The Brothers Dubé impressed Montreal’s Arcade Fire enough for the Grammy Award-winning band to jam with them, but when they discovered the kids were raising money for the same charity, they realized they were kindred spirits. The three boys formed the band to raise their mother’s spirits as she was battling breast cancer and when she passed away in 2008 they shifted their focus to raise funds for charity, from cancer to the people of Haiti.
The fundraising successes of The Brothers Dubé — guitarist Liam (17), bassist/vocalist Jan (14), and drummer Quinn (12) — have brought them much-deserved recognition, including United Way's Community Builder of the Year Award in 2011, nominations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and Governor General's Awards, and, in 2012, a commendation from the Prime Minister.
This past June, they received the Mayor’s City Builder Award from Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, "for their success in the music industry, philanthropy, and inspiring young people to change the world through their creativity and passion."
"The whole reason we are doing this is to make a difference," Jan tells Samaritanmag. "When people notice like that, it's a good sign that you are doing that. There's nothing more we could ask for."
The band — which will be opening for the Beach Boys in Toronto this Sunday (Aug. 18) — was started in 2005 when they were all still in single digits.
“Quinn was six, Jan was seven, and Liam was nine,” their father Rob Dubé tells Samaritanmag. “[Their mother] Michele was a classic rock fan of bands like The Police and Guns 'N Roses. The boys picked up on that, and to keep her spirits up while she was fighting cancer, they posted some covers [including The Police's 'So Lonely' in 2007] of some of her favourite songs on YouTube."
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Jan says after his mother’s death, they all wanted to do something good to continue her outlook of positivity and try to make a difference in the lives of other who get cancer.
"We still couldn't completely understand what was going on, as we were very young,” says Jan, “but the more we grew the more we realised that the way we could deal with it was by giving back to the community and telling people of our experiences."
They did that by, to quote a Doobie Brothers song, "taking it to the streets."
They began busking to raise money for various cancer charities, quickly becoming popular around Ottawa and at such events as the highly regarded Ottawa BluesFest. In 2011, the Brothers Dubé chose to launch their self-titled debut album by busking outside BluesFest for their CD release party. They gave 10 percent of the money raised that night to the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa which provides after-school programs for youth.
"We started off by raising money for cancer research," recalls Jan. "Then, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, we turned our attention to that. We saw there were orphans in Haiti who'd lost their parents in the quake. We could relate to that, so we decided to raise money for them. It started from there. We began raising more and more money through busking until eventually we got to our big goal of $150,000 for Haiti."
Rob Dubé explains "the boys did hundreds of shows in 2010 and 2011. Between every song, they'd give out information: 'Here's what we're working on. Here's how you can help.' Just constantly sharing their story and plugging the cause."
Besides those mentions, the one huge boost to their fundraising efforts came at the 2010 Bluesfest. The Brothers Dubé were again busking outside the festival fence when they caught the attention of Grammy Award-winning indie rock stars Arcade Fire from Montreal. After their set, Arcade Fire spontaneously joined the brothers, singing backup at a joint jam session.
"At the time, we weren't really familiar with the band," Liam tells Samaritanmag. "But after they came to play with us we found out they were the headlining BluesFest act and they were also raising money for Haiti. We joined their campaign for Haiti, Kanpe [a diverse group focused on helping Haiti break free from a vicious cycle of poverty], and they started matching all our donations, dollar for dollar. They were just really supportive and really nice people. Those are the kinds of artists that do more than just their music."
Arcade Fire helped the Brothers Dubé get on the bill at Montreal's 2010 Osheaga festival and have stayed in touch. "We‘ve been to some board meetings for Kanpe, and our connection with Arcade Fire is a great one to have," says Liam.
The brothers’ deep concern for the plight of the Haitian people was shown when they visited Haiti in 2012. "That was definitely an eye-opener," says Liam. "A lot of people would say 'We don't know where money is going. It's just a waste.' We went to see where the money we raised went. It made us just want to do more."
The group took down 25 bags full of musical equipment and guitars, did some musical workshops, and performed at the Little Brothers and Sisters Orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti. "We filmed it all for a documentary called A Day In The Life," says Jan. "We have taken that to schools in Canada, using it as a video background during our actual performance."
Their current project is the collection of musical instruments they plan to ship to a Haitian choir later this month.
Their Haitian trip had a profound impact on the brothers. "The situation they're in, the fact they could still laugh and smile is amazing," says Quinn. "Everyone is drawn together by music there and that is inspiring."
The band’s hard work in terms of their music is also paying off, as they are now viewed as a talented credible rock band. They've been writing their own songs for two years and are now working with prominent industry professionals. Working on production and co-writing with them is Kaylen Prescott, son of noted producer/musician Randall Prescott (Family Brown, Robbie Robertson). "Randall and I handle the management, while Kaylen and the kids are the band and producer. It's a big family team," says Rob Dubé.
The Brothers Dubé also recently signed with major booking agency The Feldman Agency — whose roster includes Rush and The Tragically Hip — which got them the opening slot for The Beach Boys on August 18.
Even for that major show, the trio haven't forgotten their favourite cause, as they've offered to collect any donated instruments for Haiti there.
As their music career gets off the ground and gets them in front of more people, the Brothers Dubé embrace their position as role models for other youth facing challenges. "Our advice is to never give up," says Quinn. "We love telling our stories to people. You just need to keep your head up and be positive. If you don't, it'll be like 'I'll never be able to do this,' and then you don't do it. If you always stay positive you can get to share your own story of success with other people. It is a great experience for kids of our age to raise that much money for charity. Doing this, you meet so many generous people that are willing to give."Nike