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Quebec's Ouanani Republic

by Daniel Brown

Article published on the 2009-03-13 Latest update 2009-03-13 11:28 TU

Ouanani(Photo: Ouanani)

(Photo: Ouanani)

In 2008, Ouanani’s sumptuous debut album, Vote Etnik, exploded onto the Canadian music scene. Ouanani sing in eight languages and refuse to be pigeonholed. After eight years together, they have been hailed as a model of cultural and social integration.

World Tracks: Ouanani

13/03/2009 by Daniel Brown

Ouanani is taking off in Montreal and beyond, thanks to its savvy mixture of rock, crossover sounds and, not least, a self-deprecating sense of humour.

“We have a philosophy of partying,” explained lead singer Jean Arsenault at the 2008 Ollin Kan Festival in Mexico City. “It’s very much like what you see in Africa: clean and happy.”

And this approach has allowed Ouanani to surmount some of the hard knocks in life, including the suicide of one of Arsenault’s closest friends, Quebecois singer, André Dédé Fortin.

Jean Arsenault and his band(Photo: Ouanani)

Jean Arsenault and his band
(Photo: Ouanani)

"Our party music was an answer to this death,” he said. “Suicide is a big problem in Canada; we have one of the highest suicide rates amongst young men in the world. What we play is an answer to this, and to the ‘no-soul’ art around us.”

Vote Etnik was largely inspired by the nationalist politician Jacques Parizeau, who blamed the children of immigrants in Canada for the narrow defeat in the 2005 independence referendum. The outrage that followed his accusations led to his resignation, and to one of Ouanani’s more unusual uses of sampling.

“We took parts of his speech about the ethnic vote and used it in the opening track,” said Arsenault, with a smile. “In general, the incident was treated with humour; there was no violence. People were more ashamed by what Parizeau said. They were quick to reassure the minorities that they were not racists. That’s the Canadian way.”

Ouanani are embarking on a European tour soon and hope to release an album in 2010. They could well continue to excite their growing posse of fans with forays into the imaginary-but-oh-so-real country called Ouanani, somewhere inside Quebec.

Quiz of the week.

Who is the politician who inspired the album title vote etnik? Ouanani sampled him in their debut release.

The answer is in the programme. You are invited to listen to it and send your answers to

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