Métis fiddle and dance
One of Canada’s best-known fiddle teachers has said of Winnipeg’s Patti Kusturok: “When it comes to old-time fiddling in Canada, Patti’s the ‘Boss.’” Indeed, Patti is a lauded master of Canadian fiddle playing, and it is the unique Métis fiddling tradition that forms the core of her repertoire. This tradition has for centuries been a central element of Métis cultural identity in Western Canada and the Northern Plains. The fiddle is the essential instrument in this tradition, whose notable characteristics include fast tempos with asymmetric phrasing, double-stringing, altered fiddle tunings—and the clogging that often accompanies a well-played tune.
Métis is a French word for a distinctive group of people of mixed Native/European ancestry whose history begins with European colonization. As voyagers and fur traders, the Métis played a pivotal role in exploration and development of North America as early as the late 16th century. Today there are over a half a million Métis on both sides of the Medicine Line (the border between the U.S. and Canada).
Patti Kusturok showed early interest in music, so her father, an amateur fiddler, got her a violin. She says, “All I ever wanted to do was learn how to fiddle,” and by age six she was. Her enthusiastic parents immersed her in both live and recorded music. The vibrant fiddling community in Winnipeg embraced the diverse traditions present in the fabric of Manitoba life, but Métis fiddling and the jigging (dance) that accompanied it were the glue that held it all together. Young Patti found many mentors within this community, foremost among them the legendary, late Métis fiddler Reg Bouvette, with whom she performed during her teens. It was not until she was an adult, however, that Patti discovered she had a deeper personal connection to this tradition with which she already felt such deep kinship, when her family learned she had status as Métis through Patti’s maternal grandmother.
Now Patti is a leader among Canadian traditional fiddlers. Her many honors include winning the Canadian Junior Championship, then being three-time Grand North American Champion, and reigning from 1994-1996 as the winner of the Canadian Grand Master Fiddling Championship. She was the first woman (and first fiddler from Western Canada) to gain this top Canadian prize. She’s now a sought-after teacher, serves as a mentor in Canada’s Aboriginal Music Program, and in 2016 was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame.
Patti Kusturok performs at the helm of a rollicking band that includes her long-time performing partner and producer Jeremy Rusu as well as champion Métis jigger, cultural advocate, and dance teacher Beverly Lambert. Blind since infancy, Jeremy is a master of numerous instruments; with Patti he plays accordion licks and beautiful guitar accompaniment in his unique left-handed, lap-held style. Their exuberant musicianship combines with Patti’s warm personality and sharp wit to create an unforgettable welcome to Métis culture.