La Bottine Souriante, translated from Quebecois, means “the smiling boot” — a reference to the worn-out sole of a working man’s boot, which “smiles” when the sole begins to peel away from the upper.
“The basic rhythms of our music is produced by foot-tapping. I have fun exploring different beats so that my foot-tapping becomes an instrument, like my fiddle or mandolin,” explains Michael Bordeleau, whose manic peds provide a surprising amount of the group’s power.
La Bottine Souriante is not a band for the weak of rhythm — or the meek of spirit. In fact, it’s nothing less than a full-blown sensory experience: Nine musicians playing almost 30 instruments among them, producing a wild synthesis of the humorous French-Canadian folk of their native Quebec combined with traditional Irish dance music and laced with Latin salsa, Cajun, funk, reggae and New Orleans-style, brass-band swing.
In short, it’s not much like anything else you’ve ever heard.
The band’s name is a fitting one for a roots-music ensemble that started out playing Friday-night jams in a working-class town outside Quebec. Despite small beginnings (or maybe because of them), La Bottine Souriante has come a long way — literally around the world and back. In the process, they’ve goaded adulation from critics and fellow musicians on both hemispheres.
Folk Roots called La Bottine Souriante “the tightest and most exciting band of any nature anywhere.”
Their fun and fiery aesthetic stems from the unusual fusion of their swirling stew of styles — and the resulting creative tension. Instruments include — but are not limited to — acoustic and electric bass, piano, accordion, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, saxophone, flute, clarinet, trombone and trumpet.
Oh yes, and feet — let’s not forget the feet.
Remarkably, the band’s rhythm section is driven not by drums but by Bordeleau’s aforementioned tappers, which pound out the distinctive beat of Franc-Canadian folk music, setting the audience ablaze with a tireless 15,000 taps per tune.
However, “Each member of the band brings their own musical influence to [the sound], from big band, Latin, Cajun, rock ‘n’ roll, swing, whatever we like,” puts in Jean Frechette, who plays saxophone, clarinet and flageolet.
“Everyone we meet around the country, every artist from different cultures, brings us new influences — and we bring that when we create new songs,” seconds Regent Archambault, who plays contrebasse. (Contrebasse? You’ll have to go to find out.) “So the group is in constant evolution, and that is what makes it so fun.”
But perhaps Yves Lambert — lead singer and accordion player — best sums up the music’s je ne sais quoi:
“La Bottine Souriante is a 23-year-old band,” he notes. “Except for the risk of heart attack, it should probably continue for another 25 years.”