Quebec’s MAZ aims to build cultural bridges

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      At the end of an interview that’s heavy on topics like cultural bridge-building and the endless benefits of travelling, MAZ multi-instrumentalist Marc Maziade suddenly lets out a huge laugh and exclaims: “I don’t know, man—I don’t know what you’re going to write.”

      He does, however, have a request.

      “One thing that I would really appreciate would be if you can put a little word in for each of the band’s members,” the outgoing Quebec musician says, on the line from Montreal. “I’m still fathering, in some kind of way, this project, but it’s not a child anymore. It’s an adolescent that’s left home. Every band member brings in great insight to the process.”

      Maziade is enthusiastic enough about life that it would be wrong to disappoint him, so here’s a big shout-out to his insanely talented bandmates in MAZ: fiddler Pierre-Olivier Dufresne, keyboardist Roxane Beaulieu, and bassist Mathieu Royer.

      Together, the four musicians are on an ambitious mission, namely to blend authentic Quebec roots music with classic rock, progressive jazz, and vintage electronica. That’s another way of saying that the band’s two playful and wickedly accomplished albums to date—Télescope and 2013’s Chasse-Galerie—will leave you wondering who’s a bigger influence: Pink Floyd, Air, John Zorn, or Le Rêve du Diable.

      “The core is to try and start from French-Canadian traditional music,” Maziade says. “But there’s this big question about blending or melding in my mind—I didn’t want to force things together quickly and go, ‘Here you go! French-Canadian music with an Arabic twist!’ What I wanted to do was reflect on our French-Canadian traditional music heritage, but reflect on it from a universal perspective. So the idea was to meld French-Canadian music, which implies spending time with its rituals and cultures and history, and then melding it with what we have inside­—things like rock and jazz and electronic music, which stretch out to a universal identity.”

      If that blending of different influences has a spinoff effect, it’s to make a regional musical tradition accessible to those outside of Quebec’s borders. And that’s important to Maziade as a proud Quebecer.

      The idea of building bridges to new cultures is important to Maziade because of his upbringing. The son of a French-Canadian mother and a father born to Syrian immigrants, he remembers growing up not knowing much about his lineage.

      “There were some French-Canadian rituals on my mother’s side, but they sort of skipped a generation,” he says. “So there was a curiosity about my mother’s French-Canadian culture, and also my father’s French-Canadian–Syrian point of view, which didn’t exist. So I believe that I started reflecting on ‘What is my identity? Where can I find it in a national spectrum—national as in French-Canadian nation—and then explore that while trying to build bridges?’ ”

      And bringing folks together, he stresses once again, is the big goal of MAZ, and something that’s interested him ever since he started playing music.

      That and, one imagines, making sure he gives journalists plenty of material to work with, something he does one last time in the interview. “I had a group of friends when I was younger with the same values as me,” he says in closing. “We were into French-Canadian hippie songs—I don’t know how else to put that. We were fascinated by French-Canadian identity and with the ’70s. We’d build shows, and that started to become the core of how I think. I don’t feel like I’m a flag-bearer. I feel that I’m exploring my identity.”

      MAZ plays the Festival du Bois in Mackin Park, Coquitlam, on Saturday and Sunday (March 5 and 6).