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ARCHIVED - Aboriginal Sound Recordings: Music and Song

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The Métis

Musical Origins

Traditional Métis instruments include the fiddle [www.metismuseum.ca/resource.php/00029] (accessed May 28, 2007), the concertina, the harmonica, the hand drum and the mouth harp, as well as finger instruments such as bones or spoons. At first, fiddles were scarce and expensive. The Métis crafted their own versions from maple wood and birch bark.

Traditional Métis music combined folk tunes from France and the British Isles with the distinct influences of Aboriginal phrasing and rhythm. Melodies such as "The White Rose," originally from medieval France, were sung by voyageurs during the early days of the fur trade.

Métis fiddle music is a hybrid of imported fiddle music and basic rhythms from traditional Aboriginal music. The "turtulage" -- beating rhythm with spoons or heels, combined with the irregular beats of the fiddle -- sets the cadence for the Métis jig, based on Irish step-dancing with the addition of other steps.

The Music Develops

Music became a method for passing on oral history, documenting many aspects of Métis life. [www.metismuseum.ca/exhibits/celebration/index.php] (accessed May 28, 2007).

Compositions bore witness to the historic conflict between the government and the Métis in the 1800s. The Battle of Seven Oaks (1816) was put into song -- a departure from the music of the trap line. It introduced a new form of Métis music, patriotic songs and anthems. Other songs include "Between the Forks and the Carlton" about the 1885 Battle of Batoche, and "Riel's Farewell," lamenting Louis Riel=s 1885 hanging in Regina.

Traditional songs include "Drops of Brandy" and the "Red River Jig." To play the "Red River Jig," the fiddle is tuned with the bottom string raised from a G to an A. The entire piece is played and danced in two sections; when the fiddler plays the high section, the dancer performs a fancy jig step.

Traditional fiddlers in the Métis style include (among many others) John Arcand, Reg Bouvette and Hap Boyer.