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Robert Sylvain Tiny Screen Concert

Robert Sylvain
Robert Sylvain

Acclaimed singer Robert Sylvain staged a Tiny Screen Concert via Zoom.us on June 10.

Robert Sylvain plays the music of the Acadians, the first French settlers of Maine, along with music from the various cultures which touched and influenced their music on their epic journey from France to Acadia, to Louisiana and back again. Drawing from notebooks of Acadian ballads left to him by his Mémère Thibodeau, Sylvain folds in Breton, Quebecois and maritime elements, as well as echoes of their southern cousins the Cajuns, with Creole and zydeco influences. All these traditions are honored through the lens of a modern roots music sensibility, with authentic Acadian joie de vivre.

Well known as lead singer for the roots music groups Boréal Tordu and Sylvain's Acadian Aces, Robert Sylvain has toured internationally as an emissary of Acadian music in Maine, notably at the 2004 Congrès Mondial Acadien in Nova Scotia, the 2009 Féte des Acadiens in Vatan, France, the 2011 Fête de St. Jean in Québec, and the 2014 Congrès Mondial in New Brunswick, which was televised live on CBC. In addition to the cd releases Demonstration (2003), La Bonne Vie (2006), and Les Chevaliers (2009), Sylvain's recorded music has been included on the cd compilation Des voix s'élèvent produced by Zachary Richard, on the short film A Brief Case of Love played at the Cannes Film Festival, and on the PBS series NOW with David Brancaccio.

Descended from the French-speaking first colonists of Maine, whose deportation from the land they called Acadie was chronicled in Longfellow's epic poem Evangeline, Robert inherited the famous Acadian joie de vivre along with a penchant for singing loudly in crowds, from his father, Robert, Sr. who grew up in Waterville, Maine, where the rosary and off-color jokes were still always en français and tourtière pie was served every Christmas. The elder Robert's mother, known of course only as Memère, was a Thibodeau from the St. John River Valley of northern Maine, where many Acadians settled after the great upheaval of 1755. As a testament to her culture, Memère left behind a notebook full of old Acadian French songs which she remembered and transcribed, from which the younger Robert draws material and inspiration.

Robert started singing professionally for young audiences in 1990 when he was awarded a grant by the Massachussetts Arts Council to develop children's music programs for public libraries in Somerville, MA. During that time Robert met Steve Muise, a fellow Acadian and fiddler with whom Sylvain later formed Maine's premier Acadian folk band, Boréal Tordu. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Robert met Louisiana's prodigal son, fiddler Matthew Doucet and started the band Douce, which became the inspiration for Sylvain's Acadian Aces, bringing Cajun-style dance music to old Acadie. In 2008 the Maine Arts Council awarded Robert a traditional arts apprenticeship grant to work with renowned Acadian guitarist David Surette, which allowed him the resources to study and develop the traditional songs found in his Mémère's notebook. Since then Robert has scoured folk music archives around the globe to discover the original melodies and bring these nearly forgotten gems to light.