The Canadian quartet Vishten plays Celtic music, no doubt. But it's a Celtic music born on Prince Edward Island, a Celtic music played by a geographically-isolated, largely-Acadian maritime community that was once connected to the outside world largely through the airwaves.
"The music we used to listen to was either from Cape Breton or from English radio stations," Vishten accordionist and singer Pastelle LeBlanc explained when reached by phone last week. "But in the Acadian regions, they also did the singing in French, so it became this really different style. We do a foot percussion as well — that's Acadian, from a long way back, when religion didn't permit dancing and people used their feet as percussion instead of dancing standing up. And there's more of a lift to the fiddling than in Celtic music."
Not that Vishten's only goal is to recreate the traditional music of their home island. To start with, the band's instrumentation — fiddle, guitar, accordion, penny-whistle, banjo, mandolin, jaw-harp and bodhran —belongs to no one folk tradition. And while a given song might incorporate traditional reels or jigs, another might have been entirely composed by one of the group's songwriters without recourse to the folk tradition. If the band's stage-show is in the tradition of a lively, communal impromptu gathering — evocative of an Acadian "kitchen party," as one write-up suggests — their music is more sophisticated and syncretic than that which one might hear in any given musically-inclined home.
The group's members — twin sisters Emmanuelle (bodhran, piano) and Pastelle LeBlanc, Pascal Miousse (fiddle, mandolin) and Louis-Charles Vigneau (guitar, banjo) — are third-generation Acadians. The LeBlancs were raised on Prince Edward Island, and performed as dancers in the island's step-dancing troupes before they thought of themselves as musicians. Miousse and Vigneau grew up separately on the smaller Magdelen Islands, a group of islands accessible only by boat or plane, with a population of 13,000.
"We're all self-taught," LeBlanc emphasized. "We've taken some music lessons and I've been to University a little bit, but most of the learning of this music is basically by ear."
Still, LeBlanc notes that the band is forced to visit music archives in order to find and learn traditional tunes that were regularly performed as little as twenty years ago. Vishten has been involved with efforts to preserve Celtic and Acadian music culture, including a traditional music camp first held this June — the PEI fiddle camp, incorporating an acronym for Prince Edward Island — which featured instruction on the fiddle, accordion and bodhran, and brought in about 15 eager students, some from the States.
And LeBlanc says that are plenty more people in the States, fans and aspiring fiddlers alike, who are enthusiastic about traditional music of various stripes. "Every state has an Irish festival, and that doesn't exist at home."
Vishten performs Sept. 16 at Bloomington's Lotus Fest and Sept. 17 and 18 at Indy's Irish Fest.