“Christine and the Queens said that there’s no greater freedom than the freedom to be yourself. It’s true,” says singer-songwriter and performer Ariane Brunet who, after releasing three albums under her own name, has just issued Soif, her debut album under the name L’Isle. Following a career break, during which she went back to university and started a family, she found a new record label, Bravo Musique, and a new pop sound that’s simultaneously electronic, rhythmic, and more modern.

L'isle“For me, L’Isle is like a new project,” says Brunet. “I understand it’s kind of blurry in people’s minds, because it is still me writing and singing. The difference between what I’ve put out under the name of Ariane Brunet and under the name of L’Isle isn’t that great,” she says, “yet it makes all the difference.”

Synthesizers bring a new colour and freshness to her output. Somewhat evocative of Christine and the Queens, her new tunes fit L’Isle like a glove. “She and I have had the same influences. I believe we may have listened to the same music when we were younger. Although I haven’t yet figured out why, when I was younger, I was listening to James Brown and Whitney Houston, and Corneille was one of my earliest influences because he was singing in French,” says Brunet, also mentioning The Weeknd, the American singer Banks, and the Swedish singer Lykke Li.

Brunet was 19 when she put out her debut album Le pied dans ma bulle, in 2020. She was 22 when Fusée came out, and 24 when Stella  was released. “I was young, and I felt embarrassed when other musicians were comparing me with musicians who were 15 years my senior, but that’s what was happening at the time,” she says. When her first recording contract expired, she went through a period when she was trying to find herself as a musician by writing for other artists, and working as a background singer for the French-language TV programme Y’a du monde à messe, hosted by Christian Bégin, on Télé-Québec.

“I also managed to go back to university to study creative writing,” she says. “I met a whole bunch of new musicians. I had to explore in order to be able to become the person I enjoy being now. I questioned myself, both in terms of my own self-image, and my creative credo. I came to understand that I love the idea of a musical project that calls for an immersive experience. There’s more to an artist’s world than just the music.”

L'Isle, Tous Les Corps, video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the L’Isle song “Tous les corps”

While all of her previously released albums under the name of Ariane Brunet have a musical identity of their own, L’Isle’s new esthetic direction puts her new project in a class by itself. “Everything changed when I started writing words from a melody or rhythm,” she explains. “In the past, the songs felt like they were getting written more freely – when you start a song by playing on a guitar, by following the melody of the rhythm, words and music just come together. This time, however, by using the rhythm and the melody as a base, I was more able to work on both the rhythm of my voice, and on the lyrics. That was the hardest part: helping the words make sense while making sure they sounded right.”

Which brings us to the meaning of the singer’s new name. L’Isle is the old spelling of the French word l’île (or the island in English), but with the exact same pronunciation as isle). She chose this new name mainly because she’s from Montréal’s West Island. Another reason was that L’Isle grew up in a primarily English-speaking neighbourhood. “My dad is a veteran Bill 101 fighter,” she says. “Every time we entered a business establishment, there was a new fight for us to get served in French. When people addressed him in English, he systematically answered in French – sometimes pretending he didn’t understand English.

“In school, French was spoken in class, but English was used in the schoolyard. The West Island was a beautiful place to live in, but as I was growing up, the fight for the French language became my own. And I got angry every time someone said that all French music sounded the same. For me personally, it was important to write and sing in French, and as a singer-songwriter and performer now, I want to make our language sound good. The meaning of words and phonetics are super important in a song. I want the songs to be meaningful and sound great, to get all those who claim it’s not possible to make good music in French to shut up.”

Vivek Shraya is an artisan, crafting challenging, tender, and beautiful songs and stories, expressed with love and understanding as a guiding light.

The Edmonton-based trans poet, author, playwright, artist, filmmaker, and singer-songwriter is a Canadian Screen Award winner and a Polaris Music Prize nominee, and her best-selling book I’m Afraid of Men was heralded by Vanity Fair as “cultural rocket fuel.” She’s also the founder of the award-winning publishing imprint VS. Books, which supports emerging BIPOC writers. Shraya is on the Board of Directors of the Tegan and Sara Foundation, and is currently adapting her debut play, How to Fail as a Popstar, as a digital series with CBC.

Most recently, Shraya has graced eager ears with “Colonizer,” from the upcoming deluxe edition of her debut album for Mint Records, Baby, You’re Projecting. A duet with Donovan Woods, it’s a celebration of the kind of balance at play in so much of her work: in this case, the graceful melodies in Woods’ delicate voice, gently plucked nylon strings, and Shraya’s keen ear for pop and dance music, conjuring rhythm to restless feet.

“Colonizer” is a love song with an easy request; to be loved as she is, without needing to be saved, told through mirrored tales that bounce between narrator and lover. “On the surface, the tension is between me and my partner, but actually, the tension is between me and ‘public perception,’ or the perception of others,” says Shraya. “In that respect, it’s actually really easy to hold on to the love.”

Vivek Shraya, Colonizer

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Vivek Shraya song “Colonizer”

Leading with love and challenging oppositional narratives is a skill Shraya has mastered over the years, muscle memory honed over many instances of writing, empathically, all sides of a story. “I think in the kind of work that I’ve made,” she says, “even with the worst people, or people who have treated me the worst, I’ve always really tried to come from a place of understanding and empathy as much as possible.”

This isn’t a difficult mindset for Shraya to achieve. “Coming from a place of understanding, and empathy, and compassion is more common to me than allowing myself to be angry,” she says. “I think part of it is also rooted in my experience of being a marginalized person. I think there’s so much pressure to be a good brown person, and to be polite, and to try to see the other side – or to hear both sides.”

Coming from that understanding place can itself stem from feeling like you have to cede some ground. As Shraya says, “I have to remind myself that I’m entitled to anger, that I’m entitled to rage. But certainly on [‘Colonizer’] in particular, that wasn’t necessarily the place that I was writing from – because ultimately, the track is about reinforcing love for my partner and his love for me.”

Even in the depth of emotion that Shraya explores, there’s humour there for those who can hear it. “I think because of my experiences of oppression, I haven’t always allowed that to come forward in my art,” she says. “‘Colonizer’ in some ways is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, or at least it started out [that way]. Having the word ‘colonizer’ as a title can seem like an aggressive move, but it’s interesting playing the song for brown friends who’ve dated white people – [they] can’t stop laughing.”

For Shraya, reaching the hearts of a wide array of audiences with the emotional core of her work is an ongoing process. Love, tension, and humour work as one, in compelling accounts that reach beyond the barriers of the community from which they’re conveyed. “One of the things that’s felt really exciting in recent years is trying to write a song that has a message that might not be for the dominant listener or the dominant group,” says Shraya, “but still have the dominant group find it catchy.”

In addition to working as a singer-songwriter, a song lyrics instructor at Seneca College, and the Associate Director of Public Engagement and Strategy at the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), Andrea England serves the Canadian music community as founder, host, and curator of the songwriter series Four Chords and The Truth.

The quarterly song-circle series began at the Dakota Tavern in downtown Toronto, in 2015; by 2017, tickets were selling out before the lineup was even announced. The show features both established and emerging artists in a multi-genre format, and England is protective of it, and all the performers, regardless of their level of experience. “I need to make sure that the songs stand up; that the person is welcomed into the fold; and that it’s an entirely professional event the whole time,” she says.

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, FCATT (the event’s occasional acronym) returned on May 25, 2023, at a new venue: the TD Music Hall at Allied Music Centre, within the new Massey Hall building in downtown Toronto. Seeing the Four Chords and the Truth logo on such a grand stage was a surreal experience for England, who momentarily wondered if the intimacy of the show would be lost in a 500-capacity theatre. Any doubts were quelled, however, by the enthusiasm of the audience, and the commitment of the performers. “They all came willing to be vulnerable, and to really share their truths – and to trust me, the audience, and each other,” England says. “It was a beautiful, humble group.”

The evening featured Julian Taylor, Liz Rodrigues (accompanied by frequent collaborator James Bryan), Adam Baldwin, and Robyn Ottolini, all of whom turned in stellar performances. There were also several guests: the first emerging songwriter in the TikTok seat, Adrian Mitchell; new Universal Music Group Canada signing, Owen Riegling; and guest vocalist Shakura S’Aida who led the performers in a rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Performing a cover song is a break from the FCATT tradition of all-originals; however, it allowed everyone to acknowledge the loss felt by Lightfoot’s recent passing. England says, “We sang it together as a thank you.” (At the gig, England even mentioned that she once met Lightfoot, and he was aware of FCATT.)

She both honours and breaks tradition through the “in-the-semi-round” format of her show, in which performers face the audience, as opposed to the “in the round” tradition made famous at The Bluebird Café – Nashville’s legendary venue, where songwriters face each other as they perform. Four Chords and the Truth came full circle when England brought the show to Nashville, and fittingly, then Nashville came to her Toronto show (at least in spirit) when Donovan Woods led England and fellow songwriters Morgan Cameron Ross, Joey Landreth, and Rose Cousins in a rendition of “Leaving Nashville,” Woods’ co-write with Abe Stoklasa. England says it was a perfect way to end a night devoted to songwriters.

England has big plans for Four Chords and the Truth, including a seven-night cruise through Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia happening in the Fall of 2024. Titled, The Danube Riverboat Confessions, the cruise promises a sharing of songs you already know, coupled with stories you don’t know yet. There’ll be a charity component to the cruise, to be announced this summer, in keeping with England’s desire to pay it forward. In addition to re-investing profits into her show, she also donates to the Unison Fund, a non-profit registered charity that provides counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community. Grateful, England acknowledges having received much support from the community – including SOCAN, an early sponsor of her series.

England also has a new album in the works: she’s completed pre-production on Evidence of Love, produced by JUNO Award winner Hill Kourkoutis. Scheduled for release in October 2023, it features seven songs on the theme of love. And it’s love for music and people that inspires England the most. “Where would we be without music? Where would we be without songs?” she says. Then, after a pause: “To support a community of people who are committed to songs is why I do everything.”