(Mani-utenam) “I am a very slow person. If you open the Larousse dictionary to the word “slowly”, you will see my photo”, says Florent Vollant, with a smile as wide as the St. Lawrence estuary.
Noon is approaching, Florent Vollant has to cross the twenty meters that separate his studio from his house, where he is expected for dinner. “I didn’t expect to be doing an interview this morning at all,” he said, after a conversation that had started more than an hour before. He gets up quietly, leans on the walker he now needs to get around and, accompanied by his son Mathieu Mckenzie, he goes home.
He’s not the only one surprised. The interview was scheduled for the next day. Except that this April morning, like almost every day, it seems, the singer came to sit in the studio, at the end of a black sofa, right next to the console. To see what’s going on. To listen, above all. Introductions made, the conversation started naturally: questions, long answers. And laughter. Often.
Makusham Studio has been around for 25 years. Florent Vollant built it with the help of the guys from the Maten group, that is to say his son Mathieu and his friends Kim Fontaine and Samuel Pinette. “I was starting to bother at home,” he says. My wife used to say, ‘You drive the kids crazy, it goes around when you’re around and making music! Build yourself something or I don’t know what, but go away!” »
And he laughs. With that wide smile that lights up his face every time he laughs at himself.
Having his own studio allows him to create freely. “Quietly”, as he likes to say. A pace that has slowed further since his stroke suffered in April 2021. “I can no longer play as I want. Look,” he says, pointing to how much mobility his right hand and arm have diminished. What bothers him the most, however, is not being able to walk as before, he adds, feeling his right leg, supported by a discreet splint.
His accident even took away his taste for music. “A little bit,” he clarifies.
He is not alone in facing the challenges facing him. He can count on Kim Fontaine, who manipulates the console when he sits at the microphone, and on guitarist and composer André Lachance, with whom he has been playing for fifteen years, and who composed the 11 songs that will constitute his next disc, planned for the fall.
His friend not only invented melodies for him, he wrote texts in Innu-Aimun, a language deemed difficult, which he turned using Innu-French dictionaries. Florent Vollant only went back behind André Lachance’s texts, correcting lame turns of phrase, modifying them just to put them in the mouth better or because “it didn’t work musically”.
“We traveled together, I told him stories, and when he played it to me, he reminded me of it. He said, “You told me that.” It’s one of the great qualities of this guy, he knows how to listen, “he says again about André Lachance.
One of the songs, Nishim, on a reggae tune, is inspired by a sentence his brother said to him when they were taken to the Mani-utenam boarding school. “The first three or four days, I cried. I was 5 years old. I wondered where my mother was. Was she coming? And my father, where was he? I cried, I wanted my mother. My brother told me, ‘stop crying, she’s not here, she won’t come,’ he recalls. The song is about that. »
Florent Vollant recounts his years at boarding school in Ninamishken – I walk against the wind, his autobiography co-written by Justin Kingsley. He explains that he understood that he might avoid ill-treatment if he was a good student. He was. He didn’t come out unscathed though. He blamed himself for being docile, for becoming the “good Indian” that the school wanted him to be. He took a long time to forgive himself.
Decades later, Florent Vollant has only one ambition: to be the best storyteller of himself. In Innu-aimun. In more than 40 years of career, he has indeed recorded very little in a language other than his own. It was decided before Kashtin, around the time he accompanied Philippe McKenzie, also from Mani-utenam, who wrote Ekuan Pua, a song that has become an anthem among the Innu.
His choice was not considered. “The lyrics came in Innu naturally,” he says. It was only much later that he understood that singing in Innu had a resonance that went far beyond his desire to make people dance. That it was a way to carry his language and his identity and to inspire others to embrace this pride. “There’s a responsibility that comes with that,” he thinks today. You write a song and it becomes your legacy. It has to be a well-written song. »
Shauit, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and several other Innu artists say today that, for a long time, their link with Innu-aimun passed through the songs of Kashtin and Florent Vollant. These pieces will again act as cultural ambassadors during the next Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, in Gaspésie, where a choir of more than 250 Innu and Quebec children will sing in Innu-aimun, in a program where songs from his friend Richard Séguin.
“The fact of being sung by Gaspésiennes and Gaspésiens, I find that it is openness. And it’s a lot thanks to Alan Côté, who has integrated us into his gathering for a long time, says Florent Vollant. If others want to do it, I’m ready. »
Alan Côté transmitted this openness to his daughter, Mathilde. She is the one who constantly travels between Montreal, the Gaspé and the North Shore to have the children rehearse. She learned Innu-aimun herself, as much out of professionalism as out of friendship. The choir director will also act as a vocal trainer with Florent Vollant, who finds her voice “darker” than before. Mathilde Côté will help him find his light for the recording of his next album.
After his participation in the program highlighting the Great Solstice, the national Aboriginal holiday, this June 21, Florent Vollant will only tread two stages for the rest of the year: that of Petite-Vallée and that of the Innu Nikamu festival, in Mani-utenam. His son Mathieu dares to suggest that the album to be released next fall may be his last.
“It’s been the last for a long time,” laughs Florent Vollant. It’s always the last. I am never sure of anything. Me, people who are too sure of their business, that scares me a little. I’m suspicious, he said. I need to know what Kim [Fontaine] thinks about it, I need to know what Mathieu thinks about it. Me, I need to be well surrounded. He is and will still be in Petite-Vallée. Mathilde and the children will be there. His great friend Richard Séguin too.
In Quebec City, the Kwe! festival, which showcases Indigenous culture, will conclude in style with a major concert in the heart of the city. Starting at 2 p.m., Place d’Youville will come alive with the presence of dancers and throat singers. Then, until 11 p.m., artists from different nations, including Violent Ground and Maten, will follow one another on stage. The public will also be able to discover the adaptation in 11 Aboriginal languages of the song A musician among many others, by Serge Fiori.
Innu soprano Elisabeth St-Gelais, who recently won the prestigious Prix d’Europe, will give a free concert at the Musée d’art de Joliette at 2:45 p.m. This show is presented as part of the “Waskapitan, Let’s Celebrate Indigenous Peoples,” organized by the Center d’Amitié Indigenous de Lanaudière. The festivities will continue on Place Bourget, starting at 4 p.m., with various musical performances, including that of Laura Niquay, winner of the Félix for Indigenous artist of the year in 2022.
Daylights, songs, palavers and dances are planned at the Quai de l’horloge, in the Old Port of Montreal. This ceremony organized by Land InSights and First Peoples’ Presence will be led by elders from the Mohawk Nation while the sun is at its zenith. Innu singer Shauit will also perform.
At Arthur-Therrien Park, in the borough of Verdun, many activities await young and old. From 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., games, treasure hunts, traditional dances, craft exhibition, food and musical performances will be featured during this free event organized by Native Montreal. Guest artists include Moe Clark and Backwater Township.