Sometimes songs – even those that seem pre-ordained to reach the artist for whom they’re meant – take awhile to get their destination.

Such was the case with “Catchin’ Grasshoppers,” written by SOCAN members Laura McCall Torno and Earl Torno. Pop and country music superstar Kenny Rogers – who sold more than 100 million albums prior to his death in March 2020 at the age of 81 – first promised the Toronto-based duo that he’d record the song back in 2009.

Fourteen years later, that promise was finally kept: “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” is the third single, and the epicentre, of Rogers’s first posthumous album of all-new material, Life Is Like A Song. It’s a 10-song effort that includes classics written by Lionel Richie, Eric Clapton, and the Motown tandem of Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and Rodger Penzabene, as well as fresh numbers by the likes of Kim Carnes, Gary Burr, and “Straight Into Love” by SOCAN members Jimmy Rankin and Patricia Conroy.

 “I feel gratitude,” says McCall Torno, who initially birthed the song and wrote the lyrics. Her husband chimed in to help with the melody, chord progressions, and musical composition, creating a guitar-and-piano demo, with McCall Torno singing the words into their iPhone and TASCAM digital recorder.

“We’ve got a nice little set-up at home,” says Earl. “Laura’s got a really nice writing room here, with a piano, and that’s where our ProTools rig is.  When she writes, it’s her thing – playing the piano and coming up with ideas.  When we get to the point where she’s got the idea,  a good general outline of the story, and a good sense of the melody, she’ll bring it in. I might pick up the guitar, sit down, and start jamming together.

“Then we’ll build it from there. I will say that Laura, from that point on, is the wordsmith. I might make a suggestion, but it’s Laura who puts words to paper and comes up with the actual lyric. My strength is more on the melodic, arrangement, and production side.”

McCall Torno took a trip down memory lane for “Catchin’ Grasshoppers.” “For me, it was  a look back on at my childhood and some of those wonderful, cherished memories, and wishing that there were more of those,” she says. “And then thinking about how life changed so dramatically. As I started, I immediately envisioned Kenny. I was thinking about what life must have been like for him. In a career that can be consuming, being able to find time with his kids. I wanted it to be a song that inspired fathers – and I hope it does that.”

Kenny Rogers, Catchin' Grasshoppers, Laura McCall Torno, Earl Torno

Select the image to play the YouTube static-image video of the Kenny Rogers song “Catchin’ Grasshoppers”

The five-times married Rogers had, in fact, five children. When U.S. publisher Rex Benson, who’d previously sent Rogers his 1999 chart-topping comeback hit “Buy Me A Rose,” pitched him “Catchin’ Grasshoppers,” he took to the song like a duck to water. So, the Tornos adjusted the lyrics slightly to reflect he and his wife Wanda’s relationship to their own twin sons, Jordan and Justin.

“We were thrilled to modify the lyrics,” says McCall Torno. “To have the twins woven throughout the song, tailoring the lines to reflect on the heartwarming relationship Kenny had with his boys, and his deep devotion to his family. Then, much to our surprise, we found out that the sons’ fifth birthdays fell within days of this song landing into Kenny’s hands. Pretty amazing!”

In 2009, Rogers invited the Tornos to a show, and onto his tour bus – where he surprised them with his recorded version of  “Catchin’ Grasshoppers.” “He told us how much ‘Catchin’ Grasshoppers’ meant to him personally; how greatly he valued it; and that the song is a legacy to his twin boys Justin and Jordan,” says Earl Torno. “That was the most fulfilling moment that we as songwriters could ever experience.”

Rogers promised to place the song on an album, but his passing seemed to indicate a premature end to fulfilling that mandate. Then, in the summer of 2021,  the Tornos received a call from Vector Management, which was handling Rogers’s estate. They shared the news that a posthumous album was in the works, and that “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” was likely to be included on the project, curated and executive-produced by Rogers’s widow Wanda, and Vector’s Jason Henke and Ken Levitan.  The official release became a reality on June 2, 2023.

The Tornos are no strangers to the music business: Earl has engineered and edited projects for Platinum Blonde, Triumph, and Glass Tiger – as well as being busily involved with animated and live-action TV series, including Odd Squad, Race Against The Tide, and Numb Chucks. Laura, meanwhile, has had songs placed on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Still, to this point, “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” is the biggest feather in their cap. “What I love about this story is that it’s inspiring to all of us as songwriters,” says McCall Torno. “I know writers who have amazing songs, really believe in them, and end up shelving things if something doesn’t happen the way they expect it to happen, when they expect it to happen. Don’t give up hope.”

In addition to working as a singer-songwriter, a song lyrics instructor at Seneca College, and the Associate Director of Public Engagement and Strategy at the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), Andrea England serves the Canadian music community as founder, host, and curator of the songwriter series Four Chords and The Truth.

The quarterly song-circle series began at the Dakota Tavern in downtown Toronto, in 2015; by 2017, tickets were selling out before the lineup was even announced. The show features both established and emerging artists in a multi-genre format, and England is protective of it, and all the performers, regardless of their level of experience. “I need to make sure that the songs stand up; that the person is welcomed into the fold; and that it’s an entirely professional event the whole time,” she says.

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, FCATT (the event’s occasional acronym) returned on May 25, 2023, at a new venue: the TD Music Hall at Allied Music Centre, within the new Massey Hall building in downtown Toronto. Seeing the Four Chords and the Truth logo on such a grand stage was a surreal experience for England, who momentarily wondered if the intimacy of the show would be lost in a 500-capacity theatre. Any doubts were quelled, however, by the enthusiasm of the audience, and the commitment of the performers. “They all came willing to be vulnerable, and to really share their truths – and to trust me, the audience, and each other,” England says. “It was a beautiful, humble group.”

The evening featured Julian Taylor, Liz Rodrigues (accompanied by frequent collaborator James Bryan), Adam Baldwin, and Robyn Ottolini, all of whom turned in stellar performances. There were also several guests: the first emerging songwriter in the TikTok seat, Adrian Mitchell; new Universal Music Group Canada signing, Owen Riegling; and guest vocalist Shakura S’Aida who led the performers in a rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Performing a cover song is a break from the FCATT tradition of all-originals; however, it allowed everyone to acknowledge the loss felt by Lightfoot’s recent passing. England says, “We sang it together as a thank you.” (At the gig, England even mentioned that she once met Lightfoot, and he was aware of FCATT.)

She both honours and breaks tradition through the “in-the-semi-round” format of her show, in which performers face the audience, as opposed to the “in the round” tradition made famous at The Bluebird Café – Nashville’s legendary venue, where songwriters face each other as they perform. Four Chords and the Truth came full circle when England brought the show to Nashville, and fittingly, then Nashville came to her Toronto show (at least in spirit) when Donovan Woods led England and fellow songwriters Morgan Cameron Ross, Joey Landreth, and Rose Cousins in a rendition of “Leaving Nashville,” Woods’ co-write with Abe Stoklasa. England says it was a perfect way to end a night devoted to songwriters.

England has big plans for Four Chords and the Truth, including a seven-night cruise through Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia happening in the Fall of 2024. Titled, The Danube Riverboat Confessions, the cruise promises a sharing of songs you already know, coupled with stories you don’t know yet. There’ll be a charity component to the cruise, to be announced this summer, in keeping with England’s desire to pay it forward. In addition to re-investing profits into her show, she also donates to the Unison Fund, a non-profit registered charity that provides counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community. Grateful, England acknowledges having received much support from the community – including SOCAN, an early sponsor of her series.

England also has a new album in the works: she’s completed pre-production on Evidence of Love, produced by JUNO Award winner Hill Kourkoutis. Scheduled for release in October 2023, it features seven songs on the theme of love. And it’s love for music and people that inspires England the most. “Where would we be without music? Where would we be without songs?” she says. Then, after a pause: “To support a community of people who are committed to songs is why I do everything.”

DawaMafia, Carlos GuerraThe album title, of their sixth LP as a duo, reflects the way brothers Zacka and Tali B see themselves. For them, Infréquentable (meaning “bad company”) is a way of accepting their past, and being at peace with what people think of them. “To this day, I see the distance between me and others. I feel it every day. It’s like I have ‘bad company’ stamped on my forehead. So I chose to accept it and to live with it,” explains Tali B, seven years younger than his brother.

This clear demarcation between DawaMafia and the rest of the world is expressed in various ways on this new album, the duo’s first since 2020. Both rappers present themselves as mistrustful characters, who aren’t afraid of anything. Their secret weapon to confront the sometimes brutal gaze of others is quite simple: loyalty. “Loyalty is the most important quality to have for a man. If someone isn’t loyal, walk away from them,” says Zacka.

“We have two or three friends in our lives, but other than that, it’s family first,” adds Tali B. “Our family is made up of five brothers and two sisters. We’re a tight-knit family. I would die for my brother, and I know he would also die for me.”

They grew up Montréal’s South Shore suburb of Brossard. Renowned for its DIX-30 district and its more affluent areas, the city is also home to a poorer social class in its various low-income housing complexes. That’s where the duo’s roots lie. “Let’s just say we weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouths,” says Zacka ironically. “We did what we needed to, to be where we’re at today.”

Throughout their teens, Tali B, Zacka, and the rest of their siblings built a solid reputation all over town for being makers of “dawa,” slang for mayhem. “There was always at least one brother that was causing chaos somewhere,” says Zacka. “Sometimes you’d get somewhere, and people would go, ‘You stirred shit up here last month, you ain’t coming in!’ And yet you’d never set foot in there! Our evenings would often end up with a fistfight. That was our daily life.”

Music rapidly became a fortress in which to hide from the chaos. “We’ve always made music. Before we recorded, we’d all freestyle together. Rap started taking up more and more space in our lives,” says Zacka.

DawaMafia, Infrequentable

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the DawaMafia song “Infréquentable”

As time went by, Zacka and Tali B emerged as the two most assiduous of the bunch when it came to music. After developing separate projects – as a solo act for Tali and as a member of various bands, notably Bagdad Musik, for Zacka – they decided to join forces officially as DawaMafia, in the second half of the 2010s. “We figured that if we were going to waste our time in various projects, it would be better to do it together. Nothing is stronger than this blood bond,” says Tali B.

“Initially it wasn’t very serious. It became serious once we stopped investing money in the project. I can say that something switched about three years ago,” says Zacka. “Sometimes, God puts people on your path, and for us it was Rico Rich [one of the bigger players on Québec’s rap scene]. He showed us how to structure things.”

“We’re at our peak, now. Right now, Infréquentable was released about two or three weeks ago, and we already have 2 million views,” says Tali B.

Beyond the numbers, Infréquentable’s content is striking. More than ever, the two brothers are in perfect symbiosis on the mic, seamlessly relaying each other’s flows and vocals with equal dexterity. “We strive to come across as singing and rapping all at once. We really meld both. We were inspired by what’s going on in the U.S. recently with artists like NLE Choppa and A Boogie wit da Hoodie,” says Tali B. “We help each other and work as a team. We have to project a connection. We’re a duo, not a ‘featuring.’ We’re a single artist.”

The duo’s evolution can also be heard in their lyrics. The two brothers talk about their past in a perspicacious way, revealing dark episodes of their lives without becoming overly dramatic or explicit. “Aujourd’hui, j’fais de l’art à plein temps/Avant j’faisais du tort à plein de gens” [freely: “Nowadays I make art full-time / Before, I used to do a lot of people wrong”], the duo confides on “Fast,” a song very representative of the rest of the album – which, slowly, over the course of its second half, introduces the idea of change and transformation.

Would the pair admit to gradually becoming more well-behaved? “I don’t know about well-behaved, but more mature, yes,” says Tali B. “We still have a lot of wisdom to gain.”