Culture important to duo

Justin Brake
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Bette and Wallet bringing 'recycled' inspired music to province

A duo of musical protagonists is bringing its freshly branded interpretation of folk and traditional music to a city and province rich in its appreciation for the art form.

Mary Beth Carty and Gabriel Ouellette, better known as Bette and Wallet, are visiting Newfoundland for the first time to introduce islanders to what they're calling "recycled music."

Gabriel Ouellette and Mary Beth Carty, a.k.a. Bette and Wallet, will be in Newfoundland this weekend. The culture-inspired musical duo play the Rose and Thistle Thursday and CBTG's Friday, in St. John's and the Blackthorn Stick Cafe in Corner Brook Saturd

A duo of musical protagonists is bringing its freshly branded interpretation of folk and traditional music to a city and province rich in its appreciation for the art form.

Mary Beth Carty and Gabriel Ouellette, better known as Bette and Wallet, are visiting Newfoundland for the first time to introduce islanders to what they're calling "recycled music."

Last year the couple released their debut record, "Voici ... Bette and Wallet," a home-recorded multi-genre mosaic of anglophone and franco-phone folk and traditional reinterpretations infused with lyrics relevant to contemporary issues.

When the music earned radio play on indie stations and CBC, they were noticed and nominated for Nova Scotia, Canadian Folk and East Coast music awards.

All this just three years after the two met in a Quebec City pub in 2005, where their individual journeys to discover their roots had led them.

"We became friends and collaborated together. I'd already written some songs that needed a toe-tapper," Carty says with a chuckle over the phone from her parents' home in Antigonish, N.S.

The two have since become more than friends, making their collaboration both musical and personal.

"Working as a couple, it has its advantages and its disadvantages," Carty explains, sounding as though she's sporting a smile.

"When we were making the album we didn't have any outside (help) ... it was just the two of us and I think that made it harder in a way. We kind of struggled through the process."

The result sounds like anything but a struggle.

Evident in the toe-tapping tunes are klezmer and Scotch folk influences, Brazilian rhythms, a square-danceability and dance-calling, not to mention Carty's sugar-sweet voice that resonates with an unintentional haunting Gaelic presence one moment and a very intentional importunate mandate the next.

Musically, Carty frequents the piano and accordion on the record, while Ouellette contributes on the banjo, fiddle, bouzouki, mandolin and guitar.

Among the most noteworthy numbers are the klezmer-sounding "Squeegees," the environmental-minded "OGM" and an uppity feel-good "Family Photo."

"The reason we play traditional music, it's almost a protest," Carty explains, revealing the social mandate behind their songwriting.

"It's a positive way of protesting against neo-colonialism, which is present in pop music, and pop music is often aimed toward children and adolescents, people who are developing. I didn't have this experience when I was young because of my culture. I did highland dancing, I went to square dances and my cousins were fiddlers," she says.

"But I've been working in elementary schools for the past four years and I've realized that the children growing up in urban environments - their culture is the culture they see on television. Those children don't appreciate their cultural traditions and I find it really sad because they identify with this American mass culture.

"So me and Gabriel, when we play traditional music, we want to ... show people that there's something else."

Occupying a space somewhere between tradition and modernity, Carty maintains the music is "kind of humorous, but still looks at the world around you."

"I find it's really important to look at it as traditional music, but I also feel it's important to have it continue to grow and develop and be a living tradition."

Bette and Wallet will be accompanied by Maritime all-star folkies Al Tuck of Halifax and Jane Ehrhardt of New Brunswick for all three New-foundland shows.

The groups play Thursday and Friday in St. John's at the Rose and Thistle and CBTG's respectively, followed by a performance Saturday at the Black-thorn Stick CafÉ in Corner Brook.

Organizations: CBC, Family Photo

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, East Coast Quebec City Antigonish New Brunswick St. John's Corner Brook

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