Prince Edward Island and Magdalen Islands, Québec
Vishtèn’s music is a hardy mixture of Acadian, Irish, and Scottish styles, with fiery fiddling and powerful step dancing taking front and center. Formed in 2000 on their native Prince Edward Island, Vishtèn is a trio of young musicians and dancers founded by twin sisters Pastelle LeBlanc (piano accordion, piano, dance, vocals) and Emmanuelle LeBlanc (bodhrán, whistles, mandolin, piano, dance, vocals). Rounding out the trio is Pascal Miousse—from the nearby Magdalen Islands—on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and vocals.
Traditional Acadian music is a rhythmic, high-energy sound developed and nurtured on tiny Prince Edward Island. The seeds for this style came to P.E.I. with the first French settlers who arrived over 400 years ago. Over time, a distinct French-Acadian musical tradition emerged that combined swinging fiddle, driving piano, and complex beats tapped out with hard-soled shoes. The music has been lovingly passed down from generation to generation through community gatherings and dances, and especially by way of “kitchen parties” among family and friends in the island’s close-knit communities. The rhythms and melodies are inseparable, and reflect a special joie de vivre unique to the Acadian culture of Eastern Canada.
Pastelle and Emmanuelle LeBlanc grew up in the Acadian community of Mont-Carmel but were surrounded by P.E.I.’s Scottish and Irish communities; that combination has given their music its special recipe. When their parents held their frequent house parties, the fiddle tunes were as often Scottish or Irish as they were French.
“We’re the Acadians who hid out in the woods when all the others were being deported to France and Louisiana,” Pastelle explains. “The LeBlanc family is from Pitou in France, and all of our traditional songs come from our ancestors there. The Celtic influences in our music—and our step dancing—come from the mingling of Acadians with the Scottish and Irish settlers on P.E.I.”
Vishtèn’s performances are characterized by a drive and enthusiasm that have made them the premier ambassadors of traditional Acadian music. They are Acadian French, not Québécois, and keepers of a musical tradition older than their nation. Like the Cajuns (descendants of Acadians exiled by the British over 250 years ago), they’ve had to work at keeping their culture. And like the Cajuns, they do it with great humor and passion.