Quebec culture: Les Cowboys Fringants exist beyond their songs


Milan Kundera said of the small nation that it is the one that “can disappear and knows it”. Just because the small nation is fragile does not mean it is not capable of greatness. The small nation also has its own historic giants. It’s just that, at the time of their fall, these giants with feet of clay carry with them a universe that we must fight for if we want to keep it alive. Its roots are fragile.

With the loss of Karl Tremblay, it is this dizziness that Quebec faces.

Remarkable artists always embody more than their art. They become the expression, the essence of a town. For Quebecers, their legendary artists have largely contributed to giving them a sense of being “something like a great people.”

A length

This phenomenon occurred in waves. It was always part of a strong trend of national affirmation. The period of quiet revolution has no equivalent. By focusing on the song, he will have left us several artists including: Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Robert Charlebois, Harmonium, Diane Dufresne and many others. The 1990s gave us Dédé Fortin, Jean Leloup and Daniel Bélanger. They will have confirmed the promotion of Céline Dion and Ginette Reno.

As it is difficult to disentangle our cultural effervescence from our political dynamism, the 2000s were a hard blow. That’s why the Fringing Cowboys were so important. They revived the Quebec song, in an unfavorable context.

The group also embodied a cultural phenomenon beyond their musical work. It was the image of a Quebec that, because it could not exist politically, expressed itself through lyricism and small everyday gestures. For the generation of millennials, who have never known any other historical reality, this was the embodiment of their Quebec.

The fragile cultural ecosystem

Moving away from a naïve national lyricism, lucidity leads us to the observation that the small nation does not offer de facto a cultural ecosystem that often allows robust shoots to grow. The small nation has a duty to sow this ecosystem with a magical fertilizer that only politics can produce.

In this sense, collective enthusiasm is not enough. The union of institutional and social components is essential.

If the gloomy atmosphere of the 2000s still allowed the Cowboys Fringants to become the cultural phenomenon we know, it is also because this ecosystem existed. The worlds of radio, newspapers, television, record stores, festivals and concert halls formed a coherent whole that allowed Quebec artists to be promoted.

Twenty years later, it is difficult for us to observe this ecosystem. The record industry is gone. Traditional media are experiencing a major structural crisis. National television is in decline. The digital giants occupy all the space and have few limitations that force them to offer Francophone and Quebecois content. Their algorithms conform to Canadian standards, rather than Quebec standards.

It is not surprising that our next Karl Tremblays of the present struggle to impose a certain unanimity.

It has become urgent that the state of Quebec adopts an explicit, coherent and strong national policy. At the cultural level, we must assume de facto sovereignty. If we do not act, the light pollution from the Anglo-American searchlights will be such that there will be no more eyes to admire our shooting stars…

Léandre St-Laurent, author, social worker and master’s student in philosophy