by Casey Ling
photo by Scott Roos
As someone with a perspective of Saskatchewan from the outside, there is always an assumption that the music scene here represents only one group. We often forget that this province has so much more for us. Alexis Normand represents one group that while being strong, seems to get less recognition than the others.
As a Francophone singer on predominantly Anglophone soil, Alexis shares with the listeners her perspective on subjects like identity, language, and love, topics that are present in both her English and French areas of life. The creation of her new album Mementos presents to us the idea that the intersectionality of someone's identity can be both independent and cohesive at the same time. That a person can be both English and French at the same time, as well as individually on their own.
Language and Identity
Recently, I interviewed Normand about Mementos. During our talk, identity was a big topic that came up. During her time with the now disbanded group Rosie and the Riveters, Alexis felt like while what she was writing in English, her true intents were not always shown.
“It really played a huge role in my repertoire. I felt like I had to split myself into different parts, English emphasized or French emphasized. I put my French stuff aside when I pursued Rosies. Then when I started writing again during the pandemic this old discomfort came to the surface. Instead of ignoring it, I decided to be curious and it led me down a path that showed me how uncomfortable my bilingualism made me. I was judged as being less than, but the more I shared my music the more I realized that so many people live in an in-between and how they navigate the world”
Family and Perception
Even though I come from an immigrant household, English is my first language. I grew up with Cantonese around me but never really understood it. Resentment and frustration grew between my parents and me about this language barrier. After listening to Mementos, I now realize the difficulties bilingual people have about how they experience life.
“It's the first time that my identity is shown in both languages. I decided 'screw that. I want to write something vulnerable, something that is authentic of who I am. The way I navigate the world is bilingual'”.
Recordings In and Out of the Studio
Similarly, the use of family is also a present theme in Mementos. While we are beginning to live in an era dominated by short tracks and LPS, listening to Mementos from top to bottom gives us a snapshot of four generations of the Normand family. Interspersed between each track are short voice memos of the Normand family that act as a segue and set the scene.
“I had this idea of using field recordings and ended up using the voices of four generations on the record. We (Alexis Normand and producer James Bunton) chose where they go to flow from one song to the next. It's a highlight reel of all these memories as I describe what the family is like at the lake. It's like moments of reflection and acts as a way to flow from one song to the next and tells a story of roots and growth and prairies and all that good stuff”.
“James’ finely-tuned approach to repertoire translates to studio production – he gives the listener more to listen for on each pass. And so, while the music industry prefers to consume one single at a time these days, they are treating melomaniacs who want to listen to a record from cover to cover with their eyes closed!”
Representation in Saskatchewan and Beyond
Growing up in a family with only one parent being Francophone, Alexis felt like neither her French or English side was truly “authentic”. Mementos acts as a validation of the French identity in Saskatchewan and Canada.
“A lot of French speakers experienced some insecurities about language and identity. The album is a result of my exploring this identity. There are so many Francophones that live in an Anglophone context. One time I was performing for students in the Toronto area and a student told me 'I noticed how you mentioned you don't speak French at home. We don’t speak french at home either'. It's amazing how so many people feel judged or that they don’t feel like they belong. I hope that it brings awareness of different identities.”
Stats Canada tells us that 18% of people in Canada are English-French bilingual. If we include other languages in this statistic the number is sure to be much higher. I feel like this album can bring greater recognition to the individuals who share more than one heritage and that their identity is valued as being enough. You can find more of Alexis Normand's search for her identity in her short film French Enough alongside the National Film Board of Canada where she explores her Francophone roots in the context of Saskatchewan.