Dominique Fils-Aimé was supposed to be on tour when she found herself flat on her back, bed-bound. The Montréal-based singer-songwriter was injured, and forced to cancel tour dates. But as she focused on recovery, and feeling “gratitude through the pain,” something wove its way to her: her fourth album, Our Roots Run Deep.

Dominique Fils-Aime, Our Roots Run Deep

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Dominique Fils-Aimé song “Our Roots Run Deep”

“It came out in one shot – in a week,” she explains, at the Dark Horse Espresso Bar, during a recent trip to Toronto, “in the order that’s now on the album. I could tell what the story was. It was from the roots, all the way up to feeling that the plant world was us [humans], ending with me as a plant in the sunshine.” Fils-Aimé tilts her head back and smiles. “I imagined the little leaves on top of the trees taking in the sun. That’s how I knew it wasn’t just me, but spirit.”

Our Roots Run Deep begins her second trilogy, and this time, it’s all about her deep connection to Mother Earth as a healer, and source of inspiration and love, as well as the heart chakra. The chakra system has driven the energy behind Fils-Aimé’s work from the start, and she often uses it, and visual art, as initial stages to tap into an album’s theme, message, and energy. Her first trilogy began with the blue and blues-inspired Nameless (2018), to the fiery-red, jazz-driven, and JUNO Award-winning Stay Tuned! (2019), to Three Little Words (2021), and its sunlight-yellow theme that celebrated soul, disco, and freedom. Today, it’s all about green, blossoming, and the heart.

“In the past, I took everything I could from emotional states,” says Fils-Aimé. “Resilience was a huge inspiration for me. It was about meditating on how our roots [African Diaspora] go way deeper than the 200 years of trauma we went through. There’s way more inter-generational wealth than trauma, and this is what we use to heal, and ensure that the trauma and the joy can co-habitate.

“There was way less brain work,” she continues. “Less reflection, more feeling, love. It’s all the heart. I feel that, for the first time, I was truly open and vulnerable, in a way I haven’t necessarily been. I was maybe 75, 80 percent in the past, but now I’m getting to 95, closer and closer. And that’s the journey.”

Fils-Aimé has become known for her petal-like layering of vocals, all of which she tracks herself, including the masculine voices. She also continues to work with Jacques Roy, who helps translate the emotion of her songs into instrumentation. “He’s been directing from the beginning, so he knows me well,” she says. “He does the upright bass, as well, on the album. And he’s kind of a translator to the musicians. Since I don’t write music, I’ll say, ‘I want to feel this,’ and then he’ll translate it so musicians get it.”

What are the challenges of being a Québec-based artist working to break out in Canada (and the world)?

“Truth be told, I know I haven’t really felt confronted by these challenges, because my manager was probably facing them for me, while I was focusing on the music. I’m definitely grateful for that. Something I do believe, though, is that starting local, and growing as organically as possible, will lead to the music reaching outwards, in due time. Allowing the team to build, at the same pace as a community of listeners who truly connect with the artistry, is worth giving it time. They’ll both be needed to establish stable and long-lasting relationships with new territories.”

She also cites the inclusion of percussionist Elli Miller Maboungou and trumpeter Hichem Khalfa as important collaborators on Our Roots Run Deep. “I wanted to make sure there was percussion on this album to bring us back to the roots,” says Fils-Aimé. “And the trumpet to be another voice singing, so that we remember that voices can come in all shapes and forms.”

Fils-Aimé released her first EP independently in 2015, after having no luck signing to a label. That all changed when she met EnSoul Records co-founder, Kevin Annocque, and she’s been signed and managed by the label since 2016. She now sees her body of work reverberate among fans who find it a healing balm in a trying world. “Meeting people who say, ‘I felt this way,’ or ‘I needed a boost, and I listened to that song,’” she sighs, “I can cry. It makes me feel like, OK, I’m not insane. It’s not in my mind. Music has this power, and I will continue to use it, because if you do it for the right purpose, it will pick up somewhere. That feels amazing.”

And for Fils-Aimé, it’s this healing nature of art, song, and music that she hopes to inspire in others. “There’s a story of a hummingbird who sees a forest burning,” she says, likening her work to the parable, “and he gets this little drop of water, and the other birds laugh at him and say, ‘What are you doing?’ He replies, ‘I’m bringing my drop, and if we all bring our drop, we might put out the fire.”’ She smiles thoughtfully as she concludes. “Every drop matters.”

The 2023 edition (and 10th Anniversary) of the Gala Country, which celebrates the Québec country music community – is upon us! Here are the five SOCAN members nominated in the Breakthrough Artist category.

Justin Legacy

Justin LegacyJustin Lagacé changed his stage name to Legacy, something that’s easier to sell abroad, and he comes from the same country stronghold as Ghys Mongeon, who was among SOCAN’s new faces of country in 2020.

Legacy looks more like Everlast than he does Laurie Leblanc, or Matt Lang – each of whom looks exactly like what we imagine a country singer would. The artist from the Outaouais has an exceptional baritone voice, one that commands  attention, and serves as a major asset that he welds to his hip-hop roots. What we have here is a singular, innovative, and fresh artist in the country ecosystem.

“I’ve always listened to country music,” he explains. “I’ve been playing music since I was 12 years old. Now I want to make new country in English. And it’s really important to me that you don’t hear a Francophone accent. When I sit down to write, it feels like my pen naturally gravitates towards English.”

Now 24, Legacy’s experience as a semi-finalist on La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing competition) in 2019 taught him a lot. They’re incredibly long days, but Éric Lapointe put a lot of trust in me,” he says. “We even worked on a country cover of a Colocs tune. But through it all, I stayed true to myself.”

Two EPs – Tempted, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 – revealed an initial bundle of high-quality songs that would feel right at home on American charts. They were released by Balistique musique, a label founded by former Montréal Alouettes football player Étienne Boulay, and top-tier producer John-Anthony Gagnon-Robinette. One listen to “Broken Man” and “Small Town Prayer” and you’ll have no doubt about his future.

Francis Degrandpré

Francis Degrandpré

Another former contestant on La Voix three years ago, this Berthierville-born artist has garnered six nominations. The 30-year-old songwriter took an unpaid leave of absence from his job as a correctional officer to devote himself entirely to country music.

“Country music chose me, but I was on the fence: do I sing in French or English?” he says. Inspired by the new country sounds of Americans Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen, Degrandpré finally chose French, “but I was afraid my songs would sound corny,” he says. It appears singing in the same language as Oscar Thiffault is far from a heresy.

Released in May 2022, his album Soir de quai gave him wings, and his songs “Ta toune préférée, “Colorado,” and “Bang Bang” have resonated strongly throughout Québec. “I like sentences that aren’t too polished, just as if I was talking with my buddies. I think we found the right recipe,” says the guy who defines himself as a romantic seducer, with a cavernous voice.

He introduced himself at Montréal’s Corona Theater in March of 2023. “I felt I was on the right path when I realized the audience knew the lyrics to all 11 of the album’s songs, and not just the three on the radio,” says Degrandpré. Then, on August 18, he became the first Francophone artist from Québec to play on one of the two main stages of Montréal’s Lasso festival.

Sandrine Hébert

Sandrine Hebert Things didn’t let up for Sandrine Hébert after she was a contestant on the 2022 edition of the Québec TV singing competition Star Académie. Averaging three shows a week, she gives more than 150 performances a year. Beside being nominated in the Breakthrough Artist category, she’s also on the ballot for the People’s Choice Award.

“I truly felt the impostor syndrome when I heard the news,” says Hébert. “I wondered if I truly belonged in that group.” Born in Coaticook, a city in Québec’s Eastern Townships, this singer-songwriter was still working with horses at a vet not that long ago, but she quickly made a ton of contacts, and now manages to earn a living from her shows. But not yet from her songs.

Star Académie made me want to create original material,” she admits. “Toby Gendron and Sylvain Michel helped me with the creation of my song ‘On part s’une ride,’” she says. “I needed tools and I knew it. The melody that I was offered was the inspiration for the lyrics. “Comme des fous” (2023) is more nostalgic and visceral, because I’m singing about my dad, and it’s a nice continuation alongside “Noël chez nous,” says Hébert, about her three most popular songs to date.

“I’ve been making music for four years, and I can feel I’m not at my full potential yet,” says the artist, who admires Canadian country singer Jess Moskaluke. “It’s hard for me to sort through the various styles you can hear in my music.” Her first EP will be released in 2024.

Guillaume Lafond

Guillaume LafondGuillaume Lafond is nominated in several categories – Contemporary Country, Songwriter, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Male Vocalist, and Breakthrough – and is at the peak of his career (so far) with his excellent song “Rien à faire,” a fearsome earworm.

Born in Saint-Constant, and now based in Richelieu, the 2021 Star Académie alumnus has joined forces with Mario Pelchat (2Frères, Paul Daraîche, Guylaine Tanguay) to give us a more intimate country flavour. Accompanied by his acoustic guitar, Lafond’s reassuring voice floats over musical structures that are airy and bluster-free. His album, À destination, has also been nominated at the ADISQ Gala.

“I’ve loved country since my teens, and giants such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard all touched me with their truth-filled songs,” he says. You clearly understand that the man places a lot of importance in the authenticity of his message and craft.

His creative partner is David Laflèche, a musician who delighted everyone two years ago by leaving behind the TV shows where he was a regular house-band musician to launch the very intimate Every Day Son. “We listen to the same type of country music,” says Lafond. “David doesn’t mince words, and didn’t hesitate to change lyrics here and melodies there; I’m super-open to that,” he adds, with the humility of a beginner.

“We completed the album in three weeks,” he says. “David enlisted veteran Nashville musicians like Russ Pahl, who plays pedal steel. The result is 10 country, folk, and rock songs, my first compositions and my first 10 songs in French. I found inspiration in stuff that happened in my own life. It’s my story, ultimately.”

Isa Morin

Isa MorinIsa Morin’s first, seven-song EP, Je t’aime comme ça, was released in 2023. It’s an excellent showcase of full potential for the Beauce-born singer-songwriter, who writes her country, folk, and pop songs with her life partner.

Morin, previously a contestant at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby and the Cégep en spectacle contest, is also a survivor: she had a brain tumour removed in 2020.

“You must always push forward,” she says. “That health scare got me in touch with my emotions, and that influenced the way I write songs. I’ve started writing them on my own, but I write way better when I’m working from a melody. It had been 25 years since I’d written song lyrics. I wanted to write with greater eloquence, so I took classes in writing circles. Each text is rooted in an emotion. It’s important to me that my songs are unlike any other; I want to avoid the comparison game.”

The recording process during the pandemic took about two months. One of her favourite songs, “Hockey Mom,” came quite naturally: “We had one hour left in the studio. We recorded my voice with and without music. It was an unlikely moment that changed a lot of things, because I’d been singing alone with my computer for six years!

“I was brought up listening to our local country radio, and my father is a singer, and so was my grandfather.”

Gala Country, 10th edition (2023)
Hosted by Guylaine Tanguay
October 26, 2023, Club Soda, Montréal


“Rap is a vicious world. You don’t have a choice: if you want to be seen as a relevant player in the scene, you need to come with a dog-eat-dog philosophy,” says the Montréal rapper, philosophizing about the title of his album — the literal translation of the expression evoking the selfish, animalistic nature of humans competing. “But I’m not making that statement as if I was announcing that I’ll crush everyone in my way… It’s just my way of saying I’m here, and I’ll take my rightful place in the game.”

 Fleau DicaprioA mere two months after releasing said first album, one can safely say Fléau Dicaprio has, indeed, taken his rightful place. And to be clear, he didn’t just do so in the best artist name category: the rap-oriented press in Québec is constantly praising him, while his tracks have garnered hundreds of thousands of streams. Some of the most respected players on the local hip-hop scene – Mike Shabb, Baxter Dexter, Ruffsound – have signalled their interest in collaborating with the up-and-comer in the wake of his album.

Active in rap Québ since the late 2010s, under the moniker Le Réel Fléau, he started turning heads thanks to his offbeat attitude (reminiscent of Jeune Loup, among others), his razor-sharp flow, his carefully crafted rhyme structures, his raw language, and his innovative musical direction – one that includes trap, and hard-rock guitar riffs.

That musical direction is masterminded by Danny Ill, the seasoned Montréal producer who’s worked with Tronel (of Anticipateurs fame) and, most notably, with Mike Shabb, on one of the masterpieces of Québec rap, 2020’s Life Is Short. It’s actually because of Danny Ill that Dicaprio took rap more seriously, after years of just dabbling for fun.

“We knew each other before that, but at some point during COVID, we decided to do a session,” he says. “We spent the whole day doing rap and recorded seven tracks, including “Chien mangé chien.” On that day, rap became serious for me. I had to take advantage of the vibe; everything was falling in its proper place.”

Including his persona. Born in Montréal’s Mile-End, Dicaprio doesn’t have your typical rapper’s stature. As a matter of fact, he says he tries to blend in with the evolution of the neighbourhood, where he’s lived for more than 25 years now. “Mile-End is a neighbourhood where life is good,” he says. “It’s relaxed and arts-oriented, but before it was as popular a neighbourhood as it is now, it was more of an industrial area, which is often the case with neighbourhoods built around train tracks. A house cost next to nothing when my mom had me. It wasn’t a ghetto, but it was very modest, like Saint-Henri, Pointe-Saint-Charles, or even Hochelaga.”

Fleau Dicaprio, PAKET

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Fléau Dicaprio song “PAKET”

Born in a middle-class family to a Québécoise mother and a father from Ghana, Dicaprio’s teenage years were full of turmoil, and he frequently changed schools. “I experienced a lot of fucked-up shit. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone,” he says, without going into the finer details. “Now, with my music, I just want to have fun and laugh. I rap about street shit, but with a bit of humour.”

Except, to be honest, what Dicaprio offers is far from just funny. It’s raw, incisive, provocative, sometimes unflattering – even shocking – towards women. His writing is very… explicit. It’s not hard at all to picture what he’s describing. “Of course what I do is intense, but we’re making rap, man, not children’s songs,” he argues. “I’ve done a lot of podcasts and interviews, so people are getting to know me, little by little. They have an opportunity to see for themselves that I’m not some kind of idiot, or moron, and that I’m in my right mind. All that balances out the rawer stuff I put out in my music.”

As a matter of fact, anything raw that he plans to put out is carefully combed through by Dicaprio’s entourage before it’s released. “When I play my songs to my close friends – girls or boys – no one is in ‘yes man’ mode. Some of them think I go too far in some places, but overall, my songs are well-received. Plus, let’s be honest: if my shit was that fucked up, I wouldn’t get as much attention from the media…”

One thing for sure, Dicaprio skillfully navigates between the first and second degree in his lyrics, and he exaggerates the tropes and clichés of American rap with an approach that’s just offbeat enough that we instinctively know he’s not 100% serious. “It’s just music, at the end of the day,” he says. “What we say is true, but we exaggerate some things to make you react, to make it funnier… I don’t put on a costume when I step into the recording booth. It’s 100% Fléau, but I pump myself up with a different energy.”

And it’s a brand new energy he wants to offer us next. Dicaprio is working on his second album, but says he’s in no rush to finish it, because he wants to develop a new artistic direction from what we hear on Chien mangé chien. “I introduced myself as Fléau, people heard my bars and they know I can be raw,” he says. “I proved I’m able to say crazy shit, but it’s time to reach out to a new clientele; namely, the people who think I’m too much.”