From the U.S. to the U.K., from Canada to Australia, fans at folk festivals around the world have discovered Genticorum.
Leaders of a new generation of Quebec traditional music groups, the three members of Genticorum bring an irrepressible joie de vivre to the hallmarks of the Quebec repertoire: non-stop dance rhythms, hearty call-and-response singing, traditional-style foot percussion, and playing so intense and impassioned it leaves audiences in a frenzy. The band also performs original compositions so true to tradition that it’s difficult to tell the difference between the old and the new.
The huge sound emanating from this trio features intricate fiddle and flute melodies, backed by guitar and electric bass, and rich, resonant vocals that blend in stirring three-part harmonies – and a humorous stage show that ties the music and the audience together.
In the decade since their debut, Genticorum has been nominated for both Juno and Felix Awards, earned two Canadian Folk Music Awards for Ensemble of the Year and Traditional Album of the Year, showcased at WOMEX and played the biggest music festivals in more than 15 countries – among them, Celtic Connections in Scotland, the National Folk Festival in Australia, Festival de Louisiane in the U.S., the Winnipeg Folk Festival and Celtic Colours in Canada, and the Cambridge and Sidmouth festivals in England. They’ve also performed for Radio-Canada, The British Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and earned five stars from Britain’s The Independent.
The band was founded by musicians with diverse and formidable musical educations and an unparalleled passion for their musical heritage.
Both Pascal Gemme and Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand were literally raised on traditional music. Alex grew up in the midst of living room jam sessions hosted by his father, traditional musician and Quebec culture promoter Gilles Garand. Pascal spent his childhood summers in Huntington, Quebec, where his grandfather was the village fiddler.
Both, however, took circuitous routes back to their first love. Pascal took up guitar in high school, played in rock bands and experimented with jazz and improvisation. He then studied three years of jazz arranging and classical guitar in CEGEP, Quebec’s community college-style senior high school system. It was at CEGEP that he began hearing traditional music again and rediscovering his love for it. He went on to do just one term of music studies at university before quitting to devote himself full-time to the traditional repertoire. For well over a decade now, he has collected traditional Quebecois songs, with a focus on the obscure and unusual. His curiosity and sense of humour help explain the many unique items in Genticorum’s repertoire, such as “Pinson et Cendrouille” – a song about a wedding catered by birds and mice, until a cat stops by for a feast of its own.
Alex, meanwhile, played clarinet in his high school band but ultimately became enamored with the electric bass. He earned a degree in music at the University of Quebec at Montreal and played in a number of Latin-jazz and funk ensembles early in his career. His interest in traditional music was reignited around 1992, when his father took on musical direction of a new traditional music festival called Le Grande Rencontre. As his passion for the music grew, so too did his interest in the wooden flute, and he has spent more than ten years now developing a wooden flute style for Quebec traditional music.
Yann Falquet grew up playing guitar in rock bands and earned a degree in jazz guitar at Concordia University, where he was first introduced to traditional music. As his studies progressed, his enthusiasm for jazz waned, and he began frequenting Irish, Scottish and Quebecois music sessions around Montreal. Studies with a local guitarist followed, and, by the time Falquet was finished university, he had abandoned jazz altogether in favour of traditional music. He has since played with countless Canadian traditional artists, including Maria Dunn and Boulerice and Demers, and he earned a Juno Award for his work on the McDade’s album Bloom.
Pascal recalls thinking Yann was the best traditional guitarist in Montreal, and was surprised to find a musician of his calibre without a band to play with. Looking to form his own trio, he invited Yann to play with him, and the two then asked Alex to be their third band-mate.
All stellar musicians with high-level musical education and plenty of knowledge of the traditional repertoire, it took no time at all for the trio to gel. Named “Genticorum” after a nonsense lyric from a song Pascal’s grandfather used to sing, they played their debut show November 20, 2000 at Montreal’s l’Escogriffe.
Their debut album, Le Galarneau, released in 2002, introduced the band’s distinct blend of traditional and original repertoire and its unique balance of traditional and modern instrumentation. Almost immediately, the ensemble began touring into the United States and showcasing in Australia, setting the stage for biennial returns to the southern continent.
Genticorum’s international profile really kicked into high gear with the 2005 release of Le Galarneau’s follow-up, Malins Plaisirs, and with a subsequent showcase at WOMEX. The moment they left the stage at the Newcastle event, festivals from around the world lined up to book them, including Tonder in Denmark and the aforementioned Celtic Connections. Malins Plaisirs was nominated for both the Juno and the Felix (Canada’s and Quebec’s equivalents of the Grammy) and earned the group a Canadian Folk Music Award for Ensemble of the Year.
The band’s profile has continued to grow ever since the 2008 release of their third album, La Bibournoise, which earned the Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year and was called “One of the year’s most unusual and beautiful collections of folk music” by the New York Post. Following its release, the ensemble did another tour of Australia; played a series of high profile U.K. festivals; appeared at Norway’s prestigious Forde Festival; and made its debut in France at the Festival Beau Monde du Quebec.
Genticorum’s latest release, Nagez Rameurs, is a thematic album about voyages, featuring a number of voyageur-themed tracks. It seems an appropriate focus for a band that travels the world as one of the leading ambassadors of Quebec traditional music. With their unstoppable energy and crowd-pleasing live shows, who knows where they’ll go next?