Dominique Fils-Aimé

Photo: Jeff Malo

Like the proverbial water off a duck’s back, Dominique Fils-Aimé lets people’s differences slowly fade into oblivion. More than anything else, for her music is at the heart of what brings us together, what bonds us. On Stay Tuned!, the second in a trilogy of politically conscious albums, she has a clear plan: detaching ourselves from the need to only be “here.” “No matter who you are, I want to hear what you have to sing,” says Fils-Aimé.

As soon as she was signed to her label, she got carte blanche. “Write down your dream project,” they told her. “I’ve always loved school,” says Fils-Aimé, who didn’t choose the easy way. “I decided I would re-visit Black history. I wanted to know, from a historic perspective, what the things were that we repeat, and could avoid.” It was during this study that Dominique Fils-Aimé realized that even though she didn’t know the history, she had felt it through music. “Music has a historical imprint that you can read,” she explains. “The blues, blue, misery. It was an era when we made music with what we could get our hands on: rocks, your body, your voice.” And thus was born the first part of her trilogy, Nameless (2018), a dense, intentionally heavy album. “Silence was one of the main instruments, and it was almost a metaphor for the silence to which a whole people were reduced.”

Stay Tuned!, which came out in late February, takes us “out of that torpor” and moves us forward into the history Dominique decided to portray. “It’s red, it’s jazz, it’s blood, it’s woman,” she says. “Jazz was born of a desire to break free of the rules of classical, and create new boundaries. Music can change minds. It’s the softest and most empathetic way of doing so.”

The next instalment of the project, due in Spring 2020, will take us toward the sun. “The trilogy will end with the revolution,” says Fils-Aimé. “It’s the part of the history where even though the situations have left marks, we allowed ourselves to be light-hearted. That’s when funk, reggae, and disco came to be.” In a context where artists often feel bogged down by a system that doesn’t move quickly enough to accommodate their creativity, she’s conscious of how lucky she is to have the freedom to create this triple-punch over a three-year period.

Music has proven an unavoidable outlet of African-American culture. For Fils-Aimé, music is therapeutic. “This is true whether you listen to music or play it,” she says. “When you spend night after night, especially as a teen, listening to albums you’re obsessed with, that’s one thing. But it’s important to understand that the concept of mental illness and therapy doesn’t exist in many languages. Mental illness doesn’t exist in Creole. You aren’t depressed, you’re tired.” That’s how, according to her, music becomes unifying; because it fundamentally says that you’re not alone. “There’s part of that in me,” she says. “It comes from the music, this desire to find your therapy, to create it. You finally feel as if you are contributing to the process.”

“People think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it.”

“Let’s destroy the concept of world music,” hisses Fils-Aimé when we touch on that totally unjustified category, that’s crept into our everyday vocabulary. “I don’t even know where it came, from or why it exists. To me, it exemplifies a desire to integrate people by creating a niche, an isolated space where we can point our fingers at them and say the’re different. Underscoring the cultural background of people is putting them in a box. And that box is a huge one containing the world,” she says.

The soulful Fils-Aimé doesn’t need any excuse to get onstage, but she does believe her genre of music tends to want to export itself and leave. “This music doesn’t know if it has a place here,” she says. “There’s a system in place where people think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it, and the cycle begins again.”

Raised Fist

Revolt, revolution, and changing minds are ever-present in Dominique Fils-Aimé’s mind and voice. “I dream of true change, she says. “That we literally retire the concept of violence. I want us to re-think the women’s jails system, I want us to find all the First Nations women who’ve disappeared, that we integrate First Nations in our daily lives, as well as black women in feminist movements.” All of those desires aim to ensure the safety and well-being of the ones who come after us. “It’s important for the next generation to know that we care,” she says. “It’s our duty to bring back revolutionary discourse to the present time.”

Musically, Stay Tuned! is emblematic of the artist’s value, diversity being nothing short of a duty: “I invited Elli Miller Maboungou on percussion, and Hichem Khalfa on trumpet,” she says. “But above all, after spending all of my time complaining on Nameless, I wanted to take control again,” she remembers, laughing. “I integrate women more. Salin Cheewapansri, on drums, is the heartbeat that I wanted. I wanted my album to beat to the rhythm of a woman’s heart.”

Fils-Aimé believes the solution is within u,s and that our will to integrate as much variety as possible in our music will necessarily translate into more diversity in our society. “Music is a metaphor for life,” she believes. “By focusing on what unites us, our passion for music, we’ll discover that we see things the same way. We all have a change to contribute.”

For 15 years, Marie-France Long has been working as music supervisor, one of the most sought-after roles among music stakholders. This role is reltively new, and still rare, in the small-yet-decisive world of Québec television. Long does it for the hugely popular Québec talk show Tout le monde en parle, which makes her very influential. The two-plus-hour show airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m., and has consistently garnered more than a million viewers, with peaks as high as 1.8 million.

Marie-France LongA mere five-second excerpt aired on the show can be enough to kick-start a songwriter’s career. “The return from an ad break is short. I sometimes wish it was a little longer, so that people would enjoy the music a little longer,” says Long. “I would be really happy if the excerpt I picked really helped an artist’s career. But I have to admit, I don’t think about that. I don’t follow up to find out if it helps a band’s career; as long as I did my job well, I’m happy.”

But the musical supervisor does occasionally receive praise, from one singer-songwriter or another who writes to let her know that her use of one of their songs helped finance the production of their album. Another one bought a new guitar with the money received for being played during the Sunday night show. “It’s not a lot,” says Long, “but for a band or an artist who still doesn’t earn a ton of money, it’s great. That makes me happy.”

When Tout le monde en parle arrived on the airwaves of Radio-Canada, Marie-France Long’s role was still being defined. Initially, as she recalls, the show’s credits indicated that she was the production coordinator and director. “I still believe it’s musical supervision, because anything that has to do with music has to go through me,” she says. “I pick the songs, then the ‘chief’ has the last word, and I then proceed to clear the rights.”

For each episode, six songs have to be identified to be played in what she calls the “ad returns,” and a few more songs are selected for guest entrances, and sometimes, to be played during interviews. “Six songs are played during the ad returns, but Guy [A. Lepage, the show’s host, writer, and producer] can play between 12 and 14 more on his keyboard,” says Long. “He chooses the ones he feels like hearing, and picks them on the spot; he’ll try out a few during rehearsal to figure out which ones work best, but it really is on the day of the taping that he decides which song will play, and when.”

“We try to play music by artists that don’t get played as much on commercial radio.”

Long is in charge of presenting a list of songs to the host. “It’s a phase thing,” she  says. “I send about 50 songs to guy before the season begins, and again about halfway through the season. He’s the one who has the final say: ‘I like this one, that one not so much.’” She spends whole days, at the beginning of a season, and several hours a week after that, listening to the music that publicists send her (whether CDs, files, links, or streams). “I try to be up to date in my choice of music,” says Long. “I’ll rarely play a song from an album that was released 18 months ago, I try to be as close as possible to what’s going on in the music world.’

Over time, Long has developed a musical profile that’s representative of the host and his show. “We try to play music by artists that don’t get played as much on commercial radio,” she says. “Generally from Québec artists or, at the very least, from the Francophonie, and a preference for emerging artists. In other words, we prefer music that has had less visibility, so far.

“During Tout le monde en parle, especially during ad returns, we want the studio to be alive. When the ad break is over, we want to see people clapping their hands, and we need to feel that they’re having fun. That weeds out a lot of music: anything ethereal, sad, slow, I just don’t go there. The M.O. is to find catchy songs,” says the woman who, in a previous life, played electric guitar in the all-woman band Camionette, which competed in the 2007 edition of the Francouvertes competition.

Collecting the songs that will have the honour of being played during Tout le monde en parle certainly is the most visible (or audible) part of Long’s work, but she’s also in charge of supervising the arrival of guests on the set (the walk-ins), of the so-called formatted interviews (“an interview within an interview”), and all the music that’s featured in them – work that she accomplishes in collaboration with the research team.

There’s also a clerical aspect to her work. “Out of the 50 or so songs that I compile and submit to Guy at the beginning of the season, he’ll pick about 30,” she says. “I then whittle that down to 15, and proceed to clear the rights – that means both the right to use the master, and the permission from the songwriter.” In 15 years, not a single songwriter has refused that their song is used on the show.

But there’s one burning question that remains: does Guy A. Lepage have good taste in music? After all, he does have the last word on the songs that are played on-air. “I do think that he should’ve picked this or that song from time to time,” Long admits. “Sometimes, when I go over my selection, I will think to myself, ‘I’m really disappointed he didn’t play this one!’ Sometimes I’ll get back to him about a song. In the end, he’ll say, ‘OK, let’s play it.’ Guy trusts me, we’ve built a great working relationship over these 15 years. But he also loves to put his personal touch on the musical selection. He loves boosting artists that get played less, because we do have exceptionally talented artists in Québec.”

He often books his own performances, he teaches slam poetry to school children, and is a member of four bands, on two continents. This isn’t someone who wastes time doing needlepoint, but if he was into that, he’d find time to create art with multi-coloured yarn, too. So here’s an idea of what you’d need to do in order to accomplish as much as 28-year-old Noé Talbot, a guy with six careers and a few side-gigs.

Noé Talbot Self-taught, he first went on tour at the age of 17. Ever heard of Fortune Cookie Club? Col Rouge? Super Punk? He was there.

Although all of those projects were part of punk’s murky waters, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Talbot. Launched last June, his second full-length album, Laisser le poste ouvert, is completely devoid of any of standard punk’s codification.

“When I write a song, I know right away which project it’s for,” says Talbot. “I have three punk bands. One that’s more poetic, with emo melancholy tunes. Super Punk is four chords and jokes. In Fortune Cookie Club, I try to give others a lot more space. Then there’s my solo acoustic project, that’s hyper-personal, and that writing process is really different.”

Because he knows the identity of each project so well, Talbot doesn’t feel like he’s scattered. “I write so much music, I could release three or four albums a year,” he says. Obviously, the creative framework varies from one band to the next. “Paul Valéry said that constraints increase creativity,” says the songwriter. “I really agree with that.

Taking An Unexplored Path

“I’m putting the finishing touches on a rap album,” he says, with the same tone as if he announced he’d just finished doing his laundry. While he was playing guitar for a D-Track show in Gatineau, he indulged in a slam alongside the rapper. Horg, of Seba & Horg, was there, and suggested putting it over a rap track.

“I studied the rap ‘code’ for seven or eight hours every day, I wanted to understand, and I find it fascinating,” Talbot explains. “I like conscious rap like Orelsan, Stromae, Romeo Elvis. I’ve always loved Manu Militari and Koriass. I like rap a lot when it’s more melodic, with a sung chorus.”

He’s captivated by everything rap has brought him, and everything he had yet to explore. “I’ve been writing music for 15 years, and I can see the chords in my mind,” he says. “When I play a C, an A minor, a D… I see them. With rap, I see nothing at all. It’s amazing.” Talbot’s first rap singles will come out on Slam Disques’s new sub-label, Hell for Breakfast, this Spring.

Since just after the holidays, Talbot isn’t scattered, and says with utmost confidence that he can now “live from his music.” “It’s all I can think of. I know where I’m going,” he adds. To him, projects are always creatively stimulating. “Tomorrow it might be a punk rock opportunity, a festival, or solo showcases in Europe. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be there,” he says.

Apart from the first beats of his rap project, Talbot is preparing an EP with Col Rouge, a collaboration with a French band, the release of Super Punk’s new album, and the release of a Fortune Cookie Club compilation album. He’ll also produce an album for Québec City’s Distance Critique, and an EP of acoustic covers alongside Caravane’s Dominic Pelletier. Oh, and he’s also writing a children’s book, and already has enough material for another solo album, and shows planned for next summer.

“I’m pretty clear about where I’m going, and have been for about a year,” says Talbot. “I’ve always known that music would be part of my life, but I didn’t think it would be the central element around which everything gravitates,” he says, adding that all the new opportunities will take him to the next level. “As I age, I hope I never feel like I’ve seen it all.”