Canada Scene: Socalled teams up with Yves Lambert for a true Quebecois experience

Yves Lambert and Socalled. Photo: Alain Lefort

Josh Dolgin, better known by his ‘nom-de-musique’ Socalled, is a collector. He gathers up the tools and the effects of the music he makes and loves.

His collecting passion also seems to include musical partnerships.

One of his enduring collaborations is with the legendary Yves Lambert, one of the best known proponents of traditional Quebecois music and culture. It’s spawned two records, one crazy tour across the province and now it’s coming to the National Arts Centre on Saturday as part of the Canada Scene festival.

As Dolgin describes it the two met in Copenhagen, Denmark, at a WOMEX world music festival.

“I was there doing a showcase with my band and Yves Lambert was there doing a showcase with his band.” That’s NOT the ensemble La Bottine Souriante, Dolgin stressed.

“He hasn’t been with them for 15 years. People still identify him with that band and he was the face of it. There was just an article in some newspaper that Bottine Souriante were playing with big picture of him. He can’t shake it. It’s a long story about how he left that band.”

For the past 15 years, Lambert has been doing solo projects and he also plays with a trio.

“I saw him play in Copenhagen with the trio.” They play classic Quebecois sounds with a modern twist. Lambert plays the accordion and the jew’s harp and other instruments. There is a fiddle-mandolin player who also step-dances and a guy who plays a guitar/bass. The instrument has two outputs, Dolgin says. That trio will be in Ottawa Saturday night.

“His trio and my band are coming, it will be one big band” of about nine players.

Back to Copenhagen: “I went to watch his showcase and frankly I was blown away. I have seen a lot of showcases at these festivals and this one truly blew me away with his musicianship and his spirit. He is so funky, fun and funny. You know he is just a real guy. And he can play and sing his ass off.

“After the show I made a point of going to talk to his manager who is his wife as is often the case. We call them wife-agers. I wanted to meet him. I had been fan of Bottine Souriante in college (at McGill). I identified with his music because that’s what I do as well. There was a revival of Quebecois folk music in 1970s and 80s and the same is true of this klezmer thing that I am interested in. It also had a revival at that time.”

The two met and hit it off, Dolgin says.

“He plays the accordion, I play the accordion. We are from Quebec (Dolgin was raised in the Chelsea area). It was funny meeting in Copenhagen. We hung out and I sort of filed it away as ‘Yves Lambert, he’s cool’.”

Sometime after that Dolgin wrote a musical called The Season.

“I hired Yves Lambert to be the main character in this English language musical. It was the first time in his career he had sung in English in public. It was sort of subversive. That’s when we became pals.”

Dolgin got Lambert to play a couple of songs on his latest album called Peoplewatching. Got him to play a couple of songs on Peoplewatching. And Lambert hired Dolgin to produce his latest album that marks his 40 years in music.

“That’s when we really got close. We made the record and then we had to tour it and I ended up on tour with him playing the piano as member of his band for 20 dates all over Quebec. I was playing traditional Quebecois piano.

“For me, as a Quebec person, I finally got to be a part of Quebec. Once you get out of the main cities, it’s really another world with a crazy language. After a few weeks on tour I started to talk deep Quebec. It was a really interesting musical and cultural experience.”

Turns out Lambert was also interested in Dolgin’s music and “so we did some of that too. For me the trick to a good collaboration is it has to be based on some real shit. It can’t just be high concept.

In the Ottawa show they will play a couple tunes “from my album and a couple of tunes from his and some from his repertoire. We’ll also play some French versions of some of my songs including You Are Never Alone, my biggest hit. The French-Algerian singer Enrico Macias did a French version of that song and we are doing that.”

Dolman sees similarities between the klezmer music he loves and traditional Quebecois songs. They fit the same spirit. Klezmer music came out of the ghettos and shtetls of Eastern Europe.

“It’s for dancing, it’s for celebration” in the face of hard times.

The relationship with Lambert is typical of Dolgin’s musical journey. He seems to be always chasing and finding connections to different forms of music.

He had, for example, a close collaboration with Theodore Bikel, the actor and singer.

“We became quite close. We met in Poland at a festival. Later he showed up at one of my shows in Los Angeles and got up on stage and sang a tune. He’s on my (2007) album Ghettoblaster. It was cool to get him on a record.”

He also did a play with Bikel.

“His wife was his accompanist. And he was coming to Montreal where he had a show and was supposed to come up for a month but she died. I ended up filling in for her and playing piano for a month. It was awesome to be working with a true Hollywood legend.”

“I like to meet people and maintain strong friendships. It’s been a rough couple of years for me because many of my elderly friends have died. That’s the risk of having 90 year old friends.”

Bikel died in 2015. Another friend, Irving Fields, died in 2016. In a way, Dolgin is carrying things on for them.

“It’s like a mission. Without making it too heavy handed, I love sharing what I collect. I try to put it to work. A Theodore Bikel song with a fat-assed hip hop beat takes it to a whole new audience. Then people are curious about Bikel and they ask about him.

It’s the same thing, he says, with styles of music.

“On Peoplewatching I have the Mighty Sparrow who is the King of Calypso and people talk about that. And I have Roxanne Shanté, the queen of hip hop. I love collaborating with these people because they bring a wealth of knowledge. But also I’m sort of doing a service. People are able, if they choose, to see and hear different stuff.

“There is a common language now. That is sort of the experiment. Can a Calypso guy be on the same song as Boban Marcovic the king of Serbian trumpet? That shouldn’t happen but it did and it worked.”

This begins in Chelsea where Dolgin was a self-described curious kid.

“I was into different styles of music when I was a kid. I played in salsa bands at Philemon Wright High School. I was in a gospel band and I started making rap music. I loved Tom Waits and REM and musicals. My parents had their taste in music and I got their record collection. My brothers had their taste I got their record collection. I had my own collection.

“It was a new time when people had access to every style. You don’t have to choose any more. Now I try to take lost music and make it relevant.”

Socalled, Yves Lambert, Le Vent du Nord
Canada Scene
Where: Babs Asper Theatre
When: Saturday July 15 at 7:30 p.m.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.