.”
Would Monsieur Adrien or Monsieur Chérubin consider provincial or federal politics? “If I was seven or eight years younger”, muses Chérubin. “I have more affinities with the PQ. What happened to me is that in my riding we have François Gendron [of the Parti Québécois] who’s been there since 1976. So I don’t think I’ll have a shot at that seat as long as he’s there.”
The 1970’s were a time of tremendous political and social upheaval in Québec and there were plenty of opportunities for adventurous immigrants like Michel Adrien and Ulrick Chérubin, especially since, at that time, the Haitian community had yet to set deep roots in Montréal, or anywhere else. But times have changed. The forest industry is in crisis. There are few jobs in Amos and Mont-Laurier, today. For immigrants or anybody else.
“We used to have a very cosmopolitan society”, reminisces Michel Adrien. We even had an Afghan in Mont-Laurier. But they’re gone. Of my group that came in 1969, I am one of the few who stayed.” He talks of recent statistics that suggest that Mont-Laurier is one of the Canadian cities of over 10 000 people with the fewest immigrants in Canada. “Certainly the fewest immigrants of any city where the mayor is an immigrant!”
Special treat today, kids. The best dressed man in showbiz, Pointe-Claire’s own Paul Cargnello talks about dodging bottles at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Show, making money with Bouchard-Taylor and more strangeness in the life of the Québec music scene’s token Anglo.
Where are from, what’s your story? 487-… That’s an NDG number, isn’t it?
I’m in NDG now and I grew up in NDG but when I was in High School my parents moved out to the West Island, which was a nightmare. We were in Pointe-Claire. It was really really Anglo and it served my sort of enclosed culture very well, which was already happening anyway.
I moved downtown with my wife when I was 18. She’s totally bilingual but I had always been neglectful of it because of my high school years in the West Island. I realized I was a fucking idiot and I had to learn it quickly!
You didn’t know French when you moved downtown?
I learned it in school because you had to, but I really didn’t take it seriously.
What made you interested?
It’s not so much interest as it was question of necessity and respect. I started feeling guilty about how neglectful I was about a place we are sharing, you know?
You’d be surprised. In Anglophone culture in Québec there’s a lot of fear that we’re going to lose our culture and that we’re going to be swallowed by francophone culture. We’re very unique compared to Canadians. We share so much that it seemed stupid to me to hold any of that up. I was really taken aback at how immature I was in my high school years.
I just discovered you recently with your Une Rose Noire single. I looked you up on the Internet and I was quite surprised to see that you already had quite a few albums. In those albums you can see a progression from all English with a few French songs to nearly all French songs. How did that happen? What’s the story there?
The more I spoke French, the more I started to write in French. I write constantly, and slowly but surely I would start dreaming in French and writing in French.
I’m not going to say it was a political decision… but it would be hypocritical for me to say that because I truly believe that everything is politically motivated, whether you are aware of it or not. My interviews were being done in French, my performances were to Francophone audiences, my fan base had become at majority Francophone, and I though that it was time I give something back to that fan base that had been very loyal.
It was a political decision in the sense that it’s a message being sent to Anglophone artists that maybe more of us should be doing this. The majority of Anglophones and Francophones that I know in Montreal are able to switch. Fine. If we can compose in French, why not try? Why not give a humongous portion of who lives here something to chew on?
Ok, but if Rose Noire hadn’t had the success it had, would you still be recording a second consecutive French album?
Believe me I didn’t do this for any financial reason because I never assumed in my life that commercial radio would ever play me. My messages are somewhat subversive. Even Rose Noire is not a happy song. It’s about alienation and at the same time I’m referencing the black rose, which is really sort of an anarchist reference. So it’s very strange to me that it became such a mainstream hit.
I want to be able to do whatever the hell I want and not be “An Anglo that sings in French”. I’m an Anglo that CAN sing in French.
I was going to say. You were at the Francofolie this summer and you were at la Fête Nationale and we know how hard they work to show how inclusive they are at la Fête Nationale. Do you worry about being the token Anglo?
The new Jim Corcoran?
That’s litterally what people call me, the new Jim Corcoran. I am constantly worried about being the token Anglo. I was worried this was all because of Bouchard-Taylor… and I’m sure that it is. But why not take advantage of it regardless? I realize that the Saint-Jean organizers were really taking a chance. The organizers were really afraid for a while.
Yeah! There was a fear that there would’ve been bottles thrown… Because of the fact that I’m not openly separatist.
I’m a socialist. If a sovereign Québec means a sovereign socialist state, I’m a sovereigntist. But if Canada suddenly becomes a federation of socialized health care and banks, I’m going for Canada. I vote in terms of politics. I don’t vote in terms of patriotism or flags. Pride to me is something that is achieved, not something that’s inherited.
Artists in Québec are often considered spokespersons for the Québec “people”, with a few exceptions like Jean Leloup, or Xavier Caféïne, who don’t want to be labelled Québec nationalists…
An neither did Robert Charlebois. He’s openly federalist. The funny thing about this whole thing is I think we DO reflect a little bit of what Québec is. I think I reflect what my generation of Anglophones AND Francophones better that the generation that came before us. The old guard of Liberals and Parti québécois types are nightmares because they hold these opinions that range from insulting to absolutely disgusting about each other, about each others cultures and about Canada versus Québec.
There is a certain type of Angryphone that I see on my blog that are absolutely convinced that Francophones are angry, racist ultra-Catholics… This old antiquated idea of Québec. You didn’t see Francophones that way?
Definetly not. With Anglophones I find there is still a lingering, American, black and white racism. With Francophones I’ve noticed a different tendency of racism. It’s linguistically-based. People are like, “I don’t mind the Vietnamese coming here, but I don’t like it when they don’t learn French”. There’s a difference in the targets of who they pick as the racist butt of the joke. I’ve met a lot of Francophones, it tends to be outside of Montreal and mostly an older generation, that tend to have a strange thing towards Jews. There’s a lot more anti-semitisim that I have encountered in the Francophone world than in the Anglophone world.
I have a Jewish friend from Vancouver and his family in Côte-Saint-Luc didn’t believe him when he said he had a Québécois friend, a Francophone friend. They’ve lived in Montreal all their lives and they have no real relationship with any Francophones.
That’s weird! I don’t know what it is because I’m cross-pollinating constantly, OK? So it very difficult for me to hone in on, because I have so many Jewish friends, so many mixes. My keyboardist is Haïtian and he’s got his own hangups about the Francophone thing, because his francophonie comes from somewhere else. It’s hard sometimes to figure out exactly who hates who…
If I can give you the opportunity not to be the nice token Anglo who likes everything and everybody: What pisses you off about Québec?
Oh Christ… I guess it’s the egoism in our industry, especially in our arts. Rockstars in Québec seem ridiculous to me. We have our own ‘système de vedettes‘ (star system) that’s so evolved that we litterally think… huh… Eric Lapointe is a ROCK STAR. And he’s not. He’s nobody. He’s a fucking speck on the music industry.
Our sense of self-importance is really hightened. Did you ever watch TV, things like L’Avocat du Diable? They’ll be talking about the environment and say things like: “How does the environement affect les Québécois?” Not talking about us as people. Talking about les Québécois. We definitely think about ourselves first. That’s a little bit annoying.
I noticed you said “Nous les Québécois“. You’re comfortable saying that? Without qualifying it in any way?
[Hesitates] Yes. I don’t typically define myself as Québécois, but if you we’re going to ask me my identities politically, or nationally, I would say: Montrealer, Québécois, Canadien. In that order. Québec and Canada are really close, and they’re a distant second and third. I’m Montrealer, that’s what I’m proud to say… let me retract that: I’m comfortable saying that. Saying Quebecer… I have a bit of a harder time because I constantly feel alienated. And then, you know, saying Canadian is like saying citizen of the Universe. I have nothing to do with Canada, but I know that my passport says Canada.
Did you listen to French music growing up? Did Jean Leloup make it to Pointe-Claire?
Oh Christ yeah! I mean Jean Leloup is without a doubt one of the biggest influences on me. And not just musically. Intellectually. Jean Leloup is a wacko, but he’s a smart fucking guy too, and his lyrics are fucking cool, and he avoids politics a lot of times but there is an element of darkness in his stuff. That’s the cross-over act, right? He managed to touch us as much as he touched Francophones.
The other thing is, when I grew up, my mother was very good friends with Gus Coriandoli from Me, Mom and Morgentaler. He influenced me a lot too. They sang in Spanish and French and English. So what they had an accent? Everybody loved them and they were able to connect with as many people as possible at all times and it was just such a beautiful thing to see.
When are you going to do another English album?
Part of the reason that I’m putting together a French album now is because when I was doing Brûler le Jour, I was writing so much in French that many songs didn’t make it. I had a lot of New Orleans-themed stuff. I’m going to New Orleans every summer and I’m coming back with a lot of music from another place where Francophone culture exists. It’s been trampled under for years and years and years, but it’s still there.
It’s an interesting place and there are some links… because there is such a fusion of culture down there and there’s such a fusion of cultures here. Over there you can see the example of what happens if you don’t protect the language. Over here is the example of what happens when you do. It’s a language going very strong.
Last March a Polk County judge in Iowa ruled that the State government was violating it’s own laws by providing websites and voter registration forms in a variety of languages, including Spanish and Vietnamese. Iowa, you see, made English it’s sole official language in 2002. It is one of 30 states that have enacted some form of legislation making English their official language.
At the federal level the United States do not have an official language. English is de facto the language of administration, but there is no official language act that says has to be that way. Legislation to that effect has been introduced many times in the Congress, as recently as 2006, but as of yet none has successfully survived the Washington legislative process.
A the frontline of the Official English movement is the US English organization founded in 1983.
The current president of US English is Mauro E. Mujica, a naturalized US citizen born in Chile who speaks fluent English, Spanish and French.
He kindly accepted to answer a few AngryFrenchQuestions:
1.Can you tell me how someone with your background, Spanish-speaking, born outside the United States, came to the conclusion that the US needed to make the English language official?
When I came as an immigrant to an English speaking country, I knew that I had to learn the language of the country I was going to in order to be successful. In fact, when I first came here, I assumed that English was already the official language of the United States.
In addition to my experience as an immigrant, I also discovered the importance of a common language during my career as an architect. Many of the projects I worked on involved projects overseas – projects I would be unable to get if I didn’t speak the language of that country, or if we did not have a common language through which to conduct business.
To build a nation, all you need are people. But to build a civically united society, you need the common bond of language.
2.Considering that English is the uncontested global language and that 95% of the children of immigrants to the US are considered fluent, isn’t pro-English legislation just overkill?
The societal expectation is that immigrants to the United States will learn English and become Americans. The discussion of the second generation ignores the fact that a growing number of immigrants are unable to speak English themselves, and that a rather significant gap exists between societal expectation and reality. Census data reveals that for some immigrant groups, less than half of the immigrants living in the United States are considered proficient in the language that will enable them to get better jobs, earn higher incomes and help their children advance to higher education.
The intended audience of promoting English acquisition is the immigrant his/herself, much like the intended audience for message promoting smoking cessation is the smoker him/herself.
Furthermore, when we are talking about fluency in English, a characteristic that the Urban Institute called “the most effective anti-poverty tool for working families” in the United States, 95 percent English acquisition is not an acceptable figure among the second generation. There are some startling facts about English fluency that run counter to the notion of English acquisition. According to the U.S. Census, there were more than two million native born Americans, age five and older, who spoke little or no English. That’s two million people born in this country, presumably raised and educated in this country, who speak English at the lowest levels of proficiency.
Finally, 95 percent is simply not a good enough figure to sit back and rest. We should be no more proud of a 95 percent English acquisition rate for the children of immigrants, than we would be about a 95 percent graduation rate or a statistic showing that 95 percent of the children of drug abusers don’t abuse drugs. In any of those cases, there is still a significant portion of the population that will be unable to reach its highest potential, and will be more likely to require government services.
3.I’m sure you have studied official language models worldwide. What countries, according to you, have the best approaches?
I have long been impressed by the Israeli adoption of Hebrew as the official language of the country, and the steps the nation takes to ensure that new residents are able to read, write and converse in this language.
4.How do you feel about Québec’s language legislation? How about the Canadian government’s bilingual approach?
As a citizen of the United States, I don’t have an opinion on the Canadian government language policy as it pertains to Canada. The linguistic and ethnic composition of Canada is unique and quite different from that of the United States.
On an academic level, however, I feel that understanding language policy in Canada offers lessons in how and how not to formulate a language policy here in the U.S. The experience in Canada offers examples of how language differences can result in social discord, increased expenditures, and pit one side against the other in an us vs. them mentality. I believe the Canadian policy shows several potential pitfalls the United States may endure should it opt to go officially or quasi-officially multilingual.
5.Québec’s language legislation went beyond the government and imposed some obligations to private businesses such as the language of commercial signs, the right to work in French and the right to be served in French. Would such measures be necessary in the US? Would they be possible?
The official English legislation proposed in U.S. Congress would not affect the rights of private businesses or business owners. Our legislation is exclusively focused on the language of government and government documents. Official English legislation has never been about preserving the language or the proper use of the language. Instead it is rooted upon the belief that English, however accented or pronounced, is the unifying factor in this diverse nation.
6. US English has been accused to be a polite and clean facade for anti-Mexican and anti-immigration sentiment. How do you feel about those accusations?
It is unfortunate that some individuals choose to stymie debate on the official language issue by mischaracterizing its supporters. In reality, many supporters of official English are immigrants or children of immigrants. In polls, first- and second-generation Americans demonstrate the same level of support for official English as do Americans of the third-generation and beyond. Furthermore, labeling the more than 80 percent of the nation that supports English as “xenophobic” is an extremely pessimistic view of the United States population.
At some point in the mid-eighties something odd happened. Half the kids around the world suddenly decided they wanted to be black. For some still mysterious reason, young people of every ethnic origin and language recognized themselves in the sounds and colors that were at that very specific time coming out of New York City. The Bronx, to be more specific. The South Bronx to be exact.
Somehow out of the concrete, poverty and crack violence that plagued that place and time an uncontrollable epidemic of art and sound sprang out. At twice the speed of Rock and Roll, massive murals of graffiti covered the walls of cities worldwide and the sounds of a culture called Hip Hop infiltrated every record collection.
Hip Hop became a worldwide culture, but a culture that could only express itself in the reality of one’s environment and personal struggle. To be Hip Hop was to be Real and to Represent.
Hip Hop legend KRS-One is now in his third decade of representing the South Bronx around the world. The one who calls himself the Teacha was in Montreal on March 9th and spoke to the AngryFrenchGuy from a hotel room in New Jersey a couple of days later.
I’m thinking of when you said « I manifest as a black man, but I’m universal. » When I was young that made a lot of sense to me. Today, how do you balance being an African American and just a human?
To tell you the truth I’m more Hip Hop than African American. I think that’s where the balance comes from, that there really is no balance.
African American, I don’t know what that is, really. I can’t put my hand on that. I know what it is politically, I know what it is spiritually, but I don’t know what it is in reality. How does it affect my life? Where’s the African American constitution? What is the collective African American goal? What is our set of ethics? Who are our heroes? I don’t see that in the African American community. I don’t even know if you can call it a community for that matter. What is our collective interest as African Americans? What do we all want? I don’t see any of that jumpin’ off. But I can answer thee questions when it comes to Hip Hop.
I find the way you define Nation interesting. Where I come from, Nation is a very charged word. Is Québec a Nation? How do you define the Hip Hop Nation?
A nation is a glorified community. A nation is any group of people who say they are a nation and can sustain their nationality.
When you speak of the Hip Hop group in world History… project your mind to 2200. We’re all gone. 2200 is looking back on a specific period of time when this movement was created and flourished. Now Hip Hop may not exist in 2200, but everything we’re doing today will. Hip Hop may not be practiced anymore, but everything we’re doing right now: the rhymes, the DVDs, Cds, the live performances, the scandals, the newsworthy stuff… All of that will be in existence in 2200.
Our offspring is gonna be looking back on our activity today for their heritage. This begins the mechanics of our civilization.
If you’re a Philosopher, this is the greatest time in human history. This is the age where new cultures are born. New civilizations come into play. This is nothing to do with nationalistic thought, or militarism leading to some sort of terrorism, far from that. This has to do with the need of the people. Worldwide people are crying out to be relieved from having to communicate through race, through ethnicity, through class, through gender, through their job, through their degree… I respect these things no doubt! But those who have this blood or this awareness of Hip Hop they can transcend their race or their class and achieve great things in this other community.
Is that how you explain the international appeal of Hip Hop? That it travels all over the world because people recognize something central in it?
The only thing I would say for the sake of scholarship is that Hip Hop met in America. Met in the Bronx. Hip Hop didn’t really start in the Bronx. Hip Hop has always been in the world at different times. It just becomes more concentrated at certain places.
Hip Hop met in the Bronx in tough time for the black community in the end of the 70’s and 80’s. How do you feel minorities are doing right now, either blacks, Latinos, Asians or new minorities?
We didn’t know that we were living badly ’till we got money. To say that was a low period in African American life, to answer your question I would say no! I don’t think the African American experience has changed from slavery to now. And I don’t mean to say that slavery is the backdrop of all African American History.
As a matter of fact, before the Louisiana purchase the Seminole tribe ruled Florida. The Seminole tribe was made up of runaway American slaves and Native Americans. Napoleon had French-African soldiers and government. Florida, Mississippi, what is now New-Orleans and Louisiana, that whole region was ruled by French blacks. African blacks. There was a lot of black government in the early days. The idea of blacks being slaves like the idea of Roots is a conspiracy to make all black people think that a small population of them represents the whole of them.
And it’s even happening today, it’s the way they do Hip Hop. You look on TV and you see a small population of us representing the whole of us. So you would think that all Hip Hop is what you see on TV, but only those who truly study know that there was a KRS, a Public Enemy, there was a RUN-DMC.
I see the same thing when I look at French History in North America. The story is so much more diverse than the one we are told which gets simplified terribly to: Europeans came, killed Indians, fought against each other and the English won…
That’s crazy. Imagine, that never happened. Not that it’s inaccurate. It never happened! Imagine a story being told to you!
Who does it benefit?
It benefits the order. It benefits social order. Here’s where I contradict myself, because when you’re building society, you kind of need these stories. You know: cowboys killed Indians. You don’t teach that native Indians and many cowboys even became family together and intermarried. There was more of that going on than the shooting and the murder.
No History is the truth. None. We are creating History. History is art. We have some bad artists, and we have some very good artists. And then we have the people and they have their own agenda. And some people take art as truth, and pattern their whole lives by it. It might work for some, but it defines the lives of so many more.
African Americans are all over the United States. If there was a concentration like there is for French-speakers in Canada. If there was a region, or a State, where 80-90% of the population was African American. Would you be in favor, for the sake of true political power, of an independent African American state in North America?
Because we could use the term African American more clearly. To suggest that I am African American yet I do not own Africa or America. If we had a black nation within North America that would be dope. I think that would be great! But we would still have to act humanely. We would still have to trade with whites and Hispanics and Asians and Africans. We still have to get in the world and act accordingly. And I could run America. I could run a White Nation too!
We, as French-Canadians, don’t necessarily have a color, we have a language. Is there a way for French-Canadian artists who produce in French to find their way to listeners in the US? Not necessarily in the mainstream, but somewhere.
Start loving your own artists. That’s what started Hip Hop in the beginning. We respected each other we held up each other. Look at my record South Bronx, that was a regional record. Why does the world sign that record? It’s a regional song! I did it for one little block! I was in a scrawny little battle and now that became what it was. Why? Because it was true to it’s time. It was true to it’s neighborhood. It was true to it’s people. What we need is a song, a Quebec! South Quebec! South! South Quebec! Or something!
The first record of a black man in Québec City was Mathieu Da Costa who traveled with the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain as early as 1604 or 1607.
For a city that sometimes seems to be all about history, Québec City sometimes has a short memory. Just ask Aly N’Diaye a.k.a. Webster, who 400 years after Da Costa often feels like a stranger at home just because he’s black.
“This is where I’m from. My world is here. All the sons of immigrants are gone, to Montreal, Toronto or the States. We are first generation to say: fuck that! You’re not chasing us out! If we go it’s always the same pattern starting all over again.”
Webster is the son of a white mother and an Senegalese father. He studied History at Québec’s Laval university and with his cool lazy flow he is now passing down his knowledge to the kids of Québec City’s surprisingly vibrant hip hop scene. Everything in Québec City, it seems, is about History.
In his song Québec History X from his first solo album Sagesse Immobile (Still Wisdom) Webster raps about Da Costa, who spoke a variety of European and native languages and was employed as Champlain’s interpreter, and other forgotten blacks from Québec’s past, like the 10 000 slaves of New France. “There were blacks in New France. Slaves, but also free men. If that history was better known blacks in Québec would feel a whole lot more integrated.”.
The truth is Québec City has had many different faces over the years, from an Iroquoian village called Stadacona, the capital of New-France, an often very English city after the British conquest of 1763, a diverse and bustling port town and, after business and ship traffic moved upstream to Montreal, the sleepy and homogeneous French-speaking provincial capital of today.
Or should we say yesterday… Once again the city is being transformed by the arrival of new immigrants from Haïti, the Middle East and Africa.
Webster’s native Limoilou district is where Jacques Cartier spent the winter in 1535-36 and his day job is at the Parc National Cartier-Brébeuf commemorating the explorer’s encounter with local native populations. Today it’s a diverse neighborhood that he and his friends call L.Land. “In a bigger City like Montreal people tend to regroup culturally. In Québec City there it’s more mixed. In Limoilou, people of all races live together.”
Unlike in Montreal, language is actually not much of an issue in La Capitale Nationale. “When you arrive somewhere, you have to learn the language. In Québec City, to function, you need to learn French. That’s it.” Webster himself used to rap in English – his name comes from the English dictionary he used to carry around – but he switched to French in 1995. “The identity of Québec Hip Hop was starting to take shape at that time and I wanted to be part of it.”
In 2008 Québec City is celebrating the 400th anniversary of it’s foundation by Champlain. The event commemorates, depending on who you ask, the birth of Canada as a country, or Québec as a nation.
A true historian, Webster doesn’t want to take sides, on that issue or the eternal debate on Québec’s independence from Canada.
“I think the issue of independence is becoming obsolete. If it had to be done, it should’ve been done in the 1980’s. A country that wants it’s independence gets up and takes it. That’s all. If it happens, though, I will be happy from the historical point-of-vue. To see that live, from the inside. To live history. I’d love to see that.”
The conservative-nationalist wave of the Action Démocratique du Québec that swept the greater Québec City area and profoundly destabilized the Québec political map in the last few years has not yet reached the Far West of the province.
In Abitibi-Est it’s still about blues and reds, Liberals and Péquiste, Federalists and Separatists. The 25 year old Parti québécois MNA who beat Natural Resources Minister Pierre Corbeil in the last election doesn’t worry about Mario Dumont, but expects the good ol’ Liberal Party of Québec to fight back hard when the province goes back to the polls.
“I beat a cabinet minister. The establishment here in my city is very Liberal and they still have that defeat stuck in their throats. They never thought the kid could beat them. Especially not the Indian kid!”
Alexis Wawanoloath is an Abénaki-Québécois, son of an Huron-Abenaki mother and a white father. Although he recognizes that a native who is militant about Québec’s independence is a rarity, he insist that the supposed fierce hostility of Natives towards the project of Québec independence is greatly exaggerated.
“The majority of natives are not sovereignists but they see the link between the struggle of the Québécois for the survival of their language and culture and their own struggle.”
I got into contact with Alexis trough Facebook where his hundreds of friends, whites and natives, congratulate him in French and English about his new job and a new baby. He called me up from Brossard on the south shore of Montreal where he was attending his party’s caucus. He has a casual way of talking filled with youthful expressions like “full gros motivé” that had me struggling against the urge to use the informal “tu” with a member of the National Assembly.
His mere presence at the caucus is a step forward for natives, he says. He doesn’t even have to say a word and his colleagues will tend to think of First Nations when drafting positions and policy. He also says that even though most natives are not indépendantistes he now receives phone calls from First Nations across Québec who see him as their representative at the National Assembly.
Alexis is not the first native politician to take sides with the Québec Independence camp. There are others, including Bernard Cleary who was a Bloc Québécois MP in the Federal parliament from 2004 to 2006.
“Historically there has always been business relations between Francophones and Natives. The French traveled around the continent in smaller groups than the English so they had to have alliances and relationships with the natives. When people say the native population was exterminated by the French…”, Alexis sighs deeply… “That’s a bit strong. The “Law on Indians”, the orphanages, the reservations, those are all Federal institutions. They were instruments of assimilation. When I think of genocide, of cultural genocide, I think of federal orphanages.”
“It is always under PQ governments that the native cause went forward. Think of René Lévesque’s recognition of Natives as Nations in 1985 or the Paix des Braves signed by Bernard Landry. Sure, many of these deals, like those reached with the Cree Nation of northern Québec, had an economic ulterior motive, but I would like these achievements extended to all First Nations.”
Before running for office Alexis was president of the Aboriginal Youth Council of the National Association of Friendship Centres, a pan-Canadian native association. When he first decided to run for office as a sovereignist he says many of his colleagues from the rest of Canada were skeptical or disappointed. Now that he’s been elected, their attitude has changed. “Now they’re proud. Now many of them want to go into active politics in their provinces and they’re asking for my help.”
Click here to hear Alexis Wawanoloath talk about his dual identity. In French.
More AngryFrenchGuy exclusive interviews: