Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

'O Kebek' extols virtues of province in proposed anthem for sovereign Quebec

Quebec singer and songwriter Raoul Duguay.

The Canadian Press

There are no patriotic calls to arms beneath the rockets' red glare, or bragging about ruling over a vast empire, or any of the militaristic overtones of so many national anthems.

Instead, O Kebek, a proposed anthem for an independent Quebec, extols rainbows of love that arc over a diverse community of people and animals such as mighty moose and graceful Snowy Owls.

It is a musically complex composition that eschews one other quality common to most other examples of the genre: a simple melody that would be easy for all members of a large crowd to hum along to.

Story continues below advertisement

This one contains a sweeping cascade of chords that sound drawn from a rock opera, not from the marching-band sound of so many other national anthems. This is Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Rush, not the Marseillaise.

The crescendo-laden, peace-celebrating composition O Kebek was unveiled on Monday by the Société St-Jean-Baptiste's Montreal chapter just shy of the province's annual June 24 holiday.

It was composed by Raoul Duguay, a poet-songwriter-actor who was once nominated for a Juno Award, and composer Alain Sauvageau, who has worked with some of Quebec's biggest musical names.

The anthem is unlikely to become Quebec's official song any time soon: there's no referendum on tap while federalist Jean Charest is premier and, judging by the mixed reaction on Monday, not all citizens of an independent Quebec would instantly embrace this one.

Mr. Duguay says his goal in creating the anthem, at the request of one of Quebec's most strident sovereigntist organizations, was to unify people. That's the goal of any national anthem, he added.

"If all Quebeckers sing this anthem, I think they'll feel more unified than divided," he said.

"We sincerely hope that when (Quebeckers) hear and sing it in French, it will relight the flame of pride in the hearts of our citizens and that that flame will give birth to a sovereign Quebec."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Duguay called it the most important work of his life as a poet.

Upon prompting from a reporter, the composers acknowledged they'd love to hear O Kebek played before Montreal Canadiens games next year.

The Société St-Jean-Baptiste has a history of involvement in national anthems.

O Canada, which officially became the country's anthem in 1980, was originally commissioned by Quebec Lt.-Gov. Theodore Robitaille for a St-Jean-Baptiste ceremony in 1880. The music was written by Calixa Lavallee to accompany a patriotic French-Canadian poem by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier.

This anthem project was kicked off after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government declared the Québécois to be a nation in 2006.

One of the anthem idea's main advocates was Société member Charles Campbell, who said Monday that he had a personal connection to the project.

Story continues below advertisement

"Basile Routhier, an ancestor of my mother's second spouse, wrote the words to O Canada, he explained.

O Kebek in its long version - which encompasses eight stanzas - references Quebec's diversity and its natural wonders, announcing that "the St. Lawrence flows through our blood."

It pays tribute to the French, the English, the Irish, and the aboriginals as well as the Snowy Owl, moose and the Aurora Borealis.

The shorter version, which forms the basis for the anthem, presents Quebec more as the unique French-speaking flower of North America where "under a rainbow of love we sing of liberty."

Mr. Duguay said the unusual spelling of Quebec in the title is an ode to the Amerindian origin of the province's name.

It's not the first time someone's composed a national anthem for the province - it's actually the sixth since 1961.

But the decision to release this latest version might surprise some people who believe that a potential anthem for an independent Quebec has already been found.

At least two songs from the legendary chansonnier Gilles Vigneault, especially his eminently catchy and easy-to-sing Gens du pays, have always been considered possible candidates.

Gens du pays is, in fact, so popular and easy to follow that it is commonly sung instead of Happy Birthday at parties in Quebec.

The new anthem got a few raised eyebrows among Quebec commentators on Monday.

Montreal La Presse columnist Patrick Lagace gave the creators a "B-plus for effort." He said if Quebec ever separated and chose O Kebek as its anthem, however, he'd be seeking political asylum elsewhere.

He later quipped on Twitter that he had a theory about who was actually behind the new composition:

"The RCMP has infiltrated (the Société) and is using subliminal means to bury the idea of independence," Mr. Lagace joked.


O Kebek

Kebek is who we are, people from here, people with heart

A unique country in North America

Great people united under the fleur-de-lis

A nation flourishing and aspiring to goodwill

Under the rainbow we sing of liberty

All the days we remember our history

Our pride our victory is to speak French

And to live together in peace

We keep our memories of France

From where we left under a wind of hope

Our dear ancestors that gave birth to

the breath of a country where abundance reigns

We formed alliances with the aboriginal peoples

Having spoken with the spirit of the Earth

That gave us life with the fruits of nature and

Protected us from the cold

Our beautiful youth are our richness

The freshness of our dreams will change the world

With the wisdom of the ages we respond

We are confident and united

Between our generations we built bridges

The same water flows in all our rivers

Bringing together the new and the old

Creating the beautiful country which is our

O Kebek

Land that we love

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.