CLAUDE MCKENZIE had problems with alcohol. He was at a party back in his home town of Maliotenam 800 km northeast of Montreal. That night, he drove his girlfriend home. On his way, he hit a teenage girl. She went into a coma. Rumours circulated that she might not live. Everyone who had been following Kashtin and watching their rise to fame was shocked. It was terrible news. They had risen so high and then fallen down hard. Claude was sentenced to nine months in jail, did two in Sept Iles. He lost his driver’s license for six years and paid $10,000 in fines and court costs. The young girl recovered, without permanent damage. During all this, Claude lost his son of two years to illness.

Now he’s back after what must have been a long journey, doing what he does best, making music. Enter Florent Vollant, they are Kashtin. They are back. After their 1989 phenomenal self-titled debut album and the 1991 certified platinum follow-up album Innu. Now there’s Akua Tuta. They are the same, but different somehow. Their sound continues where they left off, but it’s more mature, even cooler this time. Less edge than in their first album. Fewer gimmicks than in their second. They also could be bigger than ever this time around. So far, they’ve only really made it big in the Canadian and European markets.

With this new album, they’re signed on with the mega-record company Sony Records and they are making a push to the American market.

They debuted their new album in Montreal and The Nation had a chance to catch them in action at a local concert venue called Club Soda. It was a high-brow invitation-only launch. The place was full of Music industry types, media, lots of suits and ties and there were a couple of families of Innu who came to see what all the fuss was all about and of course to see Kashtin. Hors d’oeuvres were served throughout the event. Small hand-sized quiches, skewered BBQ chicken, shrimp on sticks and lots of little delicate desserts. That made Neil happy. They played their new album and video on the sound system and then the big event came when Kashtin took to the stage. Claude looked older and more handsome, say the women. He has filled out. He isn’t as skinny as he used to be and looks very healthy. Florant, it was also pointed out by the women, looks better without his moustache.

They have a new band line up and invited drummer Lucien Jourdain. They did a couple of new songs from their new album, of course, including the title song Akua tuta. But they ended the set with the familiar Euassiuian. In the end that is what they are… Familiar, with the sense of oneness that is achieved through the spirit of music. From the time in the late eighties when I heard their pre-label bootleg demo tape to when they were “discovered” and they played their first gig at Theatre St-Denis (quite a step from playing in the subway metros where they started) and up to now. They have transcended languages and cultures and planted themselves in people’s hearts. From the looks of things, they are still there. Welcome back, if you were ever away.