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Vishtèn's foot percussion recalls oppressive times
Dancing on the down-low

Each summer La Fête de Marquette, the multi-day east-side festival, showcases music with French flair. However, some of the most interesting artists don't come from Paris or Cannes. They hail from Canadian locales like Prince Edward Island, the place the Acadian quartet Vishtèn calls home.

Descended from French colonists, Acadians from this island make music from a diverse set of musical ingredients. Vishtèn's includes Scottish and Irish melodies, plus some very rhythmic footwork. I recently chatted with Pastelle LeBlanc, who dances, sings and plays accordion for the group, about how Vishtèn makes this tantalizing, tuneful treat.

You guys don't just dance; you use your feet as instruments. Tell me how this works.

Foot percussion is very French. It all began when the Catholic religion would not allow the Acadians to dance and play music on the weekends, and they would come to the houses and take instruments away. This happened to [my] grandfather. The Acadians, however, could not stop dancing, so they decided to dance sitting down so that they couldn't be seen from under the tables. They also thought it would be a smaller sin. It was also used to accompany the fiddle, since most of the time, the only instrument in the house was the fiddle.

I noticed there will be a dance with a caller during one of your performances at La Fête. What will that be like?

Usually, when we play with a caller, we provide the music (jigs, reels, waltzes) so the caller can create or "call" the dances. He or she usually calls out the dance steps and movements and guides the dancers. There's quite a resemblance to American square dancing.

The sea and fishing seem to be an essential part of Prince Edward Island's cultural history. How is the band connected to these things?

We know lots of fisherman. Some of our family members were fisherman. It's very present in our communities and in our hearts, and I think the people close to the sea live with the rhythm of the water. It's a relaxed lifestyle but also hardworking. We are definitely very proud of our lobster, oysters, mussels and clams!

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