Portrait: Geneviève Letarte
Geneviève Letarte is an artist before being a singer. Her musical career is only one of many facets she has integrated to her art. A poet, novelist, lyricist, and performance artist, she is loosely associated with the Montréal avant-garde music collective Ambiances Magnétiques, but also with the poetry/spoken word scene (both francophone and anglophone). Her albums are few and far between.
Letarte was born in Quebec City in 1955. At age 20 she went to Paris to study literature and cinema for two years — at the time an obligatory sojourn for Quebecer intellectuals. She had already started to write for various literary magazines (her name would appear in La Vie en Rose, La Nouvelle Barre du Jour, Estuaire, Moebius, and the New York magazine Bomb, among others). She launched her professional career in 1982 with her first interdisciplinary performance “Transit Station” (also the title of her firstbook). The next year she presented “Sirène Serpent Zoulou,” a show of music and poetry with Serge Boisvert. From there she developed a growing interest in music. She briefly collaborated with the all-female group Wondeur Brass with which she shared a feminist philosophy, but her first musical break came in 1987 when Ambiances Magnétiques member René Lussier invited her for a guest appearance at his duo concert with guitarist Fred Frith at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Lussier and drummer Michel F Côté (also of AM) helped her write, arrange, and produce her first album Vous seriez un ange (“You’d be an angel”), released in 1990 on the collective’s label.
During the next decade Letarte juggled writing, songwriting and performance art. She wrote the lyrics to La légende de la pluie, a 1992 performance and album by Justine, Tenko, and Zeena Parkins. She appeared at the Victo festival (1990), the Vancouver Jazz Festival (1995), and a number of poetry events in America and Europe. 2000 saw her focus again on music, first with a word/sound performance with electroacoustic artist Chantal Dumas, then with a new CD, Chansons d’un jour, co-written with guitarist Claude Fradette (of Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar).