When talking about mixing musical cultures, writers are often drawn to metaphors of gumbos or stews. That doesn’t seem appropriate for global soul outfit Chic Gamine, which hails from Winnipeg and Montreal. Perhaps a better option is the classic Canadian comfort food, poutine. You can think of Chic Gamine’s sound as a dense layer of Motown, slathered with rich French Canadian folk and sprinkled with South American rhythm.
The band began in 2007 as a quasi-a capella group — a quartet of female vocalists backed by a single drummer. The band’s unique sound, Motown-esque soul peppered with French-Canadian folk and world music influences, earned performances at Canada’s premier folk and jazz festivals and opening slots for singers like Mavis Staples and Smokey Robinson.
The founding lineup, vocalists Andrina Turenne, Alexa Dirks, Annick Bremault and Ariane Jean backed by drummer Sacha Daoud, composed the band until 2014. That year, Jean left the band for personal reasons, and the band added guitarist/bassist Benoit Morier to the mix. The singers also began playing instruments, adding guitars, keyboards and extra percussion into the band’s sound.
“In the beginning, we always had to rely on the harmonies to make the sound as thick as possible, and now we don’t need to, so it permits the girls to do these other things with their voices,” Daoud said.
This version of the band is featured on its latest album, “Light a Match,” which was released in October. The band’s website describes the release as showing an “amped-up, fleshed out side of Chic Gamine.”
“Now that there’s an accompaniment aspect, and the girls are playing all these instruments, it really changed the sound,” Daoud said. “It took it out of the folk realm and brought it more into a more pop place. You can hear the voices — they’re still very prominent — but the background is a bit heavier than it used to be.”
The bands multi-singer approach has earned it comparisons to classic Motown girl groups like the Supremes. Part of the group’s signature sound lies in this three-headed vocal approach.
“I think what defines the band still is the fact that there’s no true lead singer in the band,” he said. “Usually with bands, you identify a bandleader or a lead vocalist. Even the Supremes had the two girls in the back and Diana Ross in the front. I think in this band, it’s interesting to see how they really pass the ball. The girls take turns leading different songs and co-writing them.”
The band’s name references both its girl-group roots and its French Canadian/American pop crossover.
“Since most of the band members were of a French (Canadian) background, initially, we thought about finding a name where the words within the name existed in French and in English,” Daoud explained.
The French word “chic,” which means hip or stylish, has been absorbed into the English language. “Gamine,” a French word for a mischievous young girl, is often used in English to describe a boyish yet elegant style often associated with actress Audrey Hepburn.
The band’s upcoming slate of performances includes a Jan. 21 stop at the Wharton Center and a Jan. 22 show at the City Opera House in Traverse City. While Daoud finds playing shows in Canada and the U.S. quite similar, there’s one thing that he loves about touring in the U.S. — less time in the tour bus.
“Canada is a big country, but it has a smaller population. Distances between urban centers are quite huge,” Daoud said. “In the U.S. you can tour in a different fashion. There’s less traveling between important cities.”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21 $43/$15 students Pasant Theatre Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com