Thursday at Festival d'été de Québec 2015: Musical Tourism

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Knowing that my Wednesday and Friday evenings in Quebec City would be spent seeing bands I’m already familiar with, I decided to dedicate Thursday to seeing foreign artists I’d be less likely to encounter back in the States. I thought I’d get a taste of Canadian and French culture (and I did), but I also was reminded that music is a melting pot.

It started with Grand Analog, a Canadian hip-hop group based out of Toronto that uses live instruments to blend jazz, reggae and R&B influences. I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Canadian hip hop doesn’t extend very far past Drake, and I’m really glad I got a chance to see frontman Odario Williams and his band do their thing. Their crowd was a diverse one, particularly in terms of age—because they played on the Hydro Quebec Stage, one of the festival’s free outdoor venues, there were many families with small children as well as some older people looking to catch some complimentary live music. Williams even singled out one man with an impressively long white beard by making the obvious Santa Claus comparison.

The thing is, though, when your sound is global, everyone can find something about it to like, and what wound up defining Grand Analog’s set for me was the amount of enthusiastic dancing coming from everyone in the crowd. It’s like they say in “Electric City”: “Music makes the world go round, we ain’t going nowhere.”

After Grand Analog’s set, I walked over to the Bell Stage for some more hip hop, this time of the French variety. I thought catching IAM’s headlining performance would give me a good sense of how the genre translates into their culture, particularly since the Marseille group has been at it since 1989. And as someone who doesn’t speak a word of French, I was curious to see whether or not I’d be able to pick out any meaning from their songs without understanding the lyrics. I found myself pulling context clues from their performance any chance I got—the lightsabers they wielded during one song seemed weird until the Star Wars theme was sampled later on in the track, and at one point a video playing behind them featuring images of Jay-Z, Hitler, lots of triangles and the Eye of Providence on the back of the American dollar prompted me to ask myself “Am I watching a song about the Illuminati right now?” (Some quick Googling confirmed that IAM member Akhenaton has a track called “Illuminachill.”)

But once again, the main takeaway from the set was that music is universal. IAM are a French group that uses a genre of American origin to address political and religious issues that affect people across the globe. Their stage names are all Egyptian, and they rap frequently about Africa. Asian themes creep into their sound, and Islamic ideology and iconography are huge components of their lyrics and image. I didn’t understand a word they said on Thursday night, and yet, I feel like I have an understanding of them, because music transcends language and culture. And that, as they say in Quebec, is tre bien.

Stay tuned for our continued coverage of Festival d’été de Québec.