This group of artists wants to redefine what it means to be Québécois with an alternative Fête nationale
‘St-Jean-Baptiste Day, to me, means refusing the status quo and taking a stance.’ — Safia Nolin
As Quebecers celebrate St-Jean-Baptiste Day, a.k.a la Fête nationale, on June 24, singer-songwriter Safia Nolin is hosting a festival that she hopes will help people "celebrate their Québécois identity while allowing them to stay true to themselves."
"I first had this idea with my friend Philippe Marinier, we were talking about the long overdue fight against systemic racism and how it had finally gained momentum here in Quebec," writes the singer-songwriter via email from Lyon, France, where she's been living since February due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We saw an opportunity to create a more inclusive space for people that are not represented during the Fête nationale celebrations. We don't want anyone to have to choose between their identity and their feeling of belonging here in Quebec."
Just over a week ago, Quebec Premier François Legault announced he would set up a task force to look at ways to counter racism across provincial services — while also saying that racism isn't systemic in the province. Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, meanwhile, promised systemic action after a report was released detailing racism and discrimination across the city.
At a time when anti-Black racism is being protested widely, Nolin and Marinier, along with drag queen Kiara, took the 20 days they had between coming up with the idea and the actual holiday to create a wishlist of performers who could use the online festival however they wanted to mark the Quebec holiday — and they've pre-recorded what looks to be an incredible event.
Called Saint-Jeanne — a title that follows the "Fête nationale lingo," Nolin points out, while playing outside the binary by incorporating both masculine (Saint) and feminine (Jeanne) names — the festival will feature performers Jeremy Dutcher, Tranna Wintour, Gabrielle Boulianne Tremblay, Karl Hardy, Annie Sama and 2020 Polaris Music Prize longlisters Backxwash and Anachnid, as well as drag queens Kiara, Matante Alex and Gisèle Lullaby.
"It was easy to pitch to the artists because the only mandate we gave them was to be honest about their feelings," writes Nolin. "We did not want to put together a show where people would praise Quebec, a province we know has its flaws. It's important for us that the participants be real and really tell it how it is."
Nolin, whose father is Algerian, says she's always had mixed feelings about St-Jean-Baptiste Day.
"I come from Quebec City and have often joined celebrations, but this does not change the fact that I faced racism growing up and therefore did not really feel like I was welcomed to celebrate. I now feel like I have to look forward and make this holiday mine. I want to use the platform I have to create a space for others who, like me and for various other reasons, don't think they are welcomed to join the festivities. St-Jean-Baptiste Day, to me, means refusing the status quo and taking a stance.
She also hopes the event sends a message about what it means to be Québécois.
"I want the entertainment industry to see that creating a space where people are not only included but celebrated can and will make a difference in how we look at our past as well as to how we build our future. I also hope that those who feel left out of traditional Fête nationale celebrations and of the usual discourse about the Québécois identity know that this is to shine a light on what makes them who they are."