In February of 2022, Adria Kain released When Flowers Bloom. Fans had been eagerly awaiting the Toronto-based artist’s debut LP since the 2015 release of her song “Ocean.” Inspired by artists such as D’Angelo, Maxwell, Frank Ocean, André 3000, and Brandy – and crafting her own glitchy blend of R&B, jazz, and soul – Kain followed up “Ocean” with a string of equally compelling songs, including “Reverse Psychology” (2016),  “DE{com}pressed” (2017), and singles “Alone In Kenzo,” “Classic” (featuring Leila Dey), and “Ocean (Reprise).”

She’s been praised by The Fader, Complex, HYPEBAE, and more; opened for the likes of Miguel and Questlove; and sung on projects including PARTYNEXTDOOR’s second album and Allan Rayman’s ROADHOUSE 01 album.

Contemplating her music, Kain explains that challenging herself and her artistry is at the core of her approach and unique sound. “I’m learning how to play guitar,” she says. “It’s been a long, inconsistent journey, but a journey nonetheless. Even if I find the chords or melodies don’t make sense, I find myself coming up with interesting ideas that I’m excited to [explore] more.” This desire to learn and grow also extends beyond music, into content creation. “It [production, visuals, and photography] is something I’ve always been passionate about, but never fully allowed myself to dive into, full force, so [my aim is] to make that more of a focus.”

Kain allowed her debut album to unfurl naturally over six years, allowing the right songs to find their way together. “Originally, when I conceptualized this album and began working on it, I had an entirely different expectation in mind of how it was going to turn out, or what the story was going to be,” she says. “It was simply supposed to be about experiences in love.

“Writing songs is kind of like a daydream, a dream that I’m awake for”

“But I think where my life was at, it naturally became a story of accountability, and facing things in relationships that I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge, especially not out loud. It almost forced me into this space, because it was needed in order for me to tap into a certain level of emotion to create each song. Songs like ‘Only With Time,’ ‘To the Ones I’ve Loved Before,’ and ‘Lost One’ are perfect examples.”

Aa a solo singer-songwriter, Kain describes the process as “kind of like a daydream, a dream that I’m awake for… I have random moments sometimes where I’m walking somewhere and a melody or lyric idea comes to life based off of something I see or hear in real time. My songwriting process is never the same. It always depends on my emotional state, or where I am in life, and how it inspires me creatively. I could be in a moment with someone, whether it be an artist, or a partner, and an idea can spark in an instant, and I’ll have the urge to write it down to record a voice note.

“Sometimes I’m just in my own sessions, or sessions with other artists and producers, and ideas come from things I hear through production or direct instrumentation. I’ve had songs that have come to life in minutes, and songs that I’ve started and didn’t finish until months or years later. My song ‘Only With Time,’ I began writing in 2017. ‘Alone in Kenzo’ was literally a guitar loop, and I visualized that entire song about a year before I even began writing or recording it, and then it took another full year to finish the song entirely.”

This trust in her own creative timeline has resulted in an album Kain is incredibly proud and pleased to share with audiences. “After the release of my album, I realized all of the songs were sitting exactly where they needed to be sonically,” she says. “It’s such a fulfilling feeling to know you created that from your mind and soul.”

The Black Lives Matter movement had an impact, all the way to Québec, including its music industry. Less than two years ago, ADVANCE Music, Canada’s Black Music Business Collective, was born, with the objective of uniting Black people working in the Canadian music industry, encouraging their integration into key positions in the industry, and promoting cultural diversity on the music scene.

Recently, the Toronto-based association created a satellite office in Québec to better reflect the realities of that market, and to more accurately represent the Francophone Black communities in the country. We offer you an introduction to ADVANCE Québec and its Chairman of the Board, and A&R Director for Universal Music Canada in Montréal, Widney Bonfils.

Since its founding, “Advance has been seen as primarily an English-speaking, Toronto-based organization,” admits Bonfils. “The organization first wanted to broaden its mandate on the English-speaking side, to be better attuned to [the realities experienced in] other provinces, and then to ensure it had a presence in Québec.”

Mission accomplished, now that Bonfils is spearheading the initiative. “I was approached by Keziah [Myers] because we worked together at SOCAN,” he says, both in the A&R Department. “She asked me if I would be interested in setting up Québec’s Board of Directors to build on what ADVANCE has accomplished, and adapt it to the Francophone reality – because, although I chair Québec’s Board, our mandate isn’t limited to this province. We aim to promote Francophone diversity across Canada.”

Musicians Corneille and Marième, as well as other industry stakeholders, like Carla Beauvais and Stéphane Moraille, Esq., were invited to sit on the Board. “Convincing them to get on board wasn’t very difficult, even though at first we didn’t know exactly where we were going with all this,” says Bonfils.

“First, we had to define our – Francophone – values, the reasons for setting up this committee, and establish our priorities for the next three years” with “realistic but ambitious” objectives in mind, says Bonfils. “Our primary goal is to understand the problems of the Black Francophonie, and then to draw up an action plan” to promote its development.

“It’s also important to create what’s called ‘generational wealth,’” he continues, “to create wealth as a bridge to the future so, that the next generations can take their place in the industry and benefit from it, without being bitter about the past… It would be ridiculous to just slam our fist on the table and say, ‘Give us this or that!’ Our message is, ‘What can we do to solve the problems, the barriers in place, in order to introduce more diversity and opportunities for people of colour?’”

To what extent does the reality of Black artists in the Québec music industry differ from that in English Canada? Language is a distinct factor, says the Chairman. “But we don’t have the same institutions” as in English Canada, he says, citing Musicaction and SODEC. “We also have our own gala,” referring to the ADISQ Awards. Thus, ADVANCE’s first challenge in Québec “will be to increase our notoriety, to make these institutions and Black artists understand that there’s now an organization that can help them,” he says, to achieve greater diversity within the Québec music industry.

ADVANCE Québec has already identified several angles to the lack of cultural diversity in the music industry, and will work to implement actions to remedy it. For example, the Board of Directors is lobbying ADISQ for the inclusion of an Award category for the R&B scene, which has been largely ignored. “There’s a Best Rap Album category, but it’s not enough,” says Bonfils. “There’s a pool of creators in this genre that aren’t represented [in the industry]. We must demonstrate to ADISQ that there are people in our community who work in this style,” he says, citing as an example Les Louanges, who adheres to the musical genre.

The other important aspect of ADVANCE’s approach is the funding of musical projects developed by Black artists. “We need to focus on the levers of development, understand why [the Black community] is not applying enough for grants [from institutions that support the industry] and why too many of those applications are rejected,” says Bonfils. “Also, we aim to create programs that will educate, inform and advance the community, for example, by reaching out to universities.”

Finally, ADVANCE Québec is committed to improve communications with members of the Black community about the tools available to them to create their businesses and develop musical projects. “When I was hired at SOCAN, I realized that there was a gap in our membership itself, musically speaking,” says Bonfils, citing artists from the hip-hop, R&B, blues, jazz, and Gospel scenes being under-represented. “Why was that? Because SOCAN is racist? Absolutely not! The problem was one of representation [of our mission to the communities] and information. Kids who were making hip-hop and putting their songs on YouTube had no idea that they could make money from their copyright royalties. Why? Because they never knew anyone like them who could explain it in their own words.

“To me, the real challenge is education, funding, and mentoring,” says Bonfils. “That will be our game plan for our first year.”

Whenever Toronto-born, Edmonton-raised R&B chanteuse Tanika Charles writes and records a new song, she goes to her surefire sounding board: her Dad Lennard.

“My Dad’s the best,” says Charles, whose 2019 sophomore album The Gumption created a lot of momentum for the now Toronto-based singer-songwriter. “He’s just taught me so much. And, you know, I’ll never forget when I first started singing, he said, ‘I only ask you to do one thing: enunciate… make sure people can hear what you’re saying, and make sure your story is true and pure.’ That’s how I’ve been rolling ever since.”

Lennard came in extremely handy when it came to feedback for some of the mixes of Charles’ new album, Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly.

“There’s a song on the album called ‘Frustrated,’ and the title is so fitting, because I think it had maybe four or five different mixes,” Charles explains. “I sent each mix to my dad, and he’s, like, ‘Nope, that’s not it. Nope. That’s not it. Sorry, Tanika. No. no.’ And finally, I just decided, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do: We’re gonna put the bass up here, and I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that. So, we mixed it, sent it to my dad, and he’s, like, ‘That’s it!’  It wasn’t until the fifth one that we got his approval – and I literally made those changes with tears coming out of my eyes, because it wasn’t hitting the way that I wanted it to.”

Charles acknowledges that she’s her own toughest critic – and that, combined with pandemic woes and depression, led to making what she calls “the most difficult album to create.”

“Not only was it done remotely, but there was no inspiration, no motivation,” she admits. “It was just a dark time. After not performing, or singing, or doing anything except eating,  having to come up with this album was incredibly difficult. I struggled with my voice. I didn’t feel confident. I thought, ‘This is not how I wanna sound.’ Because, during the lockdown, I’d been listening to Yebba, who’s my absolute favourite artist, of course, Moses Sumney, just these incredibly powerful singers. I just felt inadequate. So, I struggled with this album.

 “There was no inspiration, no motivation”

“I wanted my third one to be passionate and honest, and I just couldn’t find myself.  Finally, when this album was done, I’d come out of the darkness and I felt stronger and brighter and, and vibrant – but only because I completed something in such a difficult time. I’m continually working on being and doing better vocally, and internally, spiritually.  I know that we, as artists, need to recognize that we put in a lot of work and we need to be proud of the milestones that we’ve accomplished.”

Charles should be proud of Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly: 11 slices of soulful, classic, and contemporary R&B stylings, including the groovin’ “Different Morning,” featuring fast-rising rapper DijahSB; a funky duet with soul/Gospel singer Khari McClelland; and a coterie of producers and writing partners that include Scott McCannell, Ben MacDonald, and Chino de Villa on the production side, and Robert Bolton and Tafari Anthony on the writing side.

Swimming in Synchs

Tanika Charles – who might be remembered by TV audiences for her recurring role on Global’s Bomb Girls – has placed a lot of her music in other small-screen shows:  HBO’s Less Than Kind, ABC’s Rookie Blue, The CW’s Seed, CTV’s Saving Hope, and the CBC sit-coms Kim’s Convenience and Workin’ Moms, plus a nationally broadcast KFC commercial.  How does she do it? She credits her Milan-based label and music publisher Record Kicks. “I’ve been able to tour because they’ve released my music across Europe, and put my music in touch with stations, TV shows, and places I would never have access to as a Canadian artist,” says Charles. She also gives props to the late music supervisor Dave Hayman for placements: “Dave had been an integral part of my career, and supported me from Day One. Dave connected me with all of these show opportunities.”

“I prefer to collab with others,” says Charles. “When it comes to songwriting, there are people that are just way more prolific than I am. That’s what they do. I have to really experience everything to write a song effectively. And when I’m writing with other people – with Robert Bolton and Tafari Anthony – they would understand where I’m coming from. We’d receive music and I would express what this song in particular  makes me feel. I’d write a few words here and there, and then we’d elaborate on that.”

One particular standout: “Paintbrush and A Palette,” a funky, ‘70s- flavoured number with a lighthearted lyric. “That was actually the very first song I wrote for this album,” says Charles. “I love it because It’s bright and fun, and has something unique in its structure. I usually want to write sad songs about failed relationships, and this one gave us an opportunity to do something fun. And this song I wrote with Robert Bolton and Todd ‘HiFiLo’ Pentney. We were aiming for a D’Angelo-esque kind of vibe.”

While the jury is still out on how Papillon De Nuit: The Night Butterfly will perform in the public eye and ear, Charles has enjoyed a good run with her first two Polaris Music Prize long-listed albums Soul Run and The Gumption, and says she’s overcoming her shyness regarding self-promotion.

“I’m learning now to be okay with saying, ‘Hey, this is, this is my song,’ or ‘You can hear this song here,’ or ‘Take a listen to this album.’ I can honestly say that I’m quite proud of this one.”