Richard Desjardins is a self-taught musician whose musical influences range from blues to Johann Sebastian Bach. He sang and played piano for the group Abbittibbi from 1975 to 1982. The other members of this country-rock group were bassist Rémy Perron, drummer Michel Jetté, and guitarists Pat Beaulieu and Ricky Lozier. The group gradually built up an enthusiastic fan base on the nightclub circuit. In 1981, the group released their first album, Boom Town Café, for which Desjardins wrote most of the songs. The band split up in 1982 due to contract complications. Following this, Desjardins pursued several different careers, including working as a music teacher in the Inuit community of Puvirnituq in the Nord-du-Québec region (see Ungava Inuit), working as a logger in the forests of Abitibi and playing piano in bars in Rouyn-Noranda.
Les derniers humains, Tu m’aimes-tu? and Boom Boom
In 1985, the National Theatre School of Canada asked Desjardins to compose the music for Bertolt Brecht’s play Têtes rondes et têtes pointues, and to be the musical director for the play’s performance at the Brecht International Festival in Toronto that year. In 1988, he self-produced his first solo album, Les derniers humains.
Richard Desjardins defied artistic conventions and became recognized for his songs “Tu m’aimes-tu?” and “Quand j’aime une fois, j’aime pour toujours” from his album Tu m’aimes-tu?, released in 1990. He won two Félix Awards in 1991. After performing in Paris in the spring of 1992, he was acclaimed by French critics for his thoughtful lyrics and personal music. He reunited with the other members of Abbittibbi and spent the next four years writing music and exploring his rock and country roots with them. He released Boom Boom, his first solo album in 10 years, in the fall of 1998.
Music for Narrative and Documentary Film
Desjardins was drawn to working in film, and in 1977 he co-directed the film Comme des chiens en pacage with Robert Monderie. He recorded the film’s soundtrack with Abbittibbi. The following year he composed the music for the feature-length films L’hiver bleu, directed by André Blanchard, as well as Depuis que le monde est monde (1981) and Le doux partage (1983), directed by Sylvie van Brabant. He also composed the music for Robert Monderie and Daniel Corvec’s medium-length film Noranda (1984). He composed the music for Jacques Chabot’s film La nuit avec Hortense (1988). In 1989, he co-wrote lyrics (with Michel X. Côté) and music (with Gaston Gagnon and Calibre .38) for Pierre Falardeau’s film Le Party. The film’s soundtrack was released as an album in 1990 on the Justin Time record label. Desjardins also played the role of the prisoner Bébé in the film and performed a gruff blues number, “Le Screw,” which is a pejorative term used in prisons to talk about prison guards.
In 1998, he directed L’erreur boréale, a documentary on deforestation in Northern Québec, which won a Jutra Award in 1999. He spent the year 2000 in France on tour and in self-reflection. He returned to Québec to take his show Richard Desjardins et sa guétard on tour to more than 50 cities. His 2003 album Kanasuta was named for a forest in Abitibi that was saved thanks to l’Action boréale, a forest conservation organization that Desjardins helped found. He received numerous awards for the album and show of the same name, including the Miroir Award for most popular show at the Festival d’été de Québec in 2005. In 2007, he and Robert Monderie codirected Le peuple invisible, a documentary about the plight of the Algonquin people. The film won a Jutra Award for best documentary in 2008.
In the spring of 2008, Desjardins began the final leg of his Kanasuta tour and recorded one by one with Renée Martel, Marjo and Gilles Vigneault on their new albums, and wrote for Elisapie Isaac’s album. He released the album Richard Desjardins symphonique in 2009, which he recorded with the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières conducted by Gilles Bellemare. He released his eighth album, L’existoire, in April 2011. A few months later he released another documentary, Trou Story, about the mining industry. The film won Best Documentary at the 22nd Sept-Îles film festival.
Richard Desjardins has also written two historical fiction novels, La mer intérieure (Docteur Sax, 2000) and Aliénor (Lux, 2008). He has translated an Aboriginal fable by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas called Le vol du colibri, published in 2008 by Boréal.
Desjardins often performs at European festivals in France, Switzerland and Belgium, accompanying himself on the guitar. In 2014, he worked with Alexandre Da Costa and Alexandre Éthier to put together “Soleil d’Espagne – Vies et poésies de Lorca,” a show that combined music and poetry to pay homage to the life and works of Federico García Lorca. In 2016, he performed the second opus of Desjardins symphonique with Gilles Bellemare and the Orchestre symphonique de Québec.
Honours and Awards
Miroir Award for French-Language Song, Festival d’été de Québec (1990)
Jacques-Blanchet Medal (1991)
Félix Award for Most Popular Album (Tu m’aimes-tu?), ADISQ (1991)
Félix Award for Best Music Producer (Tu m’aimes-tu?), ADISQ (1991)
Québec Wallonie-Bruxelles Award for French Music (Tu m’aimes-tu?) (1992)
Miroir Award for French Music (with Abbittibbi), Festival d’été de Québec (1995)
Félix Award for Best Show Writer (Boom Boom), ADISQ (1999)
Jutra Award for Best Documentary (L’Erreur Boréale), (1999)
Robert-Claude Bérubé Award (L’Erreur boréale), Communications et Société (1999)
Award for Sustainable Development in a Rural Area (L’Erreur boréale), Ecofilm international film festival, Lille, France (1999)
Magazine Feature Award (L’Erreur boréale), International Environmental Film Festival, Paris (1999)
Festival Grand Prize, Environment Commendation (L’Erreur boréale), Festival international du film nature et environnement, Grenoble, France (1999)
Man of the Year, L’Actualitémagazine (1999)
Honorary Doctorate (Arts), Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue(2004)
Félix Award for Best Show Writer (with Patrice Desbiens for Kanasuta), ADISQ (2004)
Félix Award for Best Singer-Songwriter (Kanasuta), ADISQ (2004)
Félix Award for Best Album (Kanasuta), ADISQ (2004)
Félix Award For Best Show – Singer-Songwriter-Performer (Kanasuta), ADISQ (2004)
Grand Prize – Album, Académie Charles-Cros (Kanasuta) (2004)
French in Culture Award, Union des artistes, the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois and the Société des auteurs de radio, télévision et cinéma in collaboration with the Office québécois de la langue française (2005)
Miroir Award for Most Popular Show (Kanasuta), Festival d’été de Québec (2005)
Robert-Charlebois Award, Fondation SPACQ (Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec) (2008)
Honorary Doctorate, Université du Québec à Montréal (2008)
Jutra Award for Best Documentary (Le peuple invisible) (2008)
Gémeaux Award for Best Documentary (Le peuple invisible) (2008)
Félix Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album (L’existoire), ADISQ (2012)
Félix Award for Best Show ‒ Singer-Songwriter-Performer (L’existoire), ADISQ (2012)
Best Documentary (Trou Story), Sept-Îles Film Festival (2012)