The new Executive Director of Musique Nomade takes over from Manon Barbeau and continues her mission to promote Québec’s First Nations artists.
Born in Sorel-Tracy and now leader of the NPO Musique Nomade which supports music creators from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, Joëlle Robillard and her team have an essential role to play.
“I don’t want to be falsely modest,” admits its new executive director, “but I think that the work of Musique Nomade has greatly contributed to what’s happening right now in terms of the next generation of musicians. I see an open-mindedness, an interest, a change in the structure of things to make it sustainable, I see it at all levels. Five years ago, the doors were closed, the industry structure extremely centred around Québec’s Francophonie, with no space at all for Indigenous artists.”
Robillard now sits on the Board of Directors of ADISQ — “which allows me to open up conversations”— and has been part of the Musique Nomade team for nearly five-and-a- half years. “I replaced a project manager who went on maternity leave, and then I became the Artistic and Operations Director, before becoming the head of the organization.”
After graduating in journalism, her first job was at Francouvertes: “It was really foundational, it allowed me to get into the music business and to develop a network of emerging artists. I was doing press relations, I wanted to be a journalist, but finally I found myself on the other side of the mirror,” she laughs. She then became coordinator at XS Musique, the sound production company of Jean-Phi Goncalves.
“I was negotiating contracts with big clients like Cirque du Soleil, so I really had to educate myself on music rights management,” she says. “My involvement with Indigenous music was quite natural, I felt comfortable in that environment and that’s where I discovered most of the artists and cultures.”
Bookings, promotion, international marketing: there’s not a dull moment at MN. “You can’t cherry-pick a single fight, you have to fight on all fronts,” says Robillard. “We’re starting to see specific playlists on Spotify and there’s our independent streaming platform, Nikamowin. These are all components that have been added to the organization to meet a need. Musique Nomade has gradually equipped itself and has become a label, a management company, a producer of concerts, and a music production agency — we have resources. Our business model is pretty atypical, we never fit into a really defined box; a big part of my job is advocacy and representation within the industry.”
And how is that playing out within the communities? “The songwriting studio is made to invest a place that we will temporarily transform into a studio, and make sure that there are professional-level recording conditions,” says Ropbillard. “We organize our various stops in collaboration with a local community co-ordinator and the office team, Maude Meilleur and myself, among others.”
Montréal’s Présence Autochtone, La Noce and the essential Innu Nikamu (which means the First Nations Sing) festival that has taken place every year in Mani-Utenam, on the North Shore, since 1985 — in the community of Kashtin, Florent Vollant, and Matiu, among others — are among the partner festivals of Musique Nomade this year, in addition to stops in Carleton-Sur Mer for the Mi’gmaq communities of Gesgapegiag and Listuguj, and of Kawawachikamach in the Naskapi community. In the fall, Robillard and her team should be in Abitibi for a stopover in collaboration with the Minwashin organization, as well as in Ste-Mary’s, New Brunswick.
Scott Pien-Picard, twice nominated for the Félix (ADISQ) Award for Indigenous Artist of the Year, rapper Samian, Laura Niquay, Matiu, and Elisapie are playing at the Francos this year, and Émile Bilodeau has been asked by the programmers to put on a show with Indigenous guests. Watch out for the excellent group Maten, which includes Ivan Boivin-Flammand, a 22-year-old rising Atikamekw star from Manawan.
“Anachnid [already winner of a Félix] started from scratch, she had never made music, we just had to find the way to nurture her so that she could evolve,” says Robillard. “For Laura Niquay, it’s been a complete journey, she went through many stages before she got to where she is. They all have a unique personality and style. I develop friendships with them that go beyond the creative relationship.”
One can’t overlook the fabulous project Nikamu Mamuitun: chansons rassembleuses, another enlightened vision by Alan Côté of the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée featuring four Indigenous and four non-indigenous performers. “We’re partners with Petite-Vallée, who adds an Indigenous artist in residence every year,” says Robillard. “It’s important that we stand together in this community.”