Bands often speak of being one large, figurative, family after spending years together. Les Ogres de Barback is quite literally a family of musicians. Their father, an amateur musician, brought many instruments and songs of French singers of the day into their home and their childhood. Growing up in the ÃŽle-de-France, a region outside of Paris, Fredo, Sam, Alice, and Mathilde BurguiÃ¨re were steeped in both the musical traditions of the countryside, and the new sounds emerging from the city. Today, their sound incorporates traditional European folk music with elements of rock and even contemporary hip hop. They estimate that, after almost 15 years, they have played about 1,500 shows as Les Ogres de Barback.
This past Friday night they played as part of the Coup de coeur francophone music festival, for a packed house at Club Soda. Montreal is only one of two stops in the band’s North American tour, the other being Quebec City.
“We were surprised at the reception we got here, we thought we were unknown outside of Europe, but here, in Montreal, we were known” said Mathilde, speaking of the first time they crossed the Atlantic. This weekend marked the band’s fourth trip across the ocean.
The diversity of talent and interests among the four siblings is perhaps what makes them so incredible to see on stage. Between them, they play guitar, upright bass, piano, cello, violin, accordion, trumpet, flute, clarinet, tuba, trombone and practically any other instrument you could possibly name. Their songs change pace with relative ease as instruments are exchanged between members. What began as a haunting ballad could easily become an intricate brass jam performed by a small marching band.
It is rare to see any group of musicians with such a level of flexibility on stage. Their music could easily be played anywhere on whatever instrument, making it the perfect music to play while travelling. “We like to move without knowing where, trusting the road. Wherever we go, we can play in bars, in the street, or in the metro &- that’s really the root of our love of music,” said Mathilde.
Their love of travel led the band to spend three years wandering France and Eastern Europe in a big top circus tent, collaborating with local musicians in each village. The experience was one that they remember fondly. “It was so incredible for us to meet and exchange with new musicians everywhere we went,” said Mathilde.
While their performance displayed all of the traditions they have absorbed on the road and from their childhood, it also indicated some new directions. Quite a few songs featured electric guitars, and some even included digital tracks. On one song, parts of the vocals were pre-recorded, which seemed a bit out of place, especially since either of the two sisters could have easily provided vocals. Another started as a drum and bass loop, but turned out to be a perfect mix of brass with a hip-hop beat.
The audience favourite was clearly their Parisian anthem “Rue de Paname.” The audience sung alongside the band and clapped in rhythm, some even swayed with their arms around their neighbours’ shoulder.
“Music opens people to others, and that’s what we try to do with our music, especially at this time when many people in the world are struggling and afraid of strangers,” said Mathilde.
Standing in a room packed with strangers, everyone singing together, it’s easy to believe their music has done just that.