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With four women and one Colin, it seems pretty clear why Quebéc-quintet Les Poules à Colin settled on their name: “Colin’s hens.”
But like the young band’s music, their name has layers, more enchanting and nuanced than one might believe possible from a group of college-aged musicians.
“La Poule à Colin” is a well-known chanson folklorique Québécoises, a traditional folksong from Quebéc, about a hen that gets lost in a neighboring yard and, in a very biblical way, manages to become a meal that feeds an entire parish. The priest of the parish is so enraptured by the meal that he forgets to say mass to the town’s people who so desperately “need” to hear it.
Les Poules à Colin seem to share that chicken’s magical ability to feed and beguile the masses, their songs hearty fare for the ravenous musical explorer. Their modern interpretations of traditional Québécois songs incorporate hints of Celtic composition and flourishes of contemporary jazz, glued together with impossibly smooth harmonies, almost exclusively sung in French.
For Les Poules, singing in French is an act of preservation.
“Where we’re from in Quebec there’s still a lot of tension between the English language and French,” says lead singer and violinist Béatrix Méthé. “We’re encouraged from a young age to play music and sing in French and preserve that part of our culture that some are afraid is going to die.”
Often driven along by Colin’s clogging feat — a galloping rhythm known as podorythmie that’s a common feature in Québécois folk music — Les Poules puts a signature touch on the irresistibly whimsical and sometimes noir storylines of many beloved Québécois songs.
The five musicians grew up together on the folk scene in Quebéc, honing their craft at house parties with some of Quebéc’s finest folk musicians — which included their parents. Long before the five were even born, their parents played in bands together. There was a special kind of musical chemistry built into their DNA, says Méthé. After nine years and three full-length albums, the group has traveled through North America, Europe and Australia.
“People seem to be very open and interested in a culture that is, I guess, foreign for them,” Méthé says. “When we tour, we are considered in the world music category and people don’t seem to care at all about the language. But our music isn’t exclusively focused on lyrics.”
It’s true: there’s no need to speak French to find yourself spellbound by Les Poules’ songs, but the beauty of the music begs you to investigate the yarn Méthé weaves with her velveteen vocals.
The band’s newest release, Morose, explores the dark corners of folk music.
“We’ve been in the traditional world of Québécois music since we were really young,” Méthé says. “If you take the time to listen to a lot of these songs they are really dark: people being too drunk to take care of their kids, jealousy, strange dark subjects that are forgotten because they are played in an upbeat tempo and they are really fun. We thought it would be interesting to dig up some of these old songs, embrace that darkness.”
Les Poules à Colin play at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18.