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French B


French B - Je M'en Souviens - 12

Je M'en Souviens - 12" EP
Sumo - 1990


Michael Panontin
At first listen, one might be forgiven for thinking of French B's 'Je m'en souviens' as some sort of benign dance track. But when the Montreal duo of Richard Gauthier and Jean-Robert Bisaillon teamed up to form French B (which was actually a truncated French Bastards) their intention was something much more subversive in nature.

The two Quebec nationalists first got together in the late eighties, a time when things in la belle province were not quite so belle. Montreal's downtown core looked decrepit, with many of its once-teeming streets plastered with signs reading a louer. What's more, the sovereigntist movement had been dealt a series of blows, starting with that rather crushing defeat in the 1980 referendum and followed by the loss of their fiery leader, Rene Levesque, in 1985. And just to add a bit of insult to that injury, the Parti Quebecois was trounced at the polls by the Liberals that same year.

Gauthier and Bisallon must have felt some need to shore things up politically. Taking a page right out of Paul Hardcastle's '19', the pair grabbed a few hot-button references, like "Bill 101" (the law that made French the official language there), "Je me souviens" (the official motto) and, of course, Charles de Gaul's incendiary "Vive le Quebec libre", which he (in)famously uttered to thunderous applause from the balcony of Montreal's City Hall in the summer of 1967, and spliced them onto some springy electro-house rhythms.

Though not nearly as interesting as Hardcastle's template, 'Je m'en souviens' was a call to arms at a time when French-speaking Quebeckers were probably starting to doubt the wisdom of their sovereigntist leaders. Regardless of which side you took in that never-ending battle, the song's basic message of respect for French heritage and culture must have resonated throughout the province. And while the two proudly reference Quebec cultural icons Robert Lepage, Claude Gauvreau and Michel Tremblay, their best moment comes towards the end of the track, when they cleverly slip in the line, "Do you remember when we were French?", interestingly the only one spoken in English.
         



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