There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard a Canadian record quite like Debby Friday’s Good Luck. The Nigerian-born, Toronto-based singer/producer’s debut album is a 33-minute adrenalin rush of modern music fusion, with influences including rave, rap, industrial, alternative, R&B, and hyperpop, to name just a few.  Friday’s official bio refers to her as a “zillennial anti-heroine,” and when asked what she calls her style, she offers simply “hybrid.”

Debby Friday, What A Man, video

Click on the image to play the Debby Friday video “What a Man”

Friday herself has a story that’s both typical of many young first-generation Canadians, and unique to her creative mind and vision. She immigrated to Montréal with her parents, where she was educated by Catholic teachers at an all-girls’ school in Westmount and, not much later, the city’s after-hours club scene. While she didn’t grow up dreaming of a music career, she did want to be a writer.

“I was always a very creative child,” says Friday, on the phone from her home, days before embarking on a European tour. “I wrote a lot when I was young, thinking maybe I’ll be an author. But I didn’t have this idea of the arts as a career, because that wasn’t a thing that existed in my upbringing. My parents are very supportive now, but they didn’t have any context for this type of work, or this industry. The younger generation, we have a lot more choices. We can essentially create [our] own career[s], and that’s what I did.”

Good Luck, released on Arts & Crafts in Canada and Sub Pop for the world, follows a series of singles and EPs that established Debby Friday as a new artist to watch – literally. Friday holds a Masters of Fine Art, and her music videos draw on her studies, and passion for visual storytelling. The clip for her single “What a Man” references the infamous 17th Century “rape revenge” painting Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi – one of the only professional female artists of Italy’s Baroque era. She’s also released a surrealist short horror film to accompany the album. Still, Friday says that of all the arts, nothing compares to a song.

“I think music is the greatest connective art because you don’t have to speak the language of the song,” she says. “And a song doesn’t even have to have words in order for you to connect with it, and to connect to other people through it. Like people who are on opposite sides of the globe can have the same feelings elicited within them by hearing a song. I think that’s really beautiful.”

For her full-length debut, Friday explains that she wanted to level-up her songwriting, and her production skills. “I think previously, I was really comfortable with one mode of expression, but this time I wanted to be a little bit more open, more vulnerable. Like, I could just feel that there was something inside of me that was, like, ‘OK, we have to do something different. We have to do something more.’ I listened to that impulse, and I leaned into it.”

Debby Friday, So Hard To Tell, video

Click on the image to play the Debby Friday video “So Hard to Tell”

Part of that process was working with Graham Walsh, a member of electronic experimentalists Holy Fuck, who’s produced for Operators, Doomsquad, Sam Roberts Band, and co-written with Lights. Friday, who writes, records, mixes and produces her own music, met Walsh through her management, and says he “got it right away.” Her initial 17 songs, mostly written during the pandemic lockdowns, were edited down to 10 short tracks that condense decades of electronic music history into three-minute pop pleasures.  And if seductive club tracks like the high-BPM “I Got It” (featuring Chris Vargas of Montreal’s Pelada/Uńas), or the serpentine, Biblical-themed “Let You Down” are brooding explorations of the dark side, a song like “So Hard to Tell” shifts into a beautiful falsetto ballad.

For Friday, her diverse musical explorations are a natural result of growing up in the digital age. “We essentially have an archive of all of human thought and musical history,” she says. “You can pick and choose from that; like, take what works and leave the rest. I do love experimenting. I want to make beautiful things. And we’ve kind of come to this place where everything has become everything else – there’s not necessarily just one context for things now. That’s why I just call it hybrid.”

It’s safe to assume that few artists appreciate the benefits of home recording more than Tlicho singer-songwriter Digawolf (born Jesse James Yatlayi). Deeply committed to remaining in his hometown of Yellowknife, NWT, the double JUNO Award nominee is keenly aware of the logistical and fiscal challenges of having to travel far afield to make an album.

The making of his 2009 LP Distant Morning Star entailed a lengthy stay in a Toronto studio, and 2019’s full-length Yellowstone – that earned him a JUNO nomination for Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year – was recorded in a barn in Denmark.

The just-released album Ini was primarily recorded in the basement studio of Digawolf’s home in the far North, reflecting his increased proficiency in DIY recording techniques. “There aren’t a lot of options when it comes to the North,” he says. “You have to wear many hats here. You can’t just call up a producer, engineer, or songwriter, and there aren’t many available musicians here, either.”

The project initially started as a collaboration with Toronto-based producer/DJ Jason Spanu. “The idea was to explore ideas and run them off each other, co-producing the full album,” says Digawolf. “We worked together on the tracks ‘Seiga Dahte’ and ‘Ehtsee,’ but then I kept working on the other tracks, using techniques Jason showed me for using Ableton [a digital audio workstation].”

Digawolf, Segia Dahte, friend how are you

Click on the image to play the Digawolf video “Segia Dahte (friend how are you?)”

Ini features adventurous, atmospheric sonic explorations, and songs that reflect upon Digawolf’s experience of living and working in Yellowknife. All of them are written in Tlicho, the language he spoke growing up in Behchoko, the capital of the Tlicho nation in Nunavut. “Part of me is really honoured that I can still speak the language, as I know there are many people losing their languages,” he says.

The ambience of the album evokes his surroundings. “The idea of trying to capture the essence of the North is something I always strive for, and hopefully I succeed from time to time,” says Digawolf. “I started off as a cartoonist and painter, and I still keep the paintbrush in the back of my head. I feel as if I still paint, but with audio now.”

Digawolf credits the classic Tom Waits album Rain Dogs for changing his life early on. “I was maybe 12 when I rescued that CD from the garbage,” he says. “Someone here was throwing it out, as he thought Tom sounded like the Cookie Monster, but I listened to it like crazy. I have five older brothers, and growing up I always followed what they were listening to. With Tom Waits, I finally found my own music. I still have to listen to that album when I’m starting a new project.”

Digawolf’s gruff voice and spoken-word vocal style often elicit comparisons to the likes of Waits, Leonard Cohen, and Robbie Robertson, while reference points for his sonically manipulated guitars include Daniel Lanois and Robert Fripp. Citing the former as a real inspiration, Digawolf expresses a desire to work with Lanois in the future.

Doubtless Lanois would be intrigued by Digawolf’s penchant for sonic experimentation with the guitar. “That was my first instrument, and I still love exploring new ideas and sounds on the guitar,” he says. “Trying to find the latest guitar pedal is rather an insane obsession. Right now I’m into the lap steel, using an e-bow on it with two fuzz pedals and using delay. You can hear that on [new track] ‘Ini.’”

Despite the challenges of life in the North, Digawolf is proud that he works on his home turf. “A long time ago, I thought about moving South, but the North is my home,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to be doing something you love, and be at home.”

Longtime SOCAN member Steven Vitali has diversified exponentially since rising to No. 1 with his debut album, Come Dream With Me, on Ottawa radio station CFMO’s Easy Listening Album Chart in 1989. These days, he’s claiming the titles of film director, producer, screenwriter, film editor, cinematographer, and actor to add to his existing musical credits as a musician, producer, singer-songwriter, and composer. Vitali moved from Toronto to Los Angeles in 2016, and became an American citizen in March of 2023, but his Canadian connections have remained strong.

Although he’s still working with several artists on musical projects, Vitali’s main focus for the last five years has been the documentary film The Jewels of the Salton Sea – on which he’s worked with his wife, Grace Vitali, and which is narrated by actor Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Thelma & Louise, The Hateful Eight).

The Salton Sea, in Southern California, is a lake that formed when water from the Colorado River was diverted to the Imperial Valley in 1905 to provide irrigation in what was then a dry lakebed. Over the 20th Century, the lake became toxically polluted, and has notably shrunk in size. Since the late ‘90s, a massive reclamation project (initially promoted by former pop star and then congressman Sonny Bono) has been in effect, although much work still has to be done. Describing the urgency of the environmental situation is what the film is all about.

Vitali had worked on soundtracks before – including providing music for Canadian Forces Snowbird Demonstration Squadron (and was named an honourary Snowbird for his efforts) – but writing the music for Salton Sea was very different.

“I was hearing music in my head – that’s the way I work”

“Being director of this film really helped me as the composer,” he says, “because when you’re the director you get to… really have an understanding for what you’re going to write later.” In most soundtrack writing situations, the composer only gets to work on the film after the shooting is completed. As the director, Vitali was present for 100% of the production. Every day while shooting, he says, “I was hearing music in my head – that’s the way I work. It’s a language I can understand… I don’t just hear the melody, I hear all the notes, all the arrangements.

“Directing this particular project for that long a duration enabled me to really understand more than the nature [of the landscape], but also the people that are part of that nature: The incredible people who are trying to make a difference in something they believe in, that will help not just California, and the surrounding areas and communities, but will help our planet.”

Vitali says, “the recipe for the soundtrack was the emotions that I was feeling as the composer, in regard to the extraordinary people that I got to meet, and the footage I was looking at.” Vitali’s goal was “combining the two harmoniously, in a way that would best reflect a profound sound for the audience.”

At press time, Vitali was working with Toronto’s Errol Starr on a re-make of Starr’s 1989 JUNO Award-winning hit, “Angel,” and with two opera singers: Elisa Bartoli in Italy, and Chelsea Snow in California. The Jewels of the Salton Sea is expected to be available on Amazon and other platforms starting in the  Summer of 2023.