Last winter, Chantal Archambault released an intricately crafted five-song EP called L’amour ou la soif (Love or Thirst), a spontaneous self-produced effort that worked surprisingly well. “I had left for the cottage without asking myself too many questions, with next to nothing to work from, and came back with a few demos that sounded much better than what my musicians and I had expected,” the red-headed artist from Val-d’Or, Québec, recalls. The result is available through Bandcamp or at concert venues, but not in stores.

For her sophomore album, Les élans (2013), Archambault called on her colleague Dany Placard to help as a producer. On this new collection, she plays all the instruments while acting also as producer and sound engineer. A trained psychoeducator, she has remained a self-taught musician: “I’m a Jill of all trades,” she explains. “I’ve always been playing music or singing, but I quit studying musical theory because I disagreed with my teachers’ approaches. So I am self-taught, and not specialized in anything. What I am offering musically is quite simple – so I need to surround myself with the right people.”

“There’s something that speaks to me in country music – it’s in me, it’s me.”

Asked if she could elaborate on the meaning of the intriguing title she chose for her EP (Love or Thirst), Archambault explains that it’s “less about physical thirst than about a spiritual yearning. I’m 33 now, but I didn’t start my musical career in my early 20s like most musicians. My first album, La romance des couteaux (The Knives Romance), came out in 2010. They’d told me that I would develop as an artist over time, so I didn’t really have specific expectations. However, after the release of my second album three years later, I experienced a low point, and I felt that my career was not taking off the way it should. I was a bit of a disappointment because I had invested a lot of time and energy in that album. I was waiting for something to happen. It felt like an inner thirst that was not being quenched, and I realized that a lot of people around me were experiencing similar feelings. I had moved away from the attitude of gratefulness and appreciation with which I had approached my musical career until then, and I wanted to go back to that state of mind, start doing things for the right reasons, become more loving and grounded. As a society, we tend to want more and more of everything. There’s a lack of love at some level, and nothing is never enough. That’s what the “thirst” of the title means.”

Archambault has found a way of balancing her professions as a psychoeducator and a singer-songwriter to her own satisfaction. “As an artist, I’m not necessarily comfortable with being the centre of attention. I find this a bit strange, and at odds with the respect due, for instance, to people working in life-saving professions. I found myself a job in a daycare centre where I’m working with children with special needs. I get to choose my own hours, which is great for an artist. It provides me with a few hours when I stop thinking about myself. I meet lots of new people. I even host small-scale music workshops. I need this balance, and I can truly say that I’ve found my career’s G-spot,” she says, bursting into a radiant smile.

The folk-country scene has been visited over the past few years by a number of exciting newcomers – female newcomers, more exactly. I’m thinking of Lisa LeBlanc, Les Hay Babies and Les sœurs Boulay, to name only three. Where does Archambault place herself on the creative blood line going from Renée Martel (who included a cover of Archambault’s “La barque” on her Une femme libre album) to Mara Tremblay? “I’ve always listened to lots of women musicians. I was a Tori Amos groupie in high school. I loved Sinead O’Connor and Alanis Morissette. As for the folk-country influence, my mother listened to Johnny Cash albums while she was pregnant with me. He was her favourite singer, and apparently I reacted to his music before I was able to walk or talk! There’s something that speaks to me in country music – it’s in me, it’s me. These days I listen to Eleni Mandell or Lucinda Williams.”

Chantal Archambault indulged in a small fantasy on L’amour ou la soif, where she inserted a musical interlude recorded live in a Costa Rica church where dozens of women had gathered to sing, with the building’s front doors wide open. “In my travels,” she explains, “I was able to see how music is being integrated into people’s daily lives in many countries. It’s become a rich collective experience.” That too, is a way of dealing with that inner thirst.

Cousins are Aaron Mangle and Leigh Dotey, a guitar/drums duo from Halifax who might be Canada’s hardest-working band. They’ve been relentlessly touring for the past four years, bringing their unique brand of raw, joyful garage-pop across the country, playing countless shows on their own terms.

“We made the plan,” says singer-songwriter and guitarist Mangle. “In our story of the music industry, we mostly have done everything on our own. It hasn’t necessarily been a choice so much as the only option…  We’re in charge of where we play, how people see us and how we develop our reputation as performers, businesspeople, and friends to folks we work with… We know what it has taken to get here, and we’re responsible for it.”

Their current album, The Halls Of Wickwire, was produced by Graham Walsh (of Holy Fuck) and was longlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. This fall they head on tour again, this time to Europe and the U.K. with Chad Vangaalen and back to Canada for the Halifax Pop Explosion before they settle down to work on another record.

Straddling rap and slam poetry, and strongly influenced as a child and teenager by his native Benin’s rhythms, Le R has just released his first full-length album, Cœur de pion (A Pawn’s Heart), a poetic and evocative hip-hop album crafted by a world traveller with a big heart and an intellect to match.

“As a child,” Le R recalls, “I listened to a lot of classical and instrumental music on radio because of my parents, and also to the French variety programmes my mother was fond of. Then, as a teenager, I discovered rap. The French group IAM was all the rage in Benin at the time. Some of my friends were getting albums from relatives, and we would pass them around between us. I didn’t know enough English yet to be able to understand Anglophone rappers.”

“I’m not here to offend, but to speak out. Earth is my village.”

Le R’s passion for music developed organically: “In Africa, music is part of the fabric of life” he says. “People catch street rhythms by osmosis. For me, it was just a matter of natural immersion. On my mother’s side, all my uncles played a musical instrument – the guitar, for one, which I learned from them – or sang in a choir. I started studying theory with a cousin at the age of 12 or 13, although I was not necessarily planning on a music career back then.”

As a youth, Christian Djohossou (as Le R was then known) would write down the lyrics of the songs he liked and learn them from cassettes. “I was not being influenced by African artists at the time,” he says. “I was looking for something else. Older people were proud of our homegrown talent, artists like Angélique Kidjo, for instance, but I was more attracted to rap. That’s how I discovered the Francophone collective Bisso Na Bisso from Congo, whose album I played constantly.”

In spite of his attraction to music, Djohossou was preparing for a “serious” profession. “My parents were providing me with a traditional education, and I would never have dared to tell them I wanted to be an artist,” he says. “They would have accepted that, but they could see that life wasn’t easy for a musician. When I moved to Canada, I chose Ottawa because I thought I could pick up some English there while using French in my everyday life. I was coming here to learn computer engineering, but as soon as I arrived some 12 years ago, I got myself some music production instruments. It took me a long time to mature as an artist, remaining an amateur for a good 10 years before being able to make a living with my music. All self-employed people fight that same battle all the time!”

For his self-produced album, Le R surrounded himself with a team of exceptional musicians, including Sonny Black for the mix (and as a producer on two songs). “I met Sonny when I was working with Yao, who is in my circle of friends,” says Le R, “and we hit it off. He did an outstanding job mixing the album. He knew instinctively what I was trying to express.” There was also Samian, who co-wrote “Immortels” and sings it with Le R on the album. “I met him in 2013 when I opened for him,” he says, “and I had a lot of respect for him. So I told him about my recording project, and provided him with a soundtrack and a topic. It was a no-strings-attached joint effort based on connection and collaboration. The subject was personal and introspective. I was lucky to have him onboard.” As for the young Sudbury artist Patrick Wright, Le R met him in 2012. “We jammed together, and I loved his songs,” he says. “We kept in touch, and I invited to play a song at one of my shows, and it went well. So I asked him to contribute to the music of one of my songs [“Irréversible”].”

Yao and Djely Tapa also joined the team, but, for everything else, Le R wrote both the music and the lyrics. “I also produced the words and the music, and when they blend correctly, the result is cogent and flawless,” he says.

Now a force to be reckoned with on the world music scene, Le R took part in a variety of events this past summer. “I took my album everywhere – Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, Festival Franco-Ontarien, Word Pride, Franco-Fête de Toronto, you name it,” he says. “This fall, I’ll be travelling as part of preparing for my next album. It will be a period of creation and introspection. The chances are that my next album will be called Détours, and I already have a few songs in the bank. I’m not rushing anything because Cœur de pion still has a long way to go.”

Le R wisely warns against the potential pitfalls of songwriting. “You’ve got to resist falling into the trap of becoming disconnected from yourself,” he explains. “To be creative, you have to be connected to your inner being at all times. You’ve got to be in touch with your own creativity and follow the momentum.” As for creative inspiration, the artist says, “I take some distance from my political side because I’m a pacifist. I connect with the poetic aspect of things, as I do in ‘La cité des 333 Saints,’ where I talk about the golden age of Timbuktu. It’s a hopeful song, because if there was a golden age at one time, there can be another. I always believe that things will come full circle. I stay positive. I don’t point fingers. I blame nobody for the ills of the world. Without being too much peace-and-love, I disagree with the culture of confrontation. I’m in music to carry a message of peace. I’m not here to offend, but to speak out. Earth is my village.”