Geneviève Côté: Using music and the arts to bridge languages and cultures

Posted on Monday, December 5, 2022

Geneviève Côté

Photo: Geneviève Côté

Season five of the uOttaKnow podcast is underway! This season centres on the theme of curiosity, and how it comes through in the groundbreaking work of uOttawa alumni and researchers from around the world.The second episode of season five is a conversation between host Gwen Madiba (MA ’12; BSocSc ’08) and Geneviève Côté (LLL ’92). Since graduating from uOttawa with a degree in civil law, Geneviève has had an illustrious career and worn many hats across the Quebec cultural scene.

A member of the Quebec bar, Geneviève is better known for her contributions to concert production and music promotion across the province and country. For her latest role, Geneviève moved from Montreal to Granby, where she is serving as executive director of the Festival international de la chanson de Granby.

There’s perhaps no better person to provide recommendations for up-and-coming musical acts from Quebec. Geneviève lists a few of her recent favourites in this episode—so you’ll want to listen to the whole thing! Short on time? Here are our highlights from the conversation.

Curiosity as a commitment to lifelong learning

The first question we ask all uOttaKnow guests this season is “what does curiosity mean to you?” Geneviève says she sees curiosity as a sign of intelligence and an openness to always learn and expand her personal horizons.

Lately, one focus of Geneviève’s learning has been speaking with Indigenous friends about the parallels between the preservation of the French language and culture and the efforts of Indigenous nations to maintain their languages. She says there’s an important opportunity for minority groups from across the country to better understand one another so they can advocate together for a greater voice in English-speaking Canada.

To connect cultures, home in on specific cultural references

Bilingual in French and English, Geneviève has often served as the bridge between the francophone and anglophone music industries in Canada. Geneviève also refers to herself as “bicultural,”—a recognition of her deeper understanding of the role that music and art play in culture and identity.

One trick she has developed to bridge languages and regionalisms is to use local cultural references to help people understand the significance of certain musical acts and what they represent. For instance, when talking about Louis-Jean Cormier, former front man of the indie rock band Karkwa, Geneviève understands that his music alone may not help the English music scene grasp his importance in Quebec. And so, when chatting up a musician in Toronto, for example, she’ll say Cormier is like the Hawksley Workman of Quebec.

By providing people with a familiar name, place, or musical sound, Geneviève is slowly raising the profile not only of the musical talents of francophone artists, but how they fit into the unique culture of Quebec.

With a career that has spanned two decades and intersected with Canadian arts and cultural institutions like the Polaris Music Prize, SOCAN, and now the Festival international de la chanson de Granby, Geneviève is a true leader and passionate about her craft. You can listen to the full conversation with her here.

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