Singer Ian Kelly’s dilemma illustrates the great cultural divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Although the bi-cultural folk/pop artist sings in English, he’s idolized in his own French-speaking province, where his records have reached gold status and are regularly nominated for Félix Awards.
Kelly has headlined the Montreal Jazz Festival, playing to audiences of up to 60,000 people — yet hardly anyone outside of Quebec has heard of him.
“When I performed the same show with the same band in Toronto, it was to 22 people,” he admitted, with a chuckle.
“No matter what we say, Quebec and the rest of Canada are two different worlds,” said Kelly. “We don’t even have the same CBC. …”
His largely unknown status out West could soon change as the singer embarks on his longest cross-Canada tour, which stops on Wednesday, May 6, at The Hideout, south of Red Deer in Gasoline Alley.
Although it would be easier for him to tour in Europe than travel to Vancouver and back, Kelly still believes it’s important to meet audiences across his own country. “I’m Canadian and I want to do this.”
He expects there will be plenty of time to contemplate life as he travels thousands of kilometres by himself. “It’s a lot of road, and about one and a half months of solitude. I reckon it’ll get pretty lonely,” but Kelly compares it to leaving home with a backpack to travel the world — an experience he never got to do when he was younger.
“Some people would make a documentary or even a reality show (of) such an experience. … For me, it’ll probably end up being in an album, or at least a few songs.”
French was the first language spoken by Ian Couture, who grew up in Montreal with an English-speaking mother and French-Canadian father. (He took his mom’s last name, Kelly, when he learned there was another singer with the name Ian Couture.)
He still finds it more natural to sing in English. While it doesn’t matter to his fans, it matters greatly to some people, who routinely question why Kelly doesn’t sing in French.
Language has always been an issue in Quebec, admitted the Montreal native who had no choice, under Bill 101, than to enrol his children in French school. The being-forced-to part rankles, he admitted. “French is the official language in Quebec and it’s important, but English is the official language of Planet Earth.”
Kelly, who wishes all Canadians were bilingual, has recently started writing some French songs. “If they are any good, I might make a French album,” he said.
Meanwhile, his latest release All These Lines contains the tunes Do You Love the Rain? and I’m on Your Side, which have gotten some airplay outside Quebec.
Kelly draws on various inspirations for is music, including environmental themes. “We need air and water more than money,” he said, so if something good comes out of the low price of oil, he hopes it’s more focus on finding cleaner energy sources.
“Whenever I’ve thought about a green economy being the way of the future, I haven’t been very optimistic — but I’m starting to be.”
For more information about his 8 p.m. show, call 403-348-5309.