In 2021, Dani Saldo and rapper Troy Junker were participants in the TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship, presented by the SOCAN Foundation. It was an exciting opportunity, and both were eager to learn from, and collaborate with, other talented creators – especially during a pandemic that saw many artists like themselves isolated and unsupported. In no time, Saldo, a FilipinX-Canadian pop singer from Guelph, Ontario, recognized that the musical affinities between her and Junker, a Métis rapper from Saskatchewan, were attuned.

“I checked out Troy’s music and really loved his style in ‘We Up’ with Thea May. I resonated with his inspirational lyrics and wanted us to work together,” says Saldo, adding that she soon decided to reach out for a music session.

“When Dani told me she was coming, I set up a studio session,” says Junker. “It was our first time meeting in person. We hung out and got to know each before listening to beats or writing anything, and then we [each] listened to what the other was working on. We played a few beats, and when the beat for ‘Find A Way’ came on, she gravitated towards it, and we decided to jump in writing. I messaged my friend, Harmon1x, who made the beat, and he was excited that we were going to record it.”

For Saldo, making music has been a passion ever since her youth, helping her, literally, find her voice. “I began writing poetry, which helped me [overcome] being an anxious kid,” she says. “And then, because I was a big nerd, I began transcribing songs from Filipino shows, Japanese anime, and J-pop, K-pop, into sing-able English versions.”

Eventually, Saldo began writing her own songs.  “When I lived in the Philippines, I took part in ABS-CBN’S [a television channel in the Philippines] Star Magic Workshops. But I didn’t get professionally started in music until 2019, when I asked a couple of friends from out of town to share an Airbnb with me in New York for a spontaneous writing trip. We hit it off, and ever since, we’ve been writing songs for film and TV under the group name ABSTRCT, as an international songwriting team.”

For Junker, who began DJ-ing in high school, making music was a crew affair. “I’d take my favourite instrumentals and then plug in a capellas [unaccompanied vocals] from songs I liked on Cool Edit Pro,” he says with a laugh. “Then one day, my friends and I wanted to make a song for a party we were going to, so we decided to start rapping and making original songs.”

After attending Music Business Management at Durham College, Junker moved to Toronto to transform his dreams into reality. “I began networking and putting out as much music as I could,” he says. “As well, I got involved behind the scenes for other artists, but I always continued to push my own [artistry].”

Their goal for the track was to create something inspirational and positive. “I like music that makes me feel hopeful and good, and once Dani started writing the chorus, I knew that it was exactly in the right direction,” says Junker.

“Troy was so much fun to write with, and it was fun getting to write rap,” says Saldo. “We did this little dolphin wave thing to get into the flow, and just spitballed ideas back and forth.”

For both songwriters, the final result hit the mark. “I love it,” says Junker with pride. “‘Find A Way’ just entered the Indigenous Music Countdown [at No. 26], and [we’ve] been getting great feedback from fans.” And for those bitten by the song, be prepared for another co-written track, “Boss Up,” with Saldo’s producer, Riki, coming out soon.

WesliIn early July, during the Montréal Jazz Fest, Wesli released his sixth album Tradisyon, an ode to his Haitian roots, and the forgotten parts of his native culture. Established in Montréal for many, many years, Wesley Louissaint has constructed 19 songs that sound like tributes to, and nostalgic fragments of, an island that has lost the means to develop its art to full potential.

“Haiti has undergone a lot of cultural change, influenced by American culture,” says Wesli. “The geographical situation of the country, coupled with an economy that doesn’t work, has swallowed our roots and our Francophonie as well.”

The birth of the Tradisyon is at the heart of these roots. It draws from the depths of a nation that is a victim of its own misfortunes, and a culture that should not “die from that.” “Haiti is unable to feed its people and over the years, bad luck and natural disasters have weakened us culturally. We didn’t take what our ancestors left us seriously,” says Wesli.

The artist worked like a monk as he dug deep to safeguard every bit of endangered Haitian musical culture. “I want to inspire this vision, this motivation to re-connect Haitians with their roots, and remind them of what they used to know,” says Wesli.

On July 19, 2022, he plays these new songs during the Nuits d’Afrique Festival in Montréal. “During this show, you’ll meet the songs from my new album with even deeper roots into Haitian music,” says Wesli. “I’ll also play songs from all my other albums, so as to not ‘lose’ the people who’ve supported me for a long time.” Running until July 24, 2022, the festival showcases the deep pride of all African-rooted forms of music. “Without an event like this one, Montréal wouldn’t know all the musical culture that the rest of the world has to offer,” says Wesli.

Tradisyon will therefore be presented in its entirety, and “in real life,” so that the collective Haitian memory resonates across borders. “[Creating] this album was quite a huge process, because my starting point is lost rhythms,” says Wesli. “Haitians have lost their Creole roots. I pay homage to Azor Rasin Mapou [on ‘Samba’], to Wawa Rasin Ganga [on ‘Wawa Sé Rèl O’] and to Éric Charles as well [on ‘Konté M Rakonté’], a tenor of troubadour music. I could see that I would need more than one album to go deep into my subject,” he says with a laugh.

Wesli unflinchingly accepts the duty of transmission that has become a quasi-mantra for him. He envisions the richness of the music< and the possibility of sharing it by through the amalgamation of folk and modern sounds. Yet, to him, this is obvious. “Musical influences are naturally permeable,” he says. “There’s no musician who can make [different] music compatible. All music shares a common soul that allows it to communicate. I want to recognize and listen to this soul, so that I can share it in my own music.”

For Wesli, music thus carries within it a universal soul that has no language, nationality. or pre-determined instrument. It’s just bigger than all of that.

“I had no choice but to leave Haiti to be able to speak about her,” he says. “I’m in the ideal situation, here in Canada, to shine a light of the roots of my homeland. If I was still over there, I simply would not have the financial means to carry out this mission. Promoting our artistic values requires a certain level of financial ease. Living in Haiti is an exercise in survival. People there do not see what has been lost and needs to be safeguarded.”

He sees his life here as a unique opportunity to share his nostalgia. “Of course we feel guilty for having access to all kinds of opportunities,” he says. “We also know we wouldn’t fare any better than our peers if we were still over there. The whole idea is to take advantage of the possibilities we get, to shine a light on the place we’re from.”

Wesli’s research has led him to so many discoveries that a single album couldn’t cover it all. So his seventh album, Tradisyon 2, is slated for release in September of 2022. “I would have to make five or six albums to showcase Haitians’ values the way I see them. I want to tell the youth they should play these rhythms our ancestors have bequeathed us. In Haiti, of course, the values of servitude were taken from Africa to the colonies, but our generosity, the social aspect, the hope of our nation, and so many other things must continue to live through culture.”

Songwriter, re-mixer, and DJ Geneviève Ryan-Martel readily admits she got caught up in her own game. Initially revealed by the atmospheric electronic pop of her RYAN Playground project, she felt like “exploring a different kind of music, right up to the edge of irony,” and the result was a disorienting EP of trance and Euro-dance compositions in the Fall of 2020, re;eased under the pseudonym TDJ. “Except as the idea progressed, there was less and less irony in the music. It became very real and concrete for me,” says Ryan-Martel, as her first full-length album under this new moniker, TDJ123, demonstrates.

“Ironically, I’m talking about the sound of these songs,” she explains. “I wanted to take on [club music] references from the late ’90s and early 2000s, a blessed time for fans of trance and progressive house, ‘euphoric music.’ I felt like I was being borderline ironic by doing this, in the sense that you could clearly hear these musical references without me taking them very seriously. But I should have known better… I have way too much integrity to simply make jokes about the music I create.”

When she first started out in music six years ago, RYAN Playground dabbed in experimental hip-hop, where she built the nest which her delicate voice would occupy. We were all a little stunned when she released her first EP under the TDJ moniker (which stands for “Terrain de jeu,” French for “playground”) two years ago. She followed it up with two more, as well as an album, TDJ BBY, in December 2021 – a hallucinogenic collection or popular Euro-dance/trance covers, and others songs, like Cindy Lauper’s “I Drove All N8” and Britney Spears’ “Hit Me BBY.” Now it’s TDJ123, where each song is her own.

These sparkling, colourful, ecstatic trance/prog songs offer a portrait of Ryan-Martel and her newfound freedom, prompted by “a will to start all over again” without definitively turning her back to the musical identity of RYAN Playground. “It’s a lot like TDJ emerged just as I was going through a period of changes,” she says. The young, shy musician has gained a lot of self-assurance.

“It’s probably because I’m growing into adulthood, or that I know what I want a lot more, now, which allows me to project myself towards something very specific,” says Ryan-Martel. “[The TDJ sound] is indeed very hedonistic, but I think even RYAN Playground was positive, even though my discomfort was way too apparent. I didn’t assume, back then, now I’m 100% solid in my desire to make happy music.” Her emancipated sounds come right after two years of pandemic, which, as she confirms, is not entirely a coincidence.

A composer, producer, performer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist, Ryan-Martel says she immersed herself in the excitement she felt when she first heard, at a very young age, this popular electronic music that has given a breath of fresh air and colour to TDJ. She cites the influence of “the old Tiësto,” the world-famous Dutch producer and DJ – after whom she’s named her dog – as well as trance heroes of lore, Push and ATB.

For her, music and beats come first, lyrics follow suit. “The lyrics are often quite minimalistic – there aren’t that many words in my songs and they come to me quickly,” says Ryan-Martel. “I don’t sit for hours on end to come up with lyrics. Ideas come to me naturally, and I’m generally inspired by very personal stuff related to what I’m going through; it’s hard to explain… It’s funny, but when I listened to the album again after it was finished, I could recognize the thread of what I’ve been going through these last years, these last months, almost chronologically. Except I didn’t do it on purpose!”

The artist we can catch at Île Soniq and MEG Montréal, before she heads to Europe and the U.S., is part of a new generation of young composers – including Montréal’s Maara – who are bringing back the spirit of the ’90s raves to the dancefloor. “I think we’re witnessing the birth of a new scene that’s specific to our time, without denying its roots,” says Ryan-Martel. “The important thing is to make space for the present in this music from the past. I think the music that Maara and I are making provides the soundtrack to the lives of people who want to trip out and have fun.”