Chuck & Albert
Canadian duo Chuck & Albert have a new album titled Energie that gives new life to ancient French-Acadian songs. This material comes from Prince Edward Island, the smallest of the Canadian provinces. Even though most Acadians were expelled by the British, some French settlers stayed in the area. Their songs were passed from generation to generation.
On Energie, Chuck Arsenault & Albert Arsenault have assembled a set of songs and fiddle tunes using guitar, fiddle, harmonica, vocals and the traditional percussion used by the Acadians, such as spoons and foot tapping. “For an Acadian, the sound of foot accompaniment is something so tribal and basic that it really can’t be separated from the melody,” Albert laughs. “When you tap your feet to accompany a song, the melody really fuses with the rhythm and encourages the interpretation of the song. It lifts the song to a place that’s hard to describe. It’s almost like going into a time machine.”
Chuck & Albert searched thousands of jokes, stories, tunes, and songs collected by local celebrity, folklorist, and historian Georges Arsenault in the 1970s. “Everyone on the Island knows him. Georges is a walking encyclopedia,” exclaims Albert. “We went with him to Québec once, and it took ten hours to get there. He had endless stories and details about all the people in the communities we passed, all the way over there and all the way back.”
Chuck & Albert first became familiar with Georges’ work in Acadian folklore as members of the Acadian musical group Barachois. They urged the library that houses the collection to get cracking on a long-overdue digitization project. What resulted were 2000 MP3s, everything that Arsenault had taped while talking with community elders at their kitchen tables or retirement homes during the 1970s. “The songs don’t do anything just sitting in the archives of a library,” Albert notes. “They’re a way to connect with the way our ancestors thought, talked, and interacted with each other. We wanted to give people a way to get plugged into that.”
“Of 2000 MP3s, 1200 were songs or bits of songs. Some songs had four or five versions,” Chuck explains. “Our island is just a three-hour drive from tip to tip, but in different pockets of Acadian communities, you find the same song but maybe with a different melody part or refrain, or a variation in some of the verses, and we could use various bits and pieces. As was the tradition, the songs in Georges’ collection were sung using the feet for rhythm but otherwise unaccompanied. We’re the first to add chords and harmonies to the eight traditional songs chosen for this album.”
Chuck Arsenault & Albert Arsenault have recorded a vital and down to earth recreation of the ancient music the Acadians of Prince Edward Island.