Quebec's culture minister says she has no problem if an Anglo band — such as Grammy-winning Arcade Fire — ever wanted to sing in English at the Fete nationale.
Christine St-Pierre says the idea, when the Parti Quebecois government changed the name of the traditional St-Jean-Baptiste festival to Fete nationale in 1978, was for everyone to feel welcome.
Festival organizers have in recent years stated resolutely that the event should be held exclusively in French, in celebration of Quebec's francophone culture.
They let it be known this week that even Arcade Fire — which won the most prestigious prize at the Grammys — could not sing songs in their original English if they ever wanted to play at their hometown festival.
St-Pierre dismissed that notion, however. The Quebec government is a financial sponsor of the June 24 concert in Montreal.
To illustrate her case she invoked the memory of Rene Levesque, the nationalist hero whose PQ government turned the old French-Canadian St-Jean-Baptiste religious celebration into a new civic holiday.
"He wanted a celebration that is very inclusive and a celebration that includes francophones, anglophones and people that are living together in Quebec," St-Pierre said.
'Conform to certain guidelines'
Her remarks came one day after organizers of Montreal's Fete celebration said that, like any other act hoping to play at the festival for Quebec's annual holiday, Arcade Fire would have to perform in French.
The chief organizer said that the award-winning band would be welcome to play the event, "as long as they conform to certain guidelines."
The question is, for now, largely hypothetical: Arcade Fire will be on tour in Europe when the Fete is held this June, and it hasn't been invited in any case.
St-Pierre pointed out that that Fete nationale is a celebration of the French fact in Quebec, noting that only two per cent of North America are French speakers.
However, she wanted people of all origins to feel welcome.
"This is a celebration of all Quebecers," she said. "This is also a celebration of artists and artists should have the right to express themselves in their own language.
"This is a choice. If an artist decides to express himself in English, I have no problem with that."
She said she had written to the band to congratulate them on their Grammy win, which she called "truly fantastic."
Free from political interference
The Parti Quebecois voiced a similar sentiment as the government.
While the Fete organization must be free from political interference, the PQ said, it added that it would not object to a more diverse celebration.
"I see nothing wrong with songs being sung in Spanish, English, Italian, Creole, Innu … during the Fete nationale, even if the animation, the interventions, and most of the content should, as a simple courtesy, be in French," said PQ culture critic Yves-Francois Blanchet.
"These voices participate in Quebec's culture and enrich it."
He added that his party "enthusiastically" shares in Quebecers' pride over Arcade Fire's "tremendous success."
Arcade Fire does include the occasional French line in its songs but the band, and its U.S.-born frontman, sing almost exclusively in English.
When they took to the stage at the Grammys they expressed thanks, in English and French, to the city of Montreal and later gushed to reporters backstage about their love for the place.
Lead singer Win Butler, who grew up in Texas, has lived for almost a decade in the city where he met his wife and fellow band member, Regine Chassagne.
After winning the best-album Grammy this week, the group went on to England where they were named the top international band at the BRIT awards.
The band has a huge following in Quebec and earned multiple plaudits at home this week, including a congratulatory motion in the provincial legislature.
The City of Montreal also revamped its website to include a "Bravo!" for the band on a banner across its front page.