MALAJUBE at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (April 26), 9 pm. $10 advance. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Roch Voisine wasn't able to swing it. Robert Charlebois couldn't pull it off before him. Even the celebrated Celine Dion couldn't do it. Yet the Montreal-based members of Malajube are still determined to try breaking outside of Quebec while singing in no language but French.
It may seem overly optimistic, if not utterly naive. It's tough enough for exciting indie bands singing in English to get airplay on commercial rock radio in Canada, but there are signs that Malajube might have a shot at turning the trick.
Their fabulous new orch-pop dazzler, Trompe-L'Oeil, has been shooting up the campus radio charts all across the country since its release in March, and the high school pals from Sorel have been getting nothing but critical praise, at least if you consider being called the francophone Arcade Fire a compliment. And having their catchy tune Fille A Plumes plugged on CBC's National Playlist probably hasn't hurt Malajube's cause, even if few people listening in Moose Jaw knew the song was about hallucinations.
My tour-booking pal from Los Angeles may still be perplexed by our Celsius scale temperatures here in Canada, but that didn't stop him from putting Malajube's raging new single, Montréal 40C, on the new mix disc he's been sending out to friends to keep them up to date with his latest musical discoveries. The fact that Malajube tracks are now popping up on party mixes coming out of California is as good an indicator as any that the group is starting to click in English-speaking markets.
"I'm quite happy to hear that people from Ontario and other parts of Canada and the United States are getting into our music even if they can't understand our lyrics," says Mathieu Cournoyer, who gave up his lucrative bike courier job in November to focus on playing bass with Malajube.
"Some people ask us what the songs are about and others tell us they wouldn't care if we were singing in Swedish, because the music sounds good. If that's how they feel, it's fine with me. I'm just glad the attention isn't there just because there's a lot of media hype about Montreal bands being cool right now."
Certainly, the current popularity of their Montreal anglophone counterparts namely Arcade Fire and the Dears (incidentally, Martin Pelland produced Malajube's 2004 debut, Le Compte Complet) has helped pave the way for Malajube's ascent and, in a way, contributed to their decision to choose a different path.
"After the success of Arcade Fire, a lot of people in Montreal bands got the idea that they, too, could make it big outside Quebec. But they thought the only way of doing it was by writing and singing in English. I know a lot of francophone people in bands here who just sing in English, and to me that's lame.
"When we started playing together in Malajube, we tried doing songs in English, probably because every artist we listened to while growing up was singing in English. But being all born francophone, we were never comfortable with that. We thought, "We speak French all the time; why should we have to sing in English?' So we decided to start doing our songs in French, and it felt right.
"Now that we're getting to be known in Quebec, our friends keep telling us, "You could be really popular all over Canada if you started singing in English.' But that would negate everything we've been trying to do."
Somehow, Malajube's Trompe-L'Oeil song cycle about sickness and disease wouldn't sound anywhere near as sexy if it were translated into English. They're definitely right to stick with French.
"We didn't plan to make a concept album about diseases," laughs Cournoyer. "I really don't think Julien (songwriter/guitarist Julien Mineau) even realized the songs had a similar theme until he started playing them for us at rehearsal. When we pointed out that every one of them had something to do with sickness, disease or death, he said, "Oh, maybe I've got a problem. '"