A French-Canadian soul sound at Shakori Hills

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 03:17 PM

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Chic Gamine’s press materials tout the group’s “’60s girl group vibe,” but don’t expect a replica of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” when you hear this vocal ensemble. Their music comes from different influences, notably their French-Canadian ancestry, and the “girl group vibe” is perhaps another way of saying this is music that makes you feel good.
The girl group sound is “the most obvious comparison,” but Chic Gamine is not trying to duplicate that sound, said Annick Bremault, one of the founders of the group. “All of us are influenced by pop and rock and blues, and R and B and soul music,” she said.
Bremault, Ariane Jean and Andrina Turenne grew up in Saint Boniface, a French-Canadian neighborhood in Winnipeg. The group recruited drummer Sacha Daoud from Montreal, and later met vocalist Alexa Dirks, also from Winnipeg. Chic Gamine will perform Sunday at Shakori Hills Festival of Music and Dance.
Bremault, Jean and Turenne grew up immersed in music. Bremault’s father is a music producer, and she remembers growing up around the recording process, watching her father help artists perfect their performances. “Some of our parents played music together,” she added.
They grew up with “a strong French-Canadian identity,” and heard the music of French culture from Quebec radio. “What we listened to was a huge mix of stuff,” Bremault said, who cites Stevie Wonder, Etta Jones and music from Louisiana’s Cajun culture among Chic Gamine’s many influences.
French vocalist Francoise Hardy is a strong influence for Bremault. “She came into music at a time when you couldn’t write the music you were performing,” Bremault said. Hardy also did not get credit for some of her original writing until years later, she said.
The band has toured North America, opening for Mavis Staples and Smokey Robinson. Chic Gamine has released two albums in Canada, and earlier this year released their U.S. debut “Closer,” which Bremault said has remixed and remastered tunes from their Canadian releases.
Chic Gamine’s sound is “band-driven,” but initially the ensemble was strictly vocal harmonies with drums and percussion. The vocalists always had ideas for adding more instruments (“We were a band in our heads,” Bremault said).  The ensemble recently has added guitar and keyboard to its sound. The original sound “was something that was very full,” she said. “We had this idea that we wanted to make something that was very different,” she said. They considered adding a bass player, but decided to let their sound evolve. “Now that we are incorporating musical instruments … we’re kind of fleshing out the sound to make it sound like what we heard in our heads,” Bremault said.
“Closer” still reflects the percussion-driven sound. The title tune and “Days and Days” have strong beats – drums and handclaps – with strong vocal harmonies. Chic Gamine’s harmonies really shine on “Paper Moon,” a ballad heavily influenced by rhythm and blues. “Tristesse Suspendue,” sung in French, is a masterpiece of beautiful, inviting, haunting melody and superb vocal delivery.
The group is working on songs for a new recording, which Bremault said the band wants to begin recording in March in Winnipeg. They plan to release the next recording internationally, she said.
Sunday’s performance will mark Chic Gamine’s first at Shakori Hills, and their first time in North Carolina. “We’re so pleased about going there,” Bremault said. “We’ve heard so many good things from friends and family.” And, yes, the Shakori Hills audience can expect to hear some of the set sung in French, she said.

Go and Do

WHAT: Chic Gamine
WHEN: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Shakori Hills Festival of Music and Dance
WHERE: Shakori Hills Farm, 1439 Henderson Tanyard Road, Pittsboro
ADMISSION: For full information about tickets, including camping rates, visit shakorihillsgrassroots.org.