By Andrew Bailey
A musical detour for your pleasure this week: A rapper who goes by the name of “Anodajay”, aka Steve Jolin, a 34 year-old Physical Education teacher turned musician from Rouyn-Noranda, a small town of around 40,000 in the west of Québec about 40km from the border with Ontario.
I first heard of Anodajay last year on CKOI (“la station des hits à Montréal”, bien sûr). After some frantic research, I discovered that I had in fact heard “Jamais Su” (~Never Knew), a 2010 reworking of Diane Tell’s 1982 hit “Souvent, Longtemps, Enormément” (~Often, For a Long Time, Immensely); A reworking that respects the laidback disco/lounge beats of the original, but one that also adds rapped verses (courtesy of Anodajay) and a beefed-up baseline that bring the song bang up to date, allowing a whole new generation to access a Québécois classic.
The rapped verses reflect the original themes of Tell’s version, those of love, loss and heartbreak. This is a pleasant surprise; in a music genre often filled with hyper-masculine boasts of sex, drugs, guns and cursing galore, Anodajay’s politely poetic style and lyrics fuse perfectly with the sweet words of Tell, creating a rap song that is truly accessible and relevant to all. In short, a rap that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to listen to in front of your mother.
Another of Anodajay’s works released in 2010, “Plus de Temps” (~More Time), speaks of his desire for a longer life to make the most of what our world has on offer. A song filled with intelligent rhymes about self-fulfilment, the rapping P.E. teacher has managed to transform the French language into a whole new art form, using the words of la belle langue as building blocks to create impressive seemingly endless verses, streams of consciousness, even, that sweep the listener away.
Both Jamais Su and Plus de Temps had music videos made for them; the first featuring Anodajay at the Mont Kanasuta ski resort near his hometown of Rouyn resulting in an 80’s caricature of a Québécois ski lodge, the second featuring the rappeur green-screened against various Montréal scenes that have been sped up to exaggerate the passage of time. Both these videos weld his musical style and French content to a specifically Québécois visual identity, therefore presenting his works as unique products of a Québécois upbringing that could not have been produced elsewhere.
Anodajay is just one example of a present day artist bringing francophone cultural products into the limelight, an important endeavour in a province constantly “under attack” from overwhelming amounts of anglophone equivalents. Indeed, “Disques Septième Ciel” (~Seventh Heaven Records) is a record label established by Anodajay himself to produce and distribute francophone Québécois music that forces us to take another look at the culture of an increasingly eclectic, but forever unique society.