A six-year journey that multi-hyphenate Che Kothari set out on is about to come to fruition.

WondaGurl, 2020, Cameron Corrado

WondaGurl. Photo: Cameron Corrado

About 16 years ago, he started out as a photographer, who then migrated into video production, music production, and launching Gifted Management, then founding Toronto’s annual Manifesto festival,  ultimately turning to life coaching and philanthropy. As an advocate, one of his most important achievements was co-founding the BeautifulCity.ca movement, which raises around $18 million per year for public youth arts initiatives in marginalized communities, by putting a fee on the billboards in Toronto. Kothari has lately focused his abundant organizing skills on an urgent environmental emergency: soil extinction.

Kothari is currently putting together a series of projects that will raise awareness for the cause. First up will be several songs – including one written and helmed by Canadian hit-making songwriter/producer WondaGurl (Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Drake, Ye) – to be released internationally.  According to the United Nations, more than one-third of the world’s top layer of earth is endangered, Kothari explains. “To call soil ‘soil,’ it has to have 3 percent organic content, otherwise you’re growing your food in sand,” he says. “If you remove organic content from soil, it becomes dead. Forty percent of climate change could be mitigated it we have healthy soil.”

The seeds for the project were planted six years ago, when Kothari was working as a manager for the soca star Machel Montano. After what seemed like 40 years of constant touring and recording, Montano was trying to slow down his pace. Kothari turned to yoga and meditation as essential elements of the effort, and introduced Montano to the teachings of Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev, aka Sadhguru, the Indian yoga guru and proponent of spirituality. Yogic practices and daily meditation gave Montano the relief he so desperately desired.

After meeting Sadhguru personally, Kothari (and Montano) became devotees. Kothari then launched the Conscious Music Circle (CMC): an effort to give those tools of “inner technology” to the arts community, offering them online, in private settings, and also at Sadhguru’s ashrams in India (where 6,000 people live) and in Tennessee. Collaterally, members of the Circle became enthusiastic proponents of the guru’s main cause, the prevention of soil degradation. On the phone from Los Angeles, where he was working with WondaGurl to record the first of three proposed tracks to shed light on their efforts. It’s March 22, the day after Sadhguru set off on a 100-day motorcycle excursion from the U.K. to India, to raise soil extinction awareness.

The track, as yet unnamed, will feature Dhee (an Sri Lankan-Australian songstress whose current hit, “Enjoy Enjaami,” has 405 million views on YouTube), which will ensure international attention. It was written in Malibu, where 25 members of the CMC (artists, producers, songwriters) gathered and listened to Sadhguru as he spoke to them about the soil issue. Afterwards, Kothari claims, “for five days, in three studios, morning to night,” they worked on it. Dhee’s contribution will have an Indian flavour, but other elements will include Afrobeat and Reggaeton artists to add to the inclusive appeal. At press time the final lineup was still being finalized, but they plan to release the track when Sadhguru is “around half-way, day 50-ish,” of his journey. “We’re not putting out a song that’s, ‘Save soil! Save soil!’ it’s a contemporary song that you’ll hear played on the radio,” Kothari says, “that touches on these themes but doesn’t specifically name them.”

That song will be followed by two more, a reggae track and another, written by WondaGurl, that Kothari describes as “Beatles-ish.”

And while all this is going on, Kothari is still deeply involved in this year’s upcoming Manifesto Festival, which he says, “is all about empowering young people through arts and culture in physical and digital spaces,” and its year-long side projects, the Discovery series and FSTVL SZN. The former is an incubation program supporting new young talent, while the vowel-free latter is, “for behind-the-scenes actors – everything from production to graphic design to fashion.” Both programs “graduate” at the festival, scheduled for Aug. 12, 2022.

The ultimate purpose for releasing the soil extinction track isn’t to raise money, but to raise awareness, says Kothari. “Ultimately, I see the role of the artist as being storytellers,” he says. “How do we get these artists to tell these stories that are most pressing? How do we get them involved in advocacy? To me, music is about celebration, but also about moving people towards higher consciousness.

“Sadhguru says it best: ‘I’m not interested in seven billion dollars; I’m interested in seven billion people.’”

Maryze“I’ve always loved pop music, yet it’s a genre a lot of people don’t take seriously. Some say it’s not real music, that it’s like fast food… I believe a well-written pop song is something very powerful that can change your life, and that’s fascinating.”

You can hear the smile in Maryze’s voice when she talks about music. The Vancouver-born singer-songwriter is now based in Montréal, and closely studied pop music before releasing her debut album 8, a surprising mix of electro, HyperPop, R&B, hip-hop, rock, and emo – in other words, all the genres that have branded pop music over the past few decades.

Maryze is a huge Grimes and Lady Gaga fan, but she was raised to the sound of a rather unusual style of music: Celtic pop. One can even hear a few traces of it on her album, notably on  “Witness.” “My dad is from Breton and my mom is Irish-Canadian, so I’m Celtic on both sides! My first show was Loreena McKennitt, when my mom was pregnant with me. I’m sure I felt the sound waves and the bass,” jokes the 30-year-old singer.

As for her dad, a radio DJ in Vancouver, he introduced her to tons of music from all around the world when she was a kid. In her early teens, the young music lover took intensive music theory classes, and joined her high school jazz choir. Which is not to say her bond with pop was weakened. Like most of her friends at the time, Maryze grew up listening to Destiny’s Child and Justin Timberlake, two artists whose influence can be felt in an R&B-tinged piece like “Experiments.”

It wasn’t long before the pop-punk and emo waves got the best of her. The intensity of the lyrics, and the raw emotion of a band like Fall Out Boy, had something powerful and liberating for a troubled teenager like her. A song like “Emo” is an obvious tribute to that phase of her musical explorations.

“I felt alone and misunderstood. I couldn’t find my community at school,” says Maryze. “Sure, we had a great music program, and the choir was superb… but my school was mainly geared towards sports, and there I was, this skinny jeans-wearing emo girl. At home, there were difficult stories of depression… I was on the floor in my room, reading the lyrics of Fall Out Boy songs. I felt like the singer was talking to me, and that made me feel less alone. That’s probably what prompted me to want to reach an audience in their teens or early twenties through my songs. There’s a sense of community that is created through music.”

In other words, Maryze creates music that she herself would’ve loved to listen to in her teens. Hence the seemingly chaotic amalgamation of sounds that she offers, with the utmost sincerity and authenticity. Entirely written on her own, the album also benefitted from the expertise of some Montréal-based producers – notably her right-hand man and friend Solomon K-I, who was also in charge of mixing and mastering the album.

Armed with her university studies in creative writing, the adoptive Montréaler explores “the interconnected parts of our past that shape our lives, for better or for worse” in her lyrics. She weaves the heterogeneous songs of her album with a central image in mind: that of the infinite loop, symbolized by the title’s number 8. This infinite loop makes us repeat the same stories, the same mechanisms, and the same mistakes. The epitome of a cycle.

Carried by an ‘80s-inspired dance rhythm, “Too Late” is the perfect incarnation of the album’s central theme. Under the guise of a toxic love story, the song is actually a deep dive into the artist’s psyche. “That song is my relationship with me,” she says. “I’m my biggest hurdle in life. Every day I wake up and the day just flashes by in front of me. There are so many things I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin. The cycle repeats itself and I end up frustrated at myself. That frustration is mainly related to music, and my dreams. I sometimes get amazing opportunities, but it’s like I sabotage myself. And the pandemic just amplified all of that. I could literally do nothing… and I felt frustrated, bitter.”

“Squelettes” is a hard-hitting collaboration with Montréal rapper Backxwash that evokes a difficult episode she lived through in her twenties. “I started writing that one eight years ago,” says Maryze. “There was a lot of depression, anxiety, and addiction in my family. I was in a phase in my life where I repeated destructive cycles in my relationships, and with myself. I mistreated my body, mainly through excessive partying. And I ended up in situations that I had inflicted upon myself. Each time, I heard my father’s voice: ‘Maryze, why did you end up – again – in this situation that you don’t like? Why are you in this relationship that is toxic to you?’ That was one of my all-time lows.”

The album’s stripped-down opening and closing songs, “Mercy Key” and “Playing Dress-Up,”offer a glimpse of Maryze with her heart on her sleeve, accompanied only by a piano or her own voice. “I have to write on the spot when I live something that’s really intense,” she says. “I wrote hundreds of diaries when I was younger. It’s always been a form of therapy, a way to better understand me. It’s when I start writing, and ideas come to me, that I actually understand what I’m going through. It’s not something I would’ve understood by simply saying it out loud.”

Far from the silence and loneliness of her teenage years, Maryze has found a way to turn her frustration into something constructive. She’s found a way to break the cycle.


Marilyne LeonardToday’s youth speaks up with its own voice. And that can be heard on Marilyne Léonard’s first mixtape, Vie d’ange (the title literally means Angel’s Life, but is also a homophonic wordplay [vidanges] that also means Garbage). She mixes singing and rapping with confidence, constructing songs with no user guide other than her inner voice.

“I always talk about what I go through, and I’m not about to start making up stories,” says the singer-songwriter matter-of-factly. She dubbed this short, eight-song album a mixtape based solely on its eclecticism. “Our inspirations are all over the place, and we just collated all of that together,” she says. “I think eight songs are enough for people to figure out who I am without giving enough time for people who don’t know me to get bored,” she adds, laughing. “I like the format, and it represents where I came from and where I’m going to, all at once.”

Emmanuel Ethier produced the first four tracks. “I didn’t trust myself enough to do it on my own,” says Léonard. “But after that, what I wanted was so specific that I couldn’t delegate. I brought the demos of four new songs [‘Mirage,’ ‘Dans la foule,’ ‘Vie de rêve,’ and ‘Quand tu parles’] to Marc Bell so he could put his touch on them, but it’s very true to what I’d done on my own at home. Ultimately, they’re the four songs that are closest to who I am right now.”

With both hands on the wheel of her musical story, Léonard dreams of independence and self-production, even though she is now a member of the Audiogram family. “When I’m more experienced, I’d like to go independent, but it’s always been my dream to build my career with a record company,” she explains. “I dreamt of telling my mom I’d signed with a record label. It’s truly thanks to Audiogram that I’m able to live what I’m living now, since I’m starting at the very beginning of the ladder.”

Her songs are honest slices of life, rooted in the present. Above all, everything starts with a guitar: “I always write with my guitar first,” says Léonard. “I look for cool chords. I find a cool sentence, and I find a melody to tie it to those chords. It’s quite a strange method,” she admits. “I never write all the lyrics. I do everything at once. It’s like a puzzle made of sentences, melodies, and chords.”

Hearing Léonard sing, you can hear the very specific character of her voice. It becomes a rhythm, an instrument. If you heard her sing a capella, it might almost feel like listening to drums, because the beat is so integral to her vocal delivery. “I listen to a lot of rap, so it obviously inspired me,” she says. “I also love ‘80s productions. I find inspiration in rap, but I’m also into ethereal and complex productions involving synths, and very lively bass, so I find a way to make all that fit.”

She unabashedly tells her audience that vulnerability isn’t a fault, and that the difficulties that arise as we go through the stages of life are normal. She hopes we identify with that and allow ourselves to make it a safe space where we can calm down.

“I want to say I want to love,” says Léonard. “There’s a music video with my girlfriend: ‘Dans la foule.’ Before that, I didn’t dare name the gender of my love interest. I was scared. But for the last two years, I’ve wanted to show off this pride, and this freedom. A guy or a girl talking about love using the word she is banal. I’d love to be one of those girls who are super-at-ease with that, and for whom difference no longer exists. Les Shirley, Calamine; many others do it. It’s relatively new for girls to speak up about this, and I’m glad I’m part of this youth cohort that’s waking up.”

On stage, the project will travel the same numerous directions that the mixtape hints at, but “it’s going to rock a little more,” promises the singer-songwriter. “I also do remixes on stage: La bohème, and a Drake song. People know those songs and they get on board with the show.”

She hopes music will allow her to travel, and in fact, she’ll soon head to France. The future is full of many different promises, and she plans to learn bass, and would also like to produce for other artists. “I’ll start by acquiring my own experience by fucking up my own stuff a thousand times,” she says, laughing. “I need to finish building my own puzzle.”