If you’re worried that you won’t have a good time at Festival du Bois, the Lower Mainland’s spring celebration of francophone culture, spending time with headliner Yves Lambert will set your mind at ease—and set it spinning, too.
A conversation with the bearish and animated founder of pioneering Quebec roots band La Bottine Souriante leaps wildly between fractured English, hyperspeed French, and la belle province’s incomprehensible-to-Anglos slang, joual. It’s punctuated by profanity, snatches of song, and laughter. Lots of laughter. At 63, the acclaimed accordion player and singer is having the time of his life.
“My challenge in all of my career is to explain my vision—not only my sensorial vision, but also my sensibility vision,” he says in a telephone interview from his Montreal home. “And now, after 42 years of the fucking work, the project is clear for me. I have experience now, and my relationship with my body, it’s incredible now.
“Now,” he adds, “it’s only fun time.”
Lambert is still giddy from spending a couple of weeks in Louisiana, touring arts centres and music festivals with Cajun star Steve Riley’s International Accordion Kings. He’s hatching plans for an album with Texas-based bajo sexto virtuoso Max Baca, best-known for his work with conjunto innovator Flaco Jiménez, and contemplating starting a new band with electric guitar, electric bass, and lots of percussion.
“More bass drum!” he shouts, before springing ahead to hint at an upcoming theatrical production based loosely on the theme of “sacrifice or desire”, as initially explored on his remarkable 2018 album, Tentation.
If Lambert’s early work was about saving Quebec’s musical heritage from a media landslide of deracinated pop, his current approach has to do with opening himself, and his culture, to all kinds of possibilities.
“To just preserve the tradition? For me, that’s okay now, because a lot of ethnologists, a lot of folklorists, like Alan Lomax in the United States, have done that for 40 years,” he says. “For me, I don’t have the feeling now. For me, the first thing in the morning is to communicate with the people—with my culture, and with my spirit. That’s more important. Music is a tool, and culture is a tool, but the most important thing is to communicate the spirit of the life. You know what I mean? It’s important to understand that. And I know the spirit of the jazz, I know the spirit of the klezmer. I know the spirits of many, many kinds of music; I’m a no-formation musician, and I feel open, you know.”
That’s evident in his current trio; although fiddler Tommy Gauthier and guitarist Olivier Rondeau are half Lambert’s age, they share his exploratory spirit and ability to create a vivid sense of joie de vivre.
“Oh, yeah,” their leader says. “That’s my first challenge, on-stage—to make sure the people are happy.”
The Yves Lambert Trio plays Festival du Bois at Coquitlam’s Mackin Park on Saturday and Sunday (March 7 and 8).