On the strength of his appeal to a largely French-speaking audience, Roch Voisine has sold an incredible 12 million records since his career began in 1986 and delighted audiences globally with his sophisticated pop music.
The singer-songwriter, a native of New Brunswick, first catapulted into the international spotlight with his 1989 French-language album, Hélène, which earned him star status across Europe and in French Canada. In 1991, he was the youngest person to be awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Regular tours have only increased his popularity there.
Now, 25 years on, Voisine has released an English-language collection of his greatest hits, aptly entitled My Very Best, which he hopes will reintroduce him to the rest of Canada. The 16-track work, his 26th record, includes the favourites “I’ll Always Be There”, “Kissing Rain”, and “Shed a Light”. There are also four new songs, most significantly “Living Out My Dreams”, a composition that was released for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This inspirational song was recorded with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and lauded as the official anthem of the Canadian Olympic team. (Voisine is donating proceeds from the sales of that track to the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support emerging athletes.)
Voisine, who entertained thoughts of a professional hockey career until an injury ended that dream, performed “Living Out My Dreams” at Canada Olympic House in Sochi before audiences of officials, athletes, and their families. The reaction “was quite incredible,” the 51-year-old Voisine recounts. “Let’s face it, they didn’t know the lyrics by heart, because it had only been out for days, yet the effect on these people … was massive.”
Record sales are certainly a measure of commercial success, but peer recognition is also of paramount importance to artists. So when Voisine was asked to perform the vocals on Carlos Santana’s version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”, he was simply staggered. (The song is a bonus track on My Very Best, and it’s on Voisine’s current concert set list.)
“I didn’t believe it—I thought it was a joke, somebody was pulling my leg. You know how sometimes you say, ‘That’s a bad joke’? It took a few days to realize it was for real,” he says. “It had to be done pretty quickly because they were releasing the record in France. I was recording another project in Nashville, and [Santana’s] engineer came down and we cut the vocal there.” The thought of eventually performing the song live with Santana has crossed his mind.
While the French-language market has largely been Voisine’s bread and butter, he is quick to acknowledge the support of English Canada, challenging the notion that he has not been embraced by anglophones. “They have. I have had the chance to host the Junos, host the East Coast Music Awards and Canada Day celebrations. I am an Officer of the Order of Canada. English Canada has given a lot to me that was different than what Quebec and Europe gave me. The relationship was different.”
A single father of two young boys (Killian and Alix-Elouan), Voisine is maintaining a balancing act these days between his career and parenthood. He occasionally takes them on tour with him, although at this point they have not shown much musical ambition.
Given the pressures from both life disciplines, he is often asked how much longer he will perform. Songwriting, especially melodies, comes easily, he says, and he has many more songs “on the shelf” and ready to be recorded. “My life will be very different when I am 70,” Voisine declares, “but, yes, I wish I could at least sing whenever I want to.”
That’s welcome news to his legions of fans.