“I’m trying to enjoy my time off, but it’s not working at all!” says Gayance over the phone, sounding slightly exhausted by the whirlwind pace she’s been caught in since arriving in Brazil. “I’m giving tons of interviews and there’s so much stuff to do!”


“There’s so much stuff to do”: that alone says a lot about what drives this Montréal-based singer-songwriter/producer, born Aïsha Vertus, of Haitian descent, who had to take care of a lot of business to finally be able to release her debut album, Mascarade, a deft amalgamation of jazz, house, R&B, and broken beat.

Her multiple professional lives have led her, among other things, to host video capsules, write articles, give lectures and DJing masterclasses, operate as a music consultant, curate exhibitions, make documentaries, and assemble hip-hop compilations… And all this while travelling all over the world and settling in a few cities – notably Brussels and Amsterdam—where she currently resides, between two trips to Montréal.

In short, relaxing doesn’t seem to be her forté. Mascarade, as a matter of fact, was initiated during an escapade-slash-artist residency in Sainte-Adèle, offered by PHI Centre, during which Gayance was supposed to mostly take it easy. “In my application, I said I needed a place to rest and experiment,” she says. “I absolutely didn’t chill for one second. I just can’t! Doing nothing is so hard… I compare myself to other artists, and I think that if I want to get to their level, I have to produce constantly. I’ve burned out many times!”

Thankfully, during that two-week stay in Sainte-Adèle (during which she ended up getting sick by alternating too often between the pool and the air-conditioned studio), Gayance found ways to calm herself. “I did a lot of mushrooms there, and my friend is a sound healer,” she says. “She uses Tibetan cymbals to create frequencies that help heal the spirit. I meditated with her for about 24 hours, on and off.”

That might be the reason why Mascarade is a more temperate, concise, and cohesive album than what one might expect from such an exuberant and hyperactive artist, with such a diverse range of talents. Just a couple of years after her debut as a producer, which she immortalized on her first EP No Toning Down (2021), Gayance has written the last chapter of this era of her life, with the release of her first official full-length album, on the London-based label Rhythm Section. The era in question started in the early 2010s, when the young artist was barely in her twenties.

“You think you’re invincible when you’re 20. You think you’re beginning your life, but it’s not actually the case. You’re still learning who you are, who your friends are, what your career is going to be. I have a 13-year-old younger sister who’s going to be 20 soon. This is my way of telling her my story.”

Gayance Video Still Mascarade

Click on the image to play the Gayance video “Mascarade”

And that’s precisely where Mascarade stands out from the vast majority of electro or dance releases: the lyrics matter very much to Gayance, who stays far away from boring, repetitive calls to get on the dancefloor. The artist and her collaborators – Janette King, Judith Little D, and Hua Li, among others – offer meaningful songs based on true stories. While “Lord Have Mercy” recounts the sweet memory of a carnal romance, “Nuna Mais” conveys the sharp emotion of anger against a close friend. “Moon Rising (10 Years),” meanwhile, evokes in very few words Gayance’s interstellar ambitions. Paying homage to the memory of the late, great Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the title song celebrates Gayance’s Haitian origins while castigating white supremacy.

Gayance’s direct and deeply embodied poetry is perfectly married to the album’s straightforward, syncopated, twitchy rhythms, whose roots are firmly planted in the broken beat sub-genre.

Sharing her love for this brand of electronic music, created in the U.K. in the ’90s, Gayance connected with Emile Farley – an experienced bassist with whom she worked closely on Mascarade. Alongside them is David Ryshpan, a Montréal-based keyboardist, composer, and DJ who specializes in Afro-Latin jazz tones.

To guide everyone in the right direction, Gayance tapped into her cultural and spiritual legacy, especially that of her late grandfather, a musician she greatly admires. In addition to being one of the pioneers who introduced congas in Québec churches – at a time when the instrument was very much associated with voodoo rites – her grandfather taught her one of the most important things in his life.

“He told me it’s important to be aware of your own intentions. I’m not a Catholic, but I do have a spiritual side. I know that if I say something, [there is a possibility that] it will happen,” says Gayance. “When I DJ, I’m trying to bring people back to partying, but also to the spirit, and their intentions.”

Over a decade after her first steps on Montréal’s underground scene, with clearer intentions than ever, Gayance is taking flight.

Edmonton-based, Calgary-raised Mariel Buckley’s second full-length album, Everywhere I Used to Be, is a huge critical hit, with CBC Music calling her “an essential new voice”; The Edmonton Journal calling the album “a tremendous showcase of Buckley’s talents”; and Americana UK calling it “uncompromising, honest stuff… exceptional and sincere.” Buckley has even received acclaim from another Alberta-raised artist, the iconic kd lang, who notably said, “this kid has a big future.”

Mariel Buckley, "Driving Around"

Click on the image to play the video for “Driving Around”

But Buckley is no stranger to success. Her first album, Driving in the Dark, won her almost $102,000 for a first-place finish in an Alberta-wide radio station contest sponsored by New Country FM, WILD 953 (CKWD-FM) and Alberta Music, and garnered recognition from No Depression, CBC Music, and PopMatters.

Despite her accomplishments, the lyrics on Everywhere I Used to Be express feelings of failure, and the futility of trying.

Buying cocaine outside the Circle K
Who cares if it kills me anyway?
What’s the point
In staying clean for Christmas?

 The singer-songwriter’s words are true to her experiences, and she doesn’t wish the kind of hardships she’s endured on anyone. But with self-reflection and time, Buckley has turned things around. “I know it had a little bit to do with turning 30 a couple of years ago,” she says. “I think I just felt, like, a little bit of a shift within myself, wanting to change some habits and look at some stuff that had been tough for me. So, I think it was pretty organic, you know, in the way we change as we get older.”

Buckley’s evolving sense of self-respect also extends to her romantic relationships. For instance, in the song “Everywhere I Used to Be,” she recognizes that she deserves better, singing, “I have never spoken to anyone / The way that you speak to me.” Then, in the chorus, she says goodbye, and drives away knowing it’s the right thing to do.

She similarly hits the road to escape in “Driving Around,” singing about the freedom found after being cooped up inside for days with her queer date, because it’s too dangerous for them to be out in the open. “There’s just so many people that have to live with a part of themselves that’s secret,” she says. “They haven’t been raised in a place where it’s okay to be themselves, and they don’t feel fully safe to be themselves. I felt like that for so much of my life. I just hope I can reach these folks and let them know there’s no rush, and the world is here for you whenever.”

Whether driving away from trouble, or driving around to keep from getting into trouble, Buckley is most comfortable on the highway. “I love being on the road,” she says. “It’s my favourite place to be. It’s where I get most of my inspiration.”

Mariel Buckley, Shooting at the Moon

Click on the image to play the video for “Shooting at the Moon”

When she happens to be at home, Buckley enjoys settling into a writing routine that has her waking around 6:00 a.m., going for a lengthy walk, and writing for several hours. “I love writing when I can get into a rhythm. That’s the best feeling ever,” she says, though such experience is elusive. “It happens about twice a year that I get cookin’ on some stuff. I love that feeling of, sort of, experiencing what you’re trying to say, and it starts pouring out of you a little bit.”

Despite Buckley’s personal growth and professional success, she still feels like an outsider. “I do think it’s a hard thing to shake,” she says. “And while I’d like to shake some of the negative pieces of that, like feeling the world’s out to get ya, there’s also a huge piece of it that’s very motivating, and I think very healthy for the kind of art that I want to make.” As she herself sings, in “Shooting at the Moon,” “I wanna be the underdog / Up against the wind.”

No matter how seemingly bright Buckley’s future, it’s important for her to remain faithful to that ethos. “I hope I don’t ever lose that spirit,” she says. “I think it’s important to be true to yourself, and it’s important to me to tell stories of people that are underrepresented. So, I just hope to continue to do that – no matter what people are saying.”

To recognize Black History Month in 2023, SOCAN asked several of our Black members to write a piece about whatever they choose. Here’s what JUNO Award- and Polaris Prize-winning R&B/hip-hop/reggae singer-songwriter Haviah Mighty has to say.

I’m not a big fan of self-proclamation, so disclaimer: I don’t think I’m the future of the world. In fact, while a lot of this is influenced by my experience as an artist, almost none of this is inspired by my own historical achievements.

My achievements speak for themselves – and I’m grateful for them – but what they’ve done, in this context, is put me in conversations and rooms alongside high-accomplishing Black creatives, many of them from Toronto… and there are a lot! My experiences have led me to being introduced to Black entrepreneurs in film, makeup, fitness, cooking, literature, plush toys, fashion design, and music, of course!

And then, as I’ve engaged in international travel, interviews, and networking opportunities, I started to notice those familiar faces and initiatives outside of the Canadian network, beyond the landscape in which I found it: artists from the U.S. wearing local fashion design pieces, or promoting local makeup products, or enjoying local foods – not only eating from major corporations – when visiting the city. I’ve seen, on major and minor scales, the increase of these individuals seeping into the fragments of my social media, TV, events; these spaces are not only impactful to Canadians, and the overall artistic expression here, but are being felt internationally, more than I can ever remember.

So, how is this impacting the world? How are Black creatives from Toronto, and neighbouring areas, changing things in places where they don’t live? Well, it depends on what constitutes “impact” to you. We live in a society that’s innovative and forward-thinking, but also functions on outdated thinking in many sectors. The artists and creatives here, and their peers, followers, and fans, are the cultural movement. They dictate what’s trendy, what’s popularized, what’s liked, and loved, and dismissed. And those things are then spread, shared, and become our reality.  That’s the impact. That’s the foundation of who we are.

When someone creates global empathy because the song, movie, or photo they created has forced millions to think about an idea differently, or care about a concept more… That is impactful.

When your work and creativity inspire someone else to find their own, anywhere in the world… That is impactful.

When your output generates money, that you can then use to assist or fund others in need… That is impactful.

And when you share your knowledge and skills with others, there’s no telling whom you’ll help, educate, and positively push along the way.

Cue my own experience: I sometimes toggle with the conflicting idea that art doesn’t save lives, because more tangible skills like heart and brain surgery, that’s what technically save lives. Right?

Maybe – if we lived a life where only tangible things had any merit or impact on us. But not when we factor in how infused Black entrepreneurship is in global entertainment – it’s in your movies and TV shows, all streaming platforms; it’s in your literature and in commercials; it’s in sports, and in your streets and at your local corner store, and graffitied on that alley by your house. And if not directly in anything you’re exposed to, the art you do consume, or the books you do read, they’re likely influenced by it. So, we realize that it’s not even an argument whether Black Toronto Creatives are impacting the world.

It’s a given.