AHI’s introduction to folk music wasn’t through mainstays like early Bob Dylan or rocker Bob Seger. In fact, the Brampton artist’s first taste of folk came from a different Bob — Bob Marley. For AHI (pronounced “eye”), folk isn’t a genre defined by a distinct sound, but an ethos bound by one’s acoustic instrument, storytelling abilities, and voice. Those are the qualities that make up AHI’s sound, one that’s captured the attention of music fans across Canada – and even Rita Marley, Bob’s widow.

In 2013, AHI’s cover of Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” – a stripped-down acoustic rendition that places the spotlight squarely on his raspy yowl – was featured on Marley’s official website. Along with that highlight came a personal note from Rita herself – which AHI initially thought was spam. “Once I realized it was real, I was honoured,” he explains. “Bob Marley is the primary reason why I believed I could become a singer. He taught me that music is medicinal and revolutionary.”

Since then, AHI’s music (which he sometimes refers to as “indie soul”) has been featured on CBC’s Hello Goodbye, his track “Ol’ Sweet Day” charted on Billboard’s Spotify Viral 50, and this year he was a JUNO Master Class finalist. As he continues to work on music, he hopes that his successes can help broaden our perceptions of what folk music can be, especially when it comes to racial diversity.

“The biggest challenge was convincing myself that I belonged in the folk community,” AHI reveals, of finding representation in folk. “I’ve noticed an active effort on the part of the folk community to not only be inclusive, but to celebrate their diversity. It’s an uphill climb, but the climb has made me a better and smarter musician.”


Partner’s online bio casts a pretty wide net of topics under their songwriting ambitions. Among the themes the duo hopes to “freely explore” in their songs are time, memory, intimacy, friendship, Canadiana and sexuality.

And so far, they’ve already achieved many of those – all before even releasing a full-length album.

To Sackville, New Brunswick, natives Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, no topic is too big or too small to write about. On “The Ellen Page,” they celebrate actress Ellen Page’s coming out; on “Comfort Zone,” they speak on the importance of safe spaces, be they physical or mental ones.

Sonically, Niles and Caron deliver their messages over raucous power chords and reverb galore, with garage-punk-pop drawing comparisons to bands like Weezer, Nirvana and Hole.

“We’re always striving to evolve and become more inclusive, lyrically,” Niles explains. “We’re also always striving to become better songwriters, better performers, the best we can be in every way.”

A full-length album is on the way, Niles promises. Recorded with Beliefs’ Josh Korody, it’s been in the works for a year now. While they’ve been working on some songs for as long as three years, Niles says, “The album as a whole might hold a few surprises — you’ll just have to listen and find out!”

Stella Rio

Stella Rio is a student of jazz, but also a lover of pop and R&B. All of those influences coalesce in her songwriting, especially on her single, “Don’t Go Away” — a beautifully crafted melody at its core, delivered with a soulful, jazz-inflected vocal flair. It’s a style uniquely her own, and it’s paid off in the past year.

Having trained under a local jazz artist at a young age, the Toronto singer-songwriter’s musical DNA will always include her exposure to that genre. “That was probably the moment when I realized how powerful music truly is,” Rio recalls. “I love that jazz can take you away to a different era. At the end of the day, when I need inspiration, I go back and listen to my favourite artists, like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.”

All these years later, Rio is still perfecting her mix of classic jazz and current-day pop. She’s now working closely with Kuya Productions, the team who most recently helped Alessia Cara put out hits like “Here” and “Seventeen.” Through Kuya Productions, Rio even earned a writing credit for British pop group Little Mix’s track, “F.U.”

Rio’s upcoming six-track EP promises to be filled with personal experiences, focusing on her preferred subjects of love and heartbreak. As she admits, “I see myself as a romantic and a dreamer.”

Roch Voisine’s 22nd album was released with 10 new, finely-crafted pop songs that are primed to take over radio throughout the Francophone world. Who knows, maybe even the whole planet, with such irresistible choruses, and strong musical hooks that go well beyond any linguistic consideration. The album, Devant nous (which can both mean “ahead of us” and “in front of us”), is a promising return to pop form after 10 years Voisine spent exploring outside his comfort zone, only to re-centre himself.

“During this period,” says Voisine, “I released three albums of Americana, as well as two other projects, Confidences and Duophonique; a crooner showcase with Corneille and Garou called Forever Gentlemen; and, two years ago, I released Movin’ on Maybe, an English album… There’s quite a bit of variety there! But then, I also realized that if I wanted to make something meaningful, that will reach people where they’re at right now, I needed to go back to pop. Life changes, and we no longer touch people in the same way.”

But how?

“Before we dove into the production of this album,” says Voisine, “my manager, Mario Lefebvre, and I decided to get up-to-date to figure out how we’d adapt to this new reality: people don’t listen to music the way they used to. I also wanted to change the way I work, with a different team; in other words, I wanted to re-invent myself. Mario put together a great team, everything was in place for me to work the way I wanted to. One thing I knew for sure was that there weren’t going to be a lot of ballads or sappy love songs. I had a head full of songs that make you want to move.

“My problem wasn’t that I’d lost my drive to write songs, but rather that I wanted a more meaningful musical format. You get to a point in life where you want to reach out to more than a small group of people with your songs. More universal themes and looking to the future. It’s possible to make intelligent pop songs, and I believe these 10 songs are proof of that.”

Many Québecois and European collaborators contributed to the music and lyrics of Devant nous, but the most important role in this new odyssey was entrusted to Jay Lefebvre – credited as a composer, co-producer and arranger – who is also a creative partner for pop-punk band Simple Plan.

There were challenges, Voisine admits. “One of them was singing  ‘Entre mes mains’ (‘In My Hands’),” he says. “It’s uber-poppy, with broken beats, and I really wondered how I would properly deliver it.”  “Tout me ramène à toi” (“Everything Brings Me Back to You”) is the album’s first single and it promptly reached the top of the Francophone Canadian Top 100. “We wrote one chorus and one verse and the magic was there, we didn’t have to change anything,” he says. “‘Devant nous’ started out as a ballad, and as we worked on it, it became more uptempo. Yet, when you slow things down a bit, the meaning of the lyrics becomes more evident, especially in French.”

Roch Voisine

Roch Voisine at the 2016 Gala de la SOCAN. (Photo: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin)

The album was recorded in November and December of 2016 in three different studios. Two months prior, Voisine participated in a musical tribute to legendary songwriter Luc Plamondon during the 27th Gala de la SOCAN in Montréal. He sang an emotional rendition of Plamondon’s SOCAN Classic “Ma mère chantait toujours,” which Voisine sang 25 years ago.

What’s really surprising, however, is that for the first time in his career, Voisine sings a Plamondon-penned song on his new album. “I didn’t want a Plamondon song, I wanted to write with Plamondon,” he says. Plamondon wrote the lyrics to “Nos Combats”, while the singer wrote the music, and tweaked the lyricist’s words.

Successful Québec singer-songwriter Corneille invited his friend Barnev Valsaint to do vocal harmonies on the song. “He’s a personal friend and we live five minutes from each other,” says Voisine. “I’d tell him, ‘Once you’ve dropped your son off at school, swing by for coffee and to swap a few ideas…’”

Voisine is the sole owner of his entire 22-album catalogue, including the publishing rights; he has long understood that a well-organized company, from the studio to the stage, from production to legacy management, was a must. “Hélène” belongs to him;’ she always will.

“If you want radio play but don’t do pop songs, well, good luck,” says Voisine. “Markets are different from one country to the next, and at the centre of the Francophonie. What I want is to play everywhere! Radio in France is transforming, looking for an identity, while here, we’re lucky, because there’s still adult-oriented radio [AOR] that gives some space to its artists. We want to be able to promote ourselves decently. Whatever might be said about the internet, it’s not always the solution; people who use those platforms don’t want to pay for music, while Facebook is not – in my case, anyway – what helps me sell records to a wider audience, as TV used to do a while back.”

Viviane AudetOn May 1, 2017, director François Jacob’s documentary Sur la lune de nickel A Moon of Nickel and Ice) will have its North American première during the prestigious Hot Docs festival. A chronicle of life in the Siberian mining town of Norilsk, its music was written by Viviane Audet and her partner, both in life and in the studio, Robin Joël Cool. It’s their eighth feature film or short film original score, ninth if you include the music for Anaïs Barbeau-Lavallette’s TV documentary Ma Fille n’est pas à vendre (My Daughter’s Not For Sale). We talk with her about her newfound passion for screen composing, and its impact on her multi-disciplinary career.

We were forewarned that Audet is always on time. She’s even early for our rendezvous in a Le Plateau café, on a rainy ideal for binge-watching movies.

Right from the get-go, Audet is loquacious about Sur la lune de nickel, which was “filmed in one of the most polluted cities in the world, a mining town built in an old gulag, and populated by isolated people who work in the mine,” she says. “We recorded the music at the NFB’s huge, magnificent music studios, with its giant screen, incredible control room, a grand piano. It’s the first time we worked in such ideal conditions. We asked Yves Desrosiers to sing a Russian folk song, which we had re-arranged. He was amazing, and we were ecstatic…”

When Audet talks about scoring films, her green eyes light up. The actress, writer, composer and singer, who Québec audiences have seen on television (Belle Baie, Nos étés), in the movies (Frissons des collines) and onstage – both solo and with her indie-folk band Mentana – has added a new talent to her repertoire, after becoming proficient in the art of writing music for moving images. It happened more or less unwittingly, and with a lot of help from director Rafaël Ouellet.

Viviane Audet“I acted in his first movie,” she says of Le Cèdre penché, completed ten years ago. “We didn’t know each other, but he got in touch with me to ask if I would act in his movie. He’d also asked me to write two songs for that project, so it truly is he who introduced me to writing music for films.”

Her first big break, however, came in 2012. Ouellet had asked Audet and her beau Robin, who’s also a member of Mentana, to play roles in his latest film, Camion. “Rafaël lived in the flat below ours, he heard us rehearse our Mentana material,” says Audet. “After the photography was done, he asked us to score the movie because the composer who was supposed to do it had dropped out at the last minute.” Ultimately, Camion’s score of minimalist folk – so typical of Aubin’s work, as well as Mentana’s material – earned her, Robin and Érik West-Millette the 2013 Jutra Award for Best Original Score.

They were hooked. “I don’t know if being an actress is an advantage for me when the time comes to write movie scores,” says Audet. “Maybe because of the way I approach a story? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that after moving into recording, I feel I’m much more comfortable writing music for images than for words at this point of my professional career. I trust my instinct much more when I compose for images. Right now, I should be working on my third solo album, but I find writing words rather painful. And even when I do have words, writing music for them, it’s strange… It’s like I discovered myself [elsewhere]. It’s like that was it, me, writing music for images. It comes more instinctively, if you will.”

Robin Joël Cool

Robin Joël Cool, Viviane Audet’s partner in life, in the studio, and onstage.

Thus, Audet and her colleague’s creative process is largely based on their perception of the moment projected on the screen. She admits there’s a lot of improvisation involved: “We don’t write sheet music,” she says. “Only when necessary – say, when we hire French horn players to record with us, someone will write their scores based on our demos.” They do come up with a main theme, a well-defined melody that informs the rest of the piece, all of it framed with more or less precise indications from the directors, “who are generally very generous in the sense that they offer us a lot of reference music already edited into the scenes we have to score,” she says.

“I’ve also noticed that directors are increasingly interested in working with songwriters, people who don’t necessarily do anything but screen music. Take Dear Criminals, for instance: they did the score for Anne Émond’s Nelly, or Milk and Bone, who did Podz’ latest movie, King Dave. They’re going off the beaten path, and I mean that in a good way, since there are a lot of well-established, expert film composers. Besides, there aren’t many girls doing this!”

Well, there’s one more, now, and she’s convinced that she’s made a place for herself in this field where she can combine her love of music and her love for acting. Alongside her partner once more, Audet will soon finish scoring Les Rois mongols, Luc Picard’s next movie set during the October 1970 FLQ crisis in Québec.