After a decade of relative obscurity, Sagapool seems to have finally made a new name for itself.
Sagapool’s members all have backgrounds in musical theory and performance from renowned academic institutions.
During the process of working with their manager of two years and moving to a new label, the Montreal sextet has found a more mainstream audience since their days underground, garnering critical and commercial recognition for their unique blend of jazz, Gypsy folk, swing, Latin and reggae rhythms and, of course, klezmer.
According to Guillaume Bourque, Sagapool’s clarinettist, this also has much to do with the sudden surge in popularity of klezmer-influenced music within the commercial markets. He describes Sagapool’s music as “festive, with a lot of explosive energy” running through it, as well as moments of instrumental acoustic improvisation.
Sagapool’s most recent album – 2008’s Episode Trois – is a considerable leap conceptually from their previous two albums, as it contains only original compositions, as opposed to the mix of original and traditional songs on their 2002 debut Apprenti Moustachu and their followup, 2005’s St-Urbain Café. Bourque says that for its latest release, the band concentrated on “taking new avenues and chances with other styles of music.”
This change in the band’s development is reflected in its name; Episode Trois is the first album in which the band uses the name Sagapool, having formerly been known as Manouche, a French term referring to Gypsy jazz music. Bourque says that they made a conscious decision to rename themselves after straying from the pure manouche roots of their first two albums into more world-music territory. After some deliberation, they settled on Sagapool, a reflection of their decade together as a band.
“This year has been our 10th year together,” Bourque says, “so we thought about the word ‘saga,’ [meaning] a long story, and we thought it was a good word for us. And pool is like a group, a musical group, so we put that together into Sagapool.”
Sagapool played a Toronto gig at the Drake Hotel on July 8 as an Ashkenaz Festival presentation. This is the second time the band has played for the festival, having played in the Ashkenaz Festival proper, at Harbourfront Centre, in 2004. Although no one in the band is Jewish (save for former member Daniel Gelinas), Bourque used to live in Outremont – a Montreal borough with a large chassidic community – where he was first introduced to klezmer music. In fact, he had some help from a Jewish resident when he composed one of the Yiddish songs on St-Urbain Café, which Bourque sang on.
“I asked a neighbour to translate the tune and teach me the right pronunciation,” he said.
Each of the six members of Sagapool brings his or her own instrumental mastery to the mix to give the music an eclectic flavour, including the use of guitar, double bass, violin, accordion, percussion, clarinet, glockenspiel, banjo and various other instruments. All members have backgrounds in musical theory and performance from renowned academic institutions – Bourque and violinist Zoe Dumais, for instance, met at the Montreal Conservatory of Music.
Bourque cites the band Bratch as a musical influence, as well as Gypsy-themed films by Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica, such as Time of the Gypsies and Black Cat, White Cat. These days, however, Sagapool’s influences are a bit more expansive, as Bourque mentions listening to a lot more indie rock and pop music as of late.
Sagapool’s touring schedule has been hectic these last few months, as the band has been jostling back and forth between concert venues in Ontario and Quebec (the band was slated to perform at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, this past March, but dropped out due to funding issues). While Bourque has noticed a slight difference in audience response depending on whether they’re playing for an anglophone or francophone audience, he says the reception is always positive, no matter where they perform.
“We find that in the States, and in Ontario and outside of Quebec, the people are really amazed… they really enjoy the music and it’s really fun for us, too,” he says.
Though Sagapool is still touring in support of their current album, Bourque offers some clues as to where the band will be moving creatively in the future, but is just cryptic enough to keep fans guessing.
“We want to begin the creative part, to start writing at the end of August, [but] we haven’t talked about what direction we want to have,” he says.
“I think it’s going to be an extension of Episode Trois – I feel like Episode Trois is sort of a midpoint for us, a place where we’ve asked a lot of questions that we don’t really have any answers to. But I think our next album will have more of a straight direction.”