July 20, 2011

Acadian Music at One Longfellow with Robert Sylvain

Juliana L’Heureux

Acadian music will mix with the sounds of traditional folk when performers Boreal Tordu and Round Mountain combine talents in concert at One Longfellow Square in Portland Aug. 6. 

Robert Sylvain, 42, of Portland, is a singer and songwriter with the Maine-based Acadian music group Boréal Tordu. He's been with the group for eight years and in the music industry with the group's fiddler, Steve Muise, for 20 years. He looks forward to bringing the history and the music of the French Acadians to a Portland audience.

Boreal Tordu performs "La musique originale des Acadiens du Maine" (the original music of Maine's Acadians).  "Our music combines the traditional Acadian music with foot-stomping Louisiana Cajun, Quebecois, Brittany and Scottish styles," he says.  Their music is distinctly different from the Canadian Maritimes, he says.

Their August performance in Sylvain's home town is special.  "I'm psyched about performing in Portland," says Sylvain. "Many Maine communities are familiar with our music. In Portland, we look forward to performing for the diverse French-speaking population, including those with Acadian, Franco-American, Quebecois and European French heritages," he says.

When performing Acadian style music, Sylvain says he's also connecting with his family's Franco-American and Acadian heritages. 

Sylvain's "memere" (grandmother) was Elisa Thibodeau, of French Acadian ancestry.  His "pepere" (grandfather) was Henri Sylvain, a Quebecois.  His father, Robert Sylvain Sr., grew up speaking French.  "I heard a lot of French spoken in my home when growing up," he says.  

Although his family was French, he didn't learn much about his heritage.  "Like many Franco families, we tended to downplay the French heritage," he says. 

All that changed when he joined fiddle and accordion player Muise.  They developed the Acadian and French-American repertoire Boreal Tordu performs in the group's recently released CD "Bonne Vie."  Now Sylvain connects with his heritage by performing Acadian music.

Bringing the Acadians' tragic history of deportation to the attention of audiences is one of the rewards Sylvain experiences performing with Boreal Tordu. 

Their music evokes two types of responses about the sad experience the Acadian endured during their expulsion from Nova Scotia around 1755.

They hear from people who share the story of the Acadians and are delighted to connect their own families with the experiences.  This familiar group relates to le Grand Derangement, the name for the brutal expulsion of the French Acadian farmers who settled in Acadia (now Nova Scotia), but were routed out by the British in1755, during the colonial wars.

The settlers were displaced, lost their properties and experienced a lifetime of separation from their families.  Portland, Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized their plight in his epic story of "Evangeline".  Although Longfellow's heroine Evangeline was fictional, her story represents all Acadians who continue to yearn for the families they lost during the expulsion.

Another common response is surprise. They're the listeners who are shocked to learn about the Acadian expulsion by hearing about it through the Boreal Tordu's music. 

"They wonder why they don't know anything about the bleak historic episode in the colonial era settlement of the French in North America?," he says.

On Aug. 6, Boreal Tordu will perform with the Sante Fe, N.M. folk group Round Mountain.  "Our joint performance will include tributes to Acadians as well as to the music from cultures throughout the world," says Sylvain.

Tickets to An Evening with Boreal Tordu and Round Mountain are available at One Longfellow Square office at 181 State St.  One Longfellow Square is located on the corner of State Street and Congress Street in Portland, adjacent to the arts district. 

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