Searching for Abegweit

Searching for Abegweit is a celebration of PEI’s culture, history, and heritage in song and story. PEI native, Lennie Gallant, performs with his hugely talented nephews, Lawrence and Jeremy Gallant, multi-talented Patricia Richard, and violinist Sean Kemp. He weaves stories of his own ancestors and contemporary family members into the history of the island he calls home. The Gallants were one of two founding European families, and they were among the Acadians who survived the deportation in 1758, three years later than “La Grande Dérangement” in Nova Scotia, with the help of the M’ikmaq people. So their story is intimately intertwined with the story of “Abegweit” the M’ikmaq name for PEI. The show opens and ends with a powerful vocal
overlay of Hubert Francis, M’ikmaq singer, chanting and drumming.

The stories are heartwarming and the music ranges from rollicking (Back to Rustico) to deeply moving (La Tempête).

I have been a fan of Lennie Gallant’s since the release of his first recording, “Breakwater” around 1989. Usually it’s possible to track the growth of an artist over the course of 28 years. But when he sang a couple of songs off that first CD tonight, I realized that he was that good back then. The only thing that has changed is the musicians with whom he surrounds himself.

Lennie and his band have chemistry on stage. They also have wonderful rapport with the audience. Their vocal blend, instrumental virtuosity, and intricate percussion serve to enhance Lennie’s brilliant song-writing.

Karen Gallant’s paintings, interspersed with photographs, form the visual backdrop for the show. The delicate lighting brought movement and depth to the artwork.

I had seen some of Karen’s work featured in a magazine a few years ago and was curious, but unmoved by the strange, big-eyed people depicted, often suspended in mid-air. Now that I’ve seen her paintings in the context of this show, I am struck by the power of her work. It equals the power of her brother’s lyrics. She has harnessed the vibrant beauty of the island and the vitality of its people. The faces she depicts reflect both the hardship and the joy of generations of Islanders. And over, around, and through it all, there is music and nature.

I had the pleasure of visiting Karen Gallant’s studio in Rustico yesterday. My mission was to come home with one of her prints. I loved all of the ones on display and thought choosing one would be a hopeless task, but Réveiller la Nuit seemed to leap out at me. I can’t wait to have it framed and hung in our home. The original painting is 5 by 3 ft.

We have now seen Searching for Abegweit four times. It just keeps getting better. The PEI Brewing Company, with cabaret-style seating, was the venue in 2015 and 2016. It had many virtues, most noteworthy being the fine craft beer. This year, the show moved to the Habourfront Theatre in Summerside. The sound and lighting were excellent and the soft theatre seats an added comfort.

Tonight is the last time Searching for Abegweit will be performed for this season. As yet, there are no firm plans for another season. This is a show well worth experiencing, and it really needs to be taken on the road. We’ll be keeping an eye on Lennie Gallant’s website for any news.