Multi-disciplinary artist Soleil Launière has released her debut album, Taueu, to widespread acclaim.
Taueu (Innu-aimun for “to be in the middle”) has already been featured on Spotify’s curated playlist “Fresh Finds: Canada’s Best New Music” for two straight weeks since its mid-October release, while receiving high praise from numerous music critics in Quebec.
Born in Mashteuiatsh, near Roberval in Lac Saint-Jean, Launière was raised by her Innu father and Québécois mother. Now living in Montreal, she uses her childhood memories of the land to explore her identity.
Launière’s album lives up to its name by standing “in the middle” of many worlds by incorporating different languages, cultures and lands into her message. She straddles art genres by overlaying theatre, performance and singing. The album is a wave-making, multi-lingual production whose songs thrive in that wild and strange middle place.
Accompanied by music director Simon Walls and the group Chances (Geneviève Toupin, Chloé Lacasse and Vincent Carré), Launière launched Taueu during Montreal’s Festival Phénomena at La Sala Rossa October 17. The festival promoted the album as “a bold, intriguing new project [that] explores a world of rhythm and vocal harmonies, touching on themes of language identity, two-spirit femininity, and territory.”
“It is as if she is standing within the cultural cross sections of Innu, Québécois and Canadian culture and singing her heart out, for all of us to listen,” one person commented.
“Even though I did not understand most of the lyrics, the ones that I did have left a lasting impression because of how the overall performance made me feel comfortable in an unusual place,” stated another.
By exploring themes of territory, femininity, gender identity and matriarchy, Launière applies her intersectional worldview with emotional intimacy to explain difficult topics in musical form. She allows language and verse to encourage and calm, not confuse, the listener with carefully selected lyrics and instruments.
The increase of sound and images as the songs progress emphasize how the encounters in the album illuminate its lyrics and meaning. The accuracy with which the album combines three real languages and a fourth – a language invented by Launière – is a statement in itself.
The four flow effortlessly with vocals that ooze with purposeful emotion. Her songs blend into a powerful artistic creation that reappropriates cultural identity and language.
The first track, “Pimiteu”, features the voice of renowned Innu Joséphine Bacon, whose poetry and teaching of the Innu language reveal her life-long commitment to revitalizing Innu-aimun.
The poetic interludes and dialogue that many of the songs begin with provide an atmosphere of self-reflection that encourages the listener to look into themselves, the land that they live on, and the people they share it with.
Due to its conceptual value, Taueu should be listened to from start to finish. However, here are a few songs that are thought-provoking and exemplary of the album’s main themes of nature, identity, community and self.
“Era Ew” starts slowly but builds momentum as it progresses, allowing the increase of instrument and emotional intensity to create a heartfelt homage to the territory and nature that Launière holds proudly at the centre of her identity and world.
“Piekuakami” speaks about her childhood growing up on the shores of Lac Saint-Jean by combining beautiful images of nature and family intersecting in remarkable ways from an innocent yet insistent perspective.
“MMIWG2S” focuses on a national tragedy by giving a voice to the missing and murdered Indigenous women who have fallen victim to systemic racism.
“Two Spirit” is a deep and daring dive into Launière’s Two-Spirit identity.
As Josée LaPointe wrote in La Presse, Launière “clearly put a lot of her soul into the album. From the beginning of the album’s first track, we know that we will enter a spiritual and poetic world.”