This month we focus on Bertrand Deraspe, a fiddler from the Magdalen Islands (Iles de la Madelaine), a small chain of islands off the East Coast of Canada. Bertrand will be a featured teacher and performer this summer at Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, WA. He was born in Point-aux-Loups and works as a lobster fisherman when not busy fiddling. He inherited a large répertoire of Acadian and "madelinots" tunes from his father, Arnold Deraspe and other Acadian fiddlers. Bertrand started playing fiddle when he was 4 years old and was already playing for weddings when he was 6. He has been a member of various music groups, including Suroit, Les Clapotis, and Vent'arrière. He recorded a solo album called "Mes Racines" (my roots) - featuring the traditional fiddle style of the Magdalen Islands as well as other Acadian styles from PEI and Chéticamp in Cape Breton.
The Magdalen Islands are a group of small islands in the shape of a fishook that lie in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Gaspé and Newfoundland. You can get there by airplane but the most rewarding trip is by boat, either from Montreal (3 days and 2 nights) or on a 5 hour ferry ride from Souris in Prince Edward Island. The main sources of income are fishing, hunting and tourism. The fiddling tradition is very strongly tied to the fishing industry and the "Madelinots" share the rich maritime tradition of the Acadians from PEI, New Bruswick and Cape Breton.
We first discovered Bertrand through his CD "Vent'arrière" with Patrice Deraspe and Carole Painchaud. The first tune was "Célestin à Jos" and it totally blew us away. The recording starts off with the "toc-a-toc" sound of the old one lung "Make or Break" fishing boat motor and the fiddler takes up the off-beat rhythm and launches into the tune without a pause.
Reel à Célestin à Jos
Further research into the music of the Magdalen Islands and Bertrand Deraspe led us to the archives of the Centre d'Etudes Acadiennes Anselme Chiasson at the University of Moncton. Robert Richard, the archivist, graciously allowed us access to their wonderful collection of field recordings and we found recordings of Bertrand's father, Arnold Deraspe. Here is a sound file of a tune called "Reel de la Morte" from these recordings.
Reel de la Morte
Here is a a video that we found through the University of Laval ethnology department with Bertrand playing a tune in the kitchen with his dad. Click on the word "video" or on the photo to get to the file. The video starts off with a sweet twin fiddle waltz. Bertrand then talks in French about the fiddling style of the islands and the fact that many fiddlers play a slow style with very strong bowing. He demonstrates how Madelinots fiddlers have a different bow stroke than Cape Breton fiddlers. The Madelinot fiddlers, who were mostly fishermen with calloused hands and sometimes missing fingers, would tend to play with less notes and more rhythm.