Spotlight on indigenous music: Kashtin!!

A new series! …that ironically starts with a revised version of an old post. An old post focusing on an incredible band that has had a lasting impact on many.

Florent Vollant and Claude McKenzie are singers, songwriters and composers from the Innu First Nation. They met in the 1980s in Mani-utenam, located in Québec’s Nothern Coast region, and together they formed the folk band Kashtin (tornado).

When they were young, the two were both inspired by Philippe Mackenzie, an Innu singer who sang in his native language. Florent, Philippe, and other companions founded the Innu Nikamu music festival, which became the biggest indigenous music festival in Québec. Vollant was quoted saying that this experience fueled his desire to collaborate with other artists. He met Claude MacKenzie again, they got along great, and Kashtin came to be.

They started putting on shows and through word-of-mouth, they were offered more and more opportunities. One evening, they were playing in Wendake (close to Québec city) while some journalists and technicans from Radio-Canada happened to be there filming. Kashtin received immediate and perhaps overwhelming attention. After some hesitation, Vollant and MacKenzie accepted to make an album.

Their first release (Kashtin, 1989) was a big success. I was very young at the time, but I remember the songs playing constantly on the radio. I loved those songs, I found the soft folk melodies beautiful and was very intrigued by the title of the first single I heard, La chanson du diable (The Devil Song). I also remember seeing a news report showing kids in Mani-utenam wearing a headband just like Florent Vollant.

As a child, all I knew about indigenous communities was what I was taught at school. I was taught how the French who came to this country in the 1600s and the 1700s used to trade various things with the indigenous communities who were living here, things that were useful like furs to keep warm during the winter season. They also taught us that many objects we appreciated like canoes and snowshoes were created by indigenous peoples. They told us a little bit about their societies in those times, but nothing about their current lives.

I certainly had no no idea back then of the deep and intricate links between our peoples that lasted for centuries before the distance grew. I had no idea of how many indigenous communities there were, how rich each of their culture was, and what issues they were dealing with.

I was thus far from realizing the many things we still share in spite of the distance that had grown, things that are part of all of us who live here, like the landscapes, the smell of coniferous trees, the loon’s cry and how it resonates in the ears and the heart.

As a child, I was unaware. I was singing Tipatshimun in Innu-aimun. Kashtin’s music was for me a vibrant first contact with a culture, felt through music and images, not just through academic content, which can be a bit bland (I have nothing against with academic contents of course, but let’s say music adds other dimensions – cultures are colourful dynamic and soulful universes).

Kashtin’s storytelling, harmonies, catchy melodies and guitar riffs still sound great thirty years later. Now that I’ve listened to these songs again, I can’t get them out of my head.

I’m sure Kashtin was an inspiration to folk artists everywhere in Québec, and probably beyond.

The videos below are not the high resolution type… But surely you guys can appreciate the nice retro feel of old beta/vhs tapes?  Here are the original 80’s videos for the songs “Tshinanu” (Notre peuple/Our People), “Tipatshimun” (La chanson du diable/The Devil’s Song), and “E uassiuan” (Mon enfance/My Childhood).