For Shauna de Cartier, founder of the independent record label Six Shooter Records, an intuitive approach to her business suits her best.

Six Shooter Records, Staff

The staff at Six Shooter Records. (Photo: Lyle Bell)

De Cartier, originally from Edmonton, started the label almost 20 years ago, with one artist on the roster: Luke Doucet. Eventually, she moved to Toronto with the business, and has since established what is truly, not just optically, a diverse and real Canadian-representative roster of musicians, including The Rheostatics, Zaki Ibrahim, The Strumbellas, Riit, William Prince, and Polaris Prize winner Tanya Tagaq, among others. Nine people of their 13-person staff identify as female. Six Shooter Records also includes the Six Shooter Management company, Girl on a Horse Publishing, and the Interstellar Rodeo music festival, back home in Edmonton (and in Winnipeg as well, from 2015 to 2017). Recently, she was the 2019 recipient of the Entrepreneur Award at the Canadian Independent Music Awards gala. But none of these successes would have happened if de Cartier didn’t, as she puts it, lead with her heart.

“My decision-making style is very steeped in emotion,” she says via e-mail. “How does it feel to me if I make one decision, versus how does it feel if I make another. This sounds flaky, and maybe it is, but I like to think about it in terms of leading with the heart. All of the other parts of me feed into that, whether it’s my head or my gut. I acknowledge that this is a style of doing business that makes me more vulnerable than some of my colleagues, and ultimately, I’m okay with that. Art is a business of emotion.”

This is the part where I tell you that the robust conversation I had with de Cartier in early July doesn’t exist anymore. Call it a Mercury Retrograde flub, or a technological nightmare come to life, but what we spoke of — the minute details of her work life, where she talked about delegation, and her role shifting from day-to-day management to bigger-picture strategy – is lost forever. But since piecing together this article with my notes and research, and e-mails from de Cartier (brief but fully-formed thoughts, delivered while understandably busy with running the Interstellar Rodeo this year), I’ve come to see this portrait of her as a decision-maker. How her position in Canadian music really does have an impact on a community, or artist, and it comes down to a vulnerable approach in her business.

Often, vulnerability is seen as weakness, but emotional awareness is a crucial strength. And this is no more true than in art, a wholly emotional endeavour.

Six Shooter Records, Tanya Tagaq

Six Shooter artist Tanya Tagaq

Prioritizing what may feel good over what may seem like a “good business decision” has led Six Shooter down a path of great international success. There had been, de Cartier admits, some decisions that weren’t financially that lucrative, but the passion for the project, the artist, or the art itself felt worth it. Taking on Tagaq, for example, who is so spine-tinglingly brilliant, was a decision she made because it felt like the right one. And, of course, it was.

De Cartier also told me that values factor into how she makes decisions and what sort of strategy she’ll take, whether it’s working on a project,  hiring a new employee, or anything else. Alignment is key. “I learned early on that you can negotiate almost anything: your vision, your goals, money, strategy, etc.,” she says. “But you can’t negotiate your values. They simply are what they are. In fact, they are who you are. If you work with people whose values aren’t in alignment with your own, that relationship is not going to work out.”

The label’s motto gestures toward an ephemeral approach to business with the crisp, “Life’s too short to listen to shitty music.” Though the motto is going to change for the label’s official 20th anniversary, the sentiment of going with pleasure, with what feels good – essentially, with your heart – is immeasurable, in an industry so often stuck on other measurements of success.

The 2019 Montréal Pride festivities are on until Aug. 18, and the event aims to unite all, and make our differences disappear. With art as the main uniting force, the whole world is converging on Montréal so that we can all showcase what we have in common.

Alexandra Stréliski

Alexandra Stréliski (Photo: Raphael Ouellet)

“I’ve accepted the offer to participate in the Pride festivities mainly because I truly believe in diversity, justice, and equality,” says pianist Alexandra Stréliski. “Tolerance and goodwill are principles that I deeply believe in, and I think we still have a lot of work to do – both locally, and especially elsewhere in the world –  to raise the awareness of people with regard to sexual and gender diversity.”

Created in 2007 by the various communities on the sexuality and gender-diversity spectrum, Pride Montréal has become the biggest event of its kind in the entire Francophone world.

Artists from the LGBTQ+ communities are featured throughout the festival, as are their allies, with the goal of showcasing everything good that comes from being united. The Pride Montréal Festival celebrates diversity by allowing everyone to shine.

According to Jean-François Guevremont, the Pride Montréal Director of Programming, this unique environment of peace and celebration is extremely useful to provide answers to those who seek them, and even to those who don’t even intend to ask the questions. “We use the arts, various activities, and mostly music from local artists that people can relate to, in order to communicate positive messages to the people who gather together,” says Guevremont. “Pride Montréal is a great opportunity for people who are questioning themselves to meet our organizations and find more information. It’s important to note that we’re on a continuous learning path. Understanding a non-binary person can be challenging for some people, and it’s easier in an environment that’s pleasant and festive.”

“In the end, I think there’s no better setting than a huge, love-filled festival to unite people and let them be heard.” – Alexandra Stréliski

To Guevremont, diversity is more than homosexuality, and education is key. Alexandra Stréliski couldn’t agree more. “All celebrations are important!” she says. “In the case of Pride, it is also, obviously, a question of visibility. We may think the issue of homosexuality has progressed in Canada, and although it might be true for homosexuals, the LGBTQ community is a lot more diverse than we can imagine. Nowadays, we’re also talking about the visibility of non-binary persons, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, and trans people, and many more. In the end, I think there’s no better setting than a huge, love-filled festival to unite people and let them be heard.”

Two years ago, Pride Montréal became Canada’s largest LGBTQ+ event. “We get huge media visibility,” says Guevremont. “We can count on our artists to promote our political agenda. Music captivates you and invites you here, but we also have community programming that focuses on advocacy. It’s all very important.” Alexandra Stréliski will perform on August 14th, in a show titled Vagues, and she believes that, in our position as a province and as a country, it’s crucial to put ideas front and centre. “I believe Canada, and especially Québec, can be examples to follow for other less progressive places,” she says.

Her concert will gather several artists of the “new wave.” Safia Nolin, Beyries, La Bronze, Geoffroy, Annie Sama, Anthony Carle, Wake Island and Mathis Xavier will all share the stage with her.

Music is a language that facilitates everything, according to the program director. “Regardless of whether those artists are part of the diversity, they show up to champion a message,” he says. “It’s a statement they’re making when they show up by our side. Being open is one thing, but taking action can actually change things. A lot of people were surprised by the presence of Claude Dubois, on Sunday, for example. People who aren’t on board with diversity need to see people like him take a stand. The surprise of those people is very positive for us.”

On the music front, Guevremont works year-round to book artists that will attract as many festival-goers as possible. “I go to a ton of events and I do my research,” he says. “We hold consultative meetings. We were super-happy to have an ambassador like Ariane Moffatt for the opening show. We’ve been trying for years to have her, but the schedules were never aligned. We’re also grateful for the presence of other personalities, such as Roxane Bruneau, Debbie Lynch-White, and Safia Nolin. And we’re proud to offer exposure to up-and-comers like Antony Carle, for example.”

While we hear a lot about the lack of women in most festival line-ups, Guevremont is quick to mention their lack of diversity. “People tell us there’s a lot of drag queens in our festival, but have you ever seen one at Osheaga?’ he asks, rhetorically. “No! We only have three out of 20 shows that feature drag queens. That’s not a lot, especially when you consider that this makes up for their total absence in other music festivals.”

He believes evolution is a never-ending process. “A few years ago, people told us there were a lot of allies and not enough queer people,” he says. “We strive to be as representative as possible. We have many lesbians from the music industry. It’s a step in the right direction. We want to be diversified musically in order to attract people with a variety of musical tastes.” To Guevremont, it’s also crucial that major festivals in Québec and Canada stop “ticking diversity boxes: a gay guy, a trans person, a woman, etc.”

One thing’s for sure: music remains a conduit for positive messages, no matter what the message is. “I believe music can be a balm for the hearts of those who need it,” says Stréliski.” Whether those hearts are queer, L, G, B or T… We’re all the same in our human experience, and that’s what I want to champion.”

“Let’s sing together” is an invitation that’s been extended for three years now in Atikamekw language by the Nikamotan MTL event. Being presented as part of the Présence autochtone (Montreal First Peoples) Festival, this new edition (dubbed “Nicto”, the Atikamekw word for “three”), remains faithful to its original mission of bridging cultures by promoting Indigenous artists from here and beyond.

NikamotanNikamotan MTL is the main showcase of Musique Nomade, an organization created in 2006 by filmmaker Manon Barbeau on the same model as her famous Wapikoni Mobile. That mobile studio endeavoured to bring filmmaking and visual creativity to remote communities, and Musique Nomade is doing the exactl same thing for music. Their mobile studio brings equipment and resources to Indigenous communities in oder to create professional-quality recordings, but it mostly contributes to the creation of an emerging Indigenous artist network.

“We have three main mandates,” says Artistic Director Joëlle Robillard, also the Artistic Director of the Nikamotan MTL show. “First and foremost, we’re working to promote emerging artists from indigenous communities. There’s also a preservation role, through the building up of a kind of digital memory, for the broad purpose of keeping alive a culture that has been transmitted orally from time immemorial. Finally, we do representation work in festivals, which is another way of promoting talent both locally and internationally.”

Networking is being done both at the provincial and country-wide level, and also internationally as part of large folk music gatherings being held all over the world. It was thanks to her presence at events such as WOMEX and the Folk Alliance International that Robillard met the members of the Finnish group Vildá, a female duo that proudly carries the cultural torch of the Samis, an Indigenous people from the Laponian area. Vildá will be performing at the 2019 Nikamotan MTL festival. “Setting up an event with so many different parts is always stressful, particularly since we’re bringing together artists who sometimes don’t know each other, but it can produce magical matches. Sometimes, the artists themselves impact our programming: when I contacted (2017 Polaris Music Award winner) Lido Pimienta and asked her who she’d like to work with, she immediately suggested Pierre Kwenders.” A meeting between Africa and Latin America at a festival dominated by our own Indigenous cultures – that’s a great example of the kind of eclecticism being promoted by Musique Nomade.

Thanks to her involvement in the organization, Robillard is in a good position to attest to the strength of what Wolastoqiyik Nation and 2018 Polaris Music Award winner Jeremy Dutcher famously called the “Indigenous Renaissance.” And while the abundance of talent has never been in doubt, Robillard also noted that the audience is increasingly eager to discover new artists. “Music and the arts are powerful cultural reclamation tools for indigenous peoples,” she says. “So many unique voices are emerging, but one must know how to listen. And I’m not talking about the audience only: the entire music industry, which has often excluded Indigenous artists, must de-construct itself and start from scratch on a more inclusive basis.”

Still, one must admit that things are changing for the better. As a sign of the times, ADISQ will be presenting their first-ever Best Indigenous Artist Award during its next gala ceremony, a move most welcomed by Robillard. “I think ADISQ did the right thing by contacting communities and organizations such as ours,” she says. “They also adapted their selection criteria to make it possible for indigenous artists compete.”

Throughout our conversation, Robillard repeats that she sincerely hopes this renewed interest for Indigenous First Nation, Métis, and Inuit artistic productions will amount to more than a passing fad. “When you see the talent being deployed in the various Indigenous communities, there’s reason for optimism,” she says. “The first step in our work is to bring walls down; but we must move further and build solid foundations upon which that culture can grow.”

August 9, 2019,
at Place des Festivals, Montréal

Three Nikamotan MTL festival performers to reckon withMatt Comeau

Matt ComeauMatt Comeau

“We discovered him while travelling through the Maritimes, and he’s one of the most luminous and engaging people there is,” says Joëlle Robillard. A member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, New Brunswick singer/guitarist Matt Comeau is featured on the All my People EP that was created during a workshop set up by Musique Nomade at the Metepenagiag Heritage Park in in 2017. “He has the warmest voice, and he’s an outstanding guitarist who writes blues-tinged pop songs,” says Robillard.
Soleil LaunièreSoleil Launiere
This Innu multi-disciplinary artist, originally from Mashteuiatsh, is, above, all “multi-talented,” according to Robillard. As the Indigenous artist-in-residence at Montréal’s National Theatre School, Soleil Launière works variously as an AUEN band member, an actor, and primarily as a performance artist. “Her movement performances are heavily influenced by the Innu culture and mythology,” says Robillard, “particularly through her evocation of the half-man-half-beast creatures depicted on our poster.”

Quantum TangleQuantum Tangle
Originally from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Quantum Tangle won the 2017 JUNO Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year, for Shelter As We Go. “I had wanted to schedule them for a long time,” says Robillard, “because I love their fusion of tradition and modernity, and their really cinematic sound. They use throat singing, usually performed a cappella by two women, in a completely different context. We suggested that they prepare something with Lydia Képinski, and they immediately went for it.