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CBC montage sparks controversy before Habs game

Goaltender Ken Dryden/ Images from a Montreal Canadiens website

As Montreal Canadiens fans took a few deep breaths - and maybe said a small prayer - before Game 6 against Pittsburgh on Monday night, they saw something inspiring.

There were the faces of the past: Rocket Richard, Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau, grainy shots of glory gone by, and some of this year's team. Could the Habs revive a bit of that glory?

But the soundtrack to that richly nostalgic montage was about more than team spirit. Le But, by Québécois rap group Loco Locass, is a sweet sports anthem - with separatist leanings.

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Anglophones watching the game on Mother Corp. probably caught the chorus - "Allez, allez allez, allez Montréal" - but may not have heard some of the more pointed lyrics. The song speaks of the old glory days, a time "so long ago that francophones still called themselves Canadiens." And referring to that annual heartbreak that is so familiar to Habs fans, they say they have faith, and "like René said, 'next time.' "

Of course, "René" is Quebec nationalist leader René Lévesque, and "à la prochaine fois" was his assurance, not of a future Stanley Cup, but that after the 1980 sovereignty referendum was lost, next time would be different.

Hockey Night in Canada executive producer Sherali Najak said there was some debate about using the song. It was suggested to them by Jason Shutt, son of Canadiens legend Steve Shutt, one of the team's anglophone players (during the seventies when the Habs regularly won the Cup.)

"The song is basically a love for the Habs by that city and by that group, and that's what we focused on," Mr. Najak said. "We talk a lot about acceptance, and that's also about accepting other people's ideas, whether creatively or politically. ... We didn't look at that song in a political way."

One of the members of the group, Mathieu Farhoud-Dionne, who goes by the name Chafiik, said he was pleasantly surprised to get a call from the English CBC. "It's not entirely a separatist song, but there's a hint of sovereignty that comes out in that song. I think the CBC has shown itself to be very, very open-minded."

Alongside the separatist lyrics are some inclusive ones as well. The team "brings us together," the song says. "Anglo, franco, no matter the colour of your skin..."

While very few of the Habs on the ice are francophone these days, Chafiik said the team was important in establishing Quebeckers' identity and pride. Despite its political leanings, he said, the song is for everyone, as long as they love the Habs - and hate Toronto.

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"Um, sorry," he laughed. "But, well. You can really unify everyone in being against Toronto."

On a serious note, he continued: "The Canadiens are a social phenomenon in Quebec, they're capable of uniting people. ... We wrote it for all the fans. We can appreciate and enjoy English songs, and I think anglophone Quebeckers can appreciate a French song too."

Susan Krashinsky

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