We have liftoff! Bob Bouchard and Lou Bélanger are in orbit! Six months after launching their first dancehall fusion album under their project named Di Astronauts, the two prolific producers from Québec City are charting their course, in the hope that their songs will circle the globe. First the FrancoFolies, then the Festival d’été de Québec, and tomorrow… the whole universe!
But wait… Who exactly are Di Astronauts? Hunched over a speakerphone in their hotel room in Saskatoon, where they’re slated to accompany singer Marième , the three musicians talk over each other: Bouchard and Bélanger – veterans of Québec City’s rap/groove scene, and members of the Movèzerbe and CEA collectives – as well as Papa T, Québec City’s most well-known Jamaican.
“A polymorphous collective? I guess that’s pretty much it,” says Bouchard, adding that this first album, Lova Notes & Outta Space Poems, also features King Abid, Sabrina Sabotage and Marième. A bona fide tribe, as it were.
“Di Astronauts is our lab,” says Bélanger. “It’s our excuse for doing what we’d been meaning to do for a long time, now.” Which is to say, an agile mix of French, English, Patois and Arabic pop (thanks, King Abid!) in a dancehall and Jamaican new roots style, with accessible electronica sauce. This tasty, multi-chef melting pot is cohesive despite, or thanks to, the wide variety of musical ingredients that go into it.
“We love the idea of a collective project,” says beat-maker Bouchard. “Stuff like Major Lazer or Bran Van 3000 – you have no idea how big fans we are of Bran Van! That’s the concept: a core of in-house producers, who’ve given themselves the leeway to invite anyone to sing along. It’s a process that we’re comfortable with, the whole notion of giving a project a global musical direction, while incorporating the talent of a multitude of artists who bring their own flavour to the songs.”
Their project might’ve been lifted straight from Major Lazer, but it’s still quite bold for the Québec music scene. Reggae and dancehall aren’t exactly staples of popular music in the province, except on the rare occasion where a pop artist will dip a toe in that relatively exotic pool. Making what’s essentially an entire album of that sound – and managing to make it so catchy – is a tour de force that can only be fuelled by true passion.
“Like everyone else, we liked reggae after hearing albums by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or even Gainsbourg,” says Bob Bouchard. “Marième is a huge reggae fan, and she got us to explore more of it. We were more attuned to hip-hop, through contact with the guys from Alaclair, Movèzerbe, etc. Then, as the rap scene grew whiter and more nihilistic, we realized that reggae was what we identified more with, the whole idea of changing the world together through a positive message… Which is what we initially liked about rap, in the end.
“But props need to be given where they’re due: Québec City’s ‘Captain of Reggae’ is King Abid. When he got here, he wanted to create a reggae scene.” And he pulled it off: there are now several community and college radio stations with dancehall-reggae themed shows, as well as several events organized around the genre. As Bob says, “there aren’t that many people supporting the reggae scene in Québec City, but those that love it really fucking love it!
We love reggae and we play it in a very contemporary way. We try to avoid playing in a nostalgic or ‘tourist-y’ way. And now, since music is being consumed through streaming platforms, our strategy is to create music that can travel and acting accordingly, such as going to Jamaica with Papa T to shoot our video and build relationships with local singers.”
Di Astronauts’s trick is to be active on all fronts: radio, thanks to an electro-pop ditty, “Feelin’ Better,” sung by Sabrina Sabotage on one hand, and on the other, streaming platforms and YouTube with the sunny dancehall grooves. Time and time again, the two studio rats will come up with a good groove, then shop it around to various vocalists so that it can see the sunshine.
“To us, it’s a long-haul project,” says Bélanger. “It allows us to launch singles whenever we want, EPs, videos, but always with that collaborative approach. Right now, we’re thinking about an all-female project that would be called Di Astronettess. We also plan on an all-French project, simply because we’re signed to Coyote Records. We believe that Di Astronauts is a platform which can easily carry us over the next five to ten years. It can be very poppy, but it’s very cohesive, specific, niche. It affords us that kind of freedom.”