Montréal’s Club Soda was at maximum capacity on Saturday, May 11, for the release of FouKi’s second album, ZayZay. The 22-year-old rapper offered a vibrant performance – one of his best so far – to his (very) young audience.

His show was visually exceptional. Behind him, and his loyal sidekicks QuietMike (on the laptop) and Vendou (backing vocals), stood an immense cardboard house made to look like it’s on fire. It was designed by the show’s stage director Felipe Arriagada-Nunez, along with cartoonish projections that mirrored each song’s theme: plates of spaghetti for S.P.A.L.A., money falling from the sky for Gwap, and so ion. Three times during the show, dancers from the 360 MPM company brought an additional level of energy to the show with their endearing choreography.

“Seriously, we had so much fun,” FouKi says a few days later when we meet him, still riding on Cloud Nine. “It was stunning that people knew the lyrics that well. It felt like the album came out a month ago, even though it came out barely a week ago.”

To be honest, though, FouKi’s songs are easy to memorize. Simple but not simplistic, catchy but not sappy, they benefit from the talent of beat-maker QuietMike, one of Québec’s most talented producers of his generation. And when they’re played in a super-charged Club Soda, those earworms literally become anthems, sung in unison. They’re hymns about positivity where the rapper pours all of his sincerity. He never tries to project an image that he doesn’t identify with.

“I’m mad, sometimes, but 95 percent of the time I’m very positive,” he says, asked if he sometimes gets angry. “I’m more inspired when I’m happy. I think this comes from the fact that I listen to a lot of reggae. Although the themes can sometimes be dark in that music, the groove can always change the vibe.”

He more often than not raps about his love of “kankan” (as in cannabis) and his love for his girlfriend, but FouKi’s lyrics are always a reflection of his current mood. He is front and centre in Québec’s rap scene, which couldn’t make him happier.

Songwriting: A Question of Vibe
FouKi needs a quiet environment to create. A “kankan” spliff in his hand, a QuietMike beat in his ears, what the rapper strives for above all is a catchy vocal melody. “Once I’m in a good vibe, I look for simple hooks,” he says. “Something even a toddler could sing. As soon as I find one that sticks in my mind for a few minutes, I know I’m on to something, and that’s when I start writing lyrics.”

His path was wasn’t exactly rough, but it was strewn with doubts, especially when it came to school. On his song “Papillon,” he raps about the difficulties he had obtaining his high-school diploma. “École pour adulte, mais regarde-toi, faudrait peut-être faut tu commences par en devenir un/J’coulais tout l’temps en français, mais quand même dans les 10 auteurs de Radio-Canada ” (Adult school, but look at yourself, maybe you need to become one, first/I was flunkin’ all the time, but I still made it yo Radio-Canada’s Top 10 list of writers). That last part is about the recognition bestowed upon him by the French CBC radio literary show Plus on est de fous, plus on lit ! in 2017. Sweet revenge.

“Our school system isn’t made for everyone,” says FouKi. “And what I’ve noticed is that it’s often the ones with the best grades who are the weirdest ones,” he says, laughing. “School can make you better, but it can also make you feel imprisoned. Ultimately, maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough, but whatever the case may be, the school environment didn’t fit with what I wanted.”

By the age of 15, his head was already on devoting his entire life to rap. Inspired by the new wave of Québec rap spearheaded by Alaclair Ensemble, Koriass, and Dead Obies, he formed Ségala with friends and befriended a classmate and future extremely talented beatmaker: QuietMike. A few years later, in 2016, the now inseparable acolytes released their first mixtape, Plato Hess, via Bandcamp, and it would become the spark that ignited the “rap gentil” (literally “kind rap”) movement: a hedonistic and spontaneous hip-hop style similarly subscribed to by L’Amalgame, Kirouac & Kodakludo, and everyone else in the mega collective known as La Fourmilière (the anthill).

Since then, FouKi and QuietMike have made giant strides in the local rap scene, and completed seven projects in a mere two-and-a-half years. They’ve become synonymous with “productivity.” “I never force myself to write, that way I never get writer’s block,” the rapper says when asked what his secret is. “I wait until an idea pops into my head and the lyrics just flow out. A great example of that is ‘Tjrs raison’ (‘Always Right’). My girl and I were in Québec City and we were arguing. In the end, turned out I was wrong, and she said, ‘See, I’m always right!” I started mocking her, and in some ironic way, it turned into a song. I rap that song as if I was my girl.”

It’s not that ironic, though. FouKi has never been so confident and self-assured, sometimes bordering on pretentious, than on this second album – where he’s constantly bragging about the merits and fallout of his success, while slaying his haters. “J’mets toutes les fuckboys qui parlaient, dans mon dos/ Maintenant, on m’paye comme du monde pour rocker des shows/ Mais j’ai su faire mon chemin, j’ai pas regardé les autres” (Fuck all the fuckboys who spoke behind my back / Now I get paid well to rock shows / I made my own path, I didn’t look at others), he raps on the scathing “Faut c’qui faut,” a collaboration with Brussels’ Isha and Paris’ Lord Esperanza.

“Like it or not, there’s always people who hate on people who make it,” he says. “They spend a large portion of their time trying to find your flaws, and cursing you from their living rooms. As funny as it sounds, that negativity inspires me.”

All too aware that his relatively instantaneous success has become a hot-button issue in a rap scene that’s grown used to the same headliners for years, FouKi still fully embraces the enthusiasm he ‘s generated over the last few months. Yet, his relentless touring schedule almost got the best of him recently.

“I went through a solid crash, all of a sudden. I almost gave it all up, one week… I questioned myself, and ended up realizing that I was way better off giving everything I have to a job that I really like, than working in any other job that I’m not passionate about. I’m really busy now, but I have no intention of releasing an album and touring every year. I’m afraid I’ll turn 26 and be fed up with this!

“I do plan on taking breaks and working on side projects. I’m more and more interested in acting and voice acting. I also want to improve my studio and work with other people, give them advice, guide their creations, help them find hooks and flows… I feel like becoming a public persona can open doors, doors I would never have had access to without a diploma, or experience.”

Last year, Lia Liza was crowned the Breakout Artist of the Year at Vancouver’s Golden Owl Awards, and while the B.C. native is getting noticed now, making music has been a lifelong goal of hers.

“I feel like music has always been in my blood, ever since I was young,” she told Mixcloud’s No Fun Radio last year. She describes her dad as an amazing singer, and says that she’s been training since she was nine years old, culminating in a post-secondary education as a vocal major. With all of the skills that she’s acquired, she then did what many Canadian artists before her have done to continue their pursuit of music: move down to the U.S.

Now relocated in Los Angeles, Liza is balancing careers in both music and modelling. For the former, 2018 marked the release of her debut album, Just What I Needed, a collection of gorgeously rhythmic R&B tunes that range from the sun-soaked summer anthem “Roll with Me” to the slinky opener, “The Feeling.” These songs show off a singer who has complete control of her vocals, and knows how to mold them around a solid beat, taking time to unfurl over the course of three minutes. Liza’s modelling has also taken off, with her most notably being featured in Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty promotions.

Music and modelling may be Liza’s main foci now, but she has her eyes set on becoming a triple-threat, if not more, in the future. In an interview with High Snobiety, Liza said that she’d like to star in a film or TV series, in addition to one day owning her own organization “that allows me to give back to my community.” So whether she’s dominating the airwaves, the runway, the big screen or the small, Liza’s big ambitions are bound to lead to some extraordinary things.

Four SOCAN members are nominated for the Iris Award for Best Original Music at the 19th edition of the Québec Cinéma Gala that will be broadcast on Sunday, June 2, 2019, on ICI Radio-Canada Télé. We asked each of them three questions about their work.

Philippe B for Nous sommes Gold by Éric Morin

Nous sommes goldThis is singer-songwriter Philippe B’s first nomination, and he’s just starting as a film composer: he penned the music for a short by Simon Laganière, followed by his first original score for a movie in Chasse au Godard d’Abbittibbi, a feature film also directed by his friend Éric Morin – who, in a past life, played drums for Gwenwed, a band that also featured Philippe B.

What were the biggest challenges in composing this original score?
The one challenge that was specific to this project, and that I won’t encounter again, is that we fabricated a band. We created a band out of thin air, and I had to compose songs for a band that doesn’t exist, and its hypothetical singer. I had to start writing the songs before the financing was secured, which means I didn’t even have a casting [to guide me]. I had no idea who my lead singer was going to be, what his voice sounds like, and his singing style. I had to write songs for a band that has its own personality, but I had no idea if my lead singer was more like Ian Curtis, Robert Smith, or Peter Murphy. The singer’s role was cast very late, but I was lucky that he was a real actor, and a real singer, with a very special, very low baritone voice. I had to adjust, because everything I’d written was an octave higher.

How did you collaborate with the director-producer?
Éric [Morin] is quite directive, he has quite a clear idea of what he wants – as was the case on his previous movie project – and he wanted something quite traditional. For this movie, he had a clear idea of what the music would evoke: it was the sound of a ‘90s band playing music from the previous decade, like The Cure or Joy Division. It’s the mix I was looking for, something centred around a melodic bass. He was very precise in his instructions, even when we spoke during the process. Then, the peculiar thing was, I had to write lyrics; I didn’t know who the actor was going to be, but I had the character, the script – in other words, a form of identity that was going through stuff, human interactions. I had a starting point.

What are you proudest of, in the end?
Some of the reactions [to the movie] that we heard were that it feels authentic and true. The songs are part of the film, not just stuck in it. That was our main worry from the start: even if they’re actors and not musicians, the band’s existence had to be believable.

Frédéric Bégin for 1991 by Ricardo Trogi

1991Composer Frédéric Bégin is to director Ricardo Trogi what screen composer Bernard Hermann was to Hitchock: his appointed collaborator, after composing the original scores of the 1981/1987/1991 trilogy and Horloge biologique, winner of the Best Music Jutra award in 2006. He also won three Gémeaux awards honouring his music for the TV series Les Étoiles filantes 2 and Le Berceau des Anges.

What were the biggest challenges in composing this original score?
I think it has a lot to do with the movie’s genre. Composing a score for a comedy-drama is especially tricky. You don’t want to overstate the humour, but you need to stick to the rhythm of any given situation, which may be dramatic. And during touching scenes, the music needs to remain understated – because it’s not a major drama, or a tragedy of a period piece, either. You need to find the right balance between humour and drama and try to avoid doing more than what the images are showing, and the actors are acting.

How did you collaborate with the director-producer?
Ricardo and I have worked on a lot of projects. He usually shows me his scripts ahead of time, sometimes even before their final version, so that we can talk about his musical needs. Ricardo will have me work ahead of time using storyboards, because that allows him, down the line, to edit his movie using music that was imagined, composed, specifically for his movie. It’s a real privilege to work with a director right from the onset of a project, because that way, I don’t get stuck with existing music that you have to follow, even though you have other ideas.

What are you proudest of, in the end?
I’m happy that I managed to set the tone, not just for 1991, but for each of the three films. And also because I feel I set the right tone for each special scene. The black-and-white scene at the end of 1991, for example; the scene about the character’s hair loss. where I used a ‘70s horror film-inspired music. It’s an exercise in style that combines with the narrative I’d already established in 1981 and 1987. It jumps from one style to the next, but it all makes sense.

Peter Venne for Avant qu’on explose by Rémi St-Michel

Avant qu'on exploseThis is the first nomination at the Québec Cinéma Gala for film composer Peter Venne, whose prior work, since 2013, has been composing for documentaries, shorts, and feature films, for directors from Québec and elsewhere.

What were the biggest challenges in composing this original score?
With a movie like Avant qu’on explose, people will see the genre first, a teen comedy, and disregard all the film’s actual qualities – it’s quite a serious film in the end. The same goes for the music: composing for a comedy means composing more utilitarian music, music that is at the service of a joke, a punchline. When you compose for a comedy, you need to be able to jump from one style to the next: classical bits, calypso, rock, swing… Composing for comedies is hard.

How did you collaborate with the director-producer?
First, Rémi St-Michel is a good friend, I did the music for his first shorts, and he’s one of the guys I’ve worked with the most in my life. We’re already comfortable with each other, so it was super-easy and harmonious to work together. It was a project between friends, even though we had a $4 million budget, and a lot of pressure on him, we didn’t hold back from our usual monkey business – like back in the day, when we did shorts with zero budget, just for fun. There are some stupid jokes in his movie that we scored just as stupidly, even though we had a budget and “standing.” We followed our gut instinct!

What are you proudest of, in the end?
With this movie, we were more into an apocalypse movie than a teen movie. We had to come up with a smooth musical transition, and it worked out well, because the film is well-edited. The music needs to be knitted together with the image. Ultimately, I’m proud that it was such a fun experience, that we managed to make such a major project a pleasant experience.

Philippe Brault for La Disparition des lucioles by Sébastien Pilote

La Disparition des luciolesNot only is this the first Iris Award nomination for composer, arranger, and producer Philippe Brault, but it’s also his first original score for a fiction feature film.

What were the biggest challenges in composing this original score?
Initially, the challenge was composing something very orchestral, inspired by classic movies, but on a Québec independent film budget – which means coming up with a lot of clever tricks when it comes to orchestrations… I spent a lot of time studying film music before I started composing, and I even studied the influences of those composers. For example, I studied Wagner, who was a major influence on Bernard Hermann’s style. I did my homework. Next, I needed to make sure the tone of this orchestral music would fit the movie.

How did you collaborate with the director-producer?
It went the way I prefer, and which I haven’t always experienced in prior screen composing endeavours – which were not feature films, but still. I discussed the project with Sébastien way before shooting even began. I was even involved in the script breakdown process with the whole team. I was involved very early on, and I think it’s a good strategy, since I was able to come up with ideas and first drafts even before the editing started. It’s a way of working that I really enjoy, and that’s closer to the way I work for dance or theatre productions, where there are more interactions.

What are you proudest of, in the end?
This project was a great gift. The movie gives a lot of space to the music, and when there’s music, it’s not just in the background, behind dialogue. One thing’s for sure: I’m really happy that this music really brought something to the table, that it took the movie somewhere else. I’m just happy to have penned my first full feature film score.