Amaal didn’t realize she could pursue music until she was already doing it. The Somali-Canadian artist thought making music was an “unfathomable” career — a mere hobby, perhaps — but when she posted her first single, 2011’s “Words Revealed,” online “to share with my friends and family on Facebook,” as she recalls, others started paying attention.
“I was getting labels reaching out to me,” she continues. “It was such a shock to me that people were genuinely interested.”
But Amaal’s appeal is pretty easy to understand. Her voice is naturally expressive and can easily wrap itself around an R&B beat with ease, sharply swinging listeners around tight corners on an emotional rollercoaster you’ll want to return to again and again. With a strength like that, Amaal’s songwriting benefits from more personal deep-dives, but that’s admittedly been the “biggest challenge for most of my career.”
Early on, Amaal’s songwriting focused on her community, telling a more wide-angled narrative. But, “sharing those intimate day-to-day stories were a struggle till it hit me one day that I wasn’t being fully present in my music.” Her intimate experiences, in love and life in general, needed a platform. “I was dying to speak about those things and no longer wanted to filter myself.”
Her latest EP, 2019’s Black Dove, is perhaps her most emotionally daring; a bare portrait of love, heartbreak and all the complicated shades in between. “Once I started sharing those intimate feelings, it just all came rushing out of me,” she explains. “The process was scary, emotional and empowering all at the same time. Black Dove represents, to me, shattering those expectations that society or your upbringing has placed on you and stepping outside of those boundaries. I’m so proud I was able to do the work and have this project be the birth of my journey.”
And that journey is far from over: “I only wish to continue pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and making music that’s honest and most importantly without any fear.”
Photo by LM Chabot
Eli Rose: The world’s least solitary solo project
Story by Élise Jetté | November 15, 2019
Music might as well have gone right past her and never come back. Eli Rose caught it on the fly, and built the world’s least solitary solo project. Her debut, eponymous album is also the first released by Maison Barclay Canada/Universal Musique Canada. Apparently, it’s possible to succeed on the first try.
“This album exists in large part thanks to SOCAN,” she says, quite seriously. She was invited to the SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp at a time when she was exploring her options, and nothing pointed in the direction of a solo career. But it was there where she made the necessary acquaintances. “I didn’t think I’d make an album,” says Rose. “As a matter of fact, I was contemplating quitting music altogether. But I fell in love with urban music, and I understood that that’s what I wanted to do from then on.”
During the song camp, she was paired with June Nawakii (Nicki Minaj), Ruffsound (Dua Lipa, Loud), and Mike Clay (Clay and Friends) for a round of songwriting. “We wrote ‘Origami,’ and that got the ball rolling,” she says. “Ruffsound said that my voice, with French lyrics, on urban beats, is something no one’s heard before, so we decided that was the direction [in which] we’d go.” Banx & Ranx (Sean Paul, Ella Eyre), Billboard (Britney Spears, Shakira), Realmind (Allie X), and D R M S (Ariane Moffatt) also got on board with the project. “D R M S has always been a mentor to me,” says Rose. “He’s got a great ear for melodies.” But how did she manage to gather so many tasty ingredients for her soup? “Ruffsound played a very big role,” says the singer-songwriter. “He’s the padre of all producers. They’re all people I would never have had access to, were it not for SOCAN’s song camp.”
And even though the pop realm had served her well in the past, as half of the duo Eli et Papillon (Marc Papillon-Ferland), Rose felt a deep-seated desire to upend the rules. “It feels like we’ve been making the same kind of pop forever, in Québec,” she says. “If you wanted to make a pop record, you hired a record producer, some musicians, and you went in the studio to record your songs. But with Ruffsound, I discovered how you can start from scratch and make a totally relevant pop song with just a computer. Producers like him are changing the game.”
After releasing Colorythmie, the duo’s more “youthful” sophomore album, which did well at radio, Rose felt the urge to step away from the project. “I wanted to do something more mature, that was closer to who I really am,” she says. “Marc wanted to get into instrumental stuff and I wanted to make pop music. I needed to know if my voice had its place in this industry. I recorded a folk album, Les fantômes n’existent pas, that was never released. I then did an anglophone EP, Little Storm, that I wrote with Olivier Corbeil [of The Stills]. That was never released. I wrote for others alongside D R M S. I was kinda lost, but I never stopped writing.”
As she was growing increasingly distant from music, music came running back to her “like love at first sight,” as she puts it. “I met the right people at the right time and in the right place,” she says. “It made me want to forge ahead. YOLO!”
Maison Barclay Canada/Universal Musique Canada seeks to promote Francophone artists by giving itself the means to do it abroad. “A record label from Toronto that could very well do without Francophones, but has decided to do it anyway, now that’s encouraging!” says Rose. “Making it in France is a dream of mine, and I’ve had a taste of the French audience when we opened for Angèle and Jain. It’s a really beautiful territory.”
Eli Rose is fully aware that her life today is the result of a series of doors that she willfully stepped through. “When I did a feature on Rymz’s “Chrome,” I told myself I was more than one thing, and that is was OK to try new stuff,” remembers the artist, who doesn’t take anything for granted. She believes Québec isn’t quite ready to hear something other than folk and rap, but she’s willing to take on the challenge. “I believe intelligent Francophone pop music is possible,” she says. So do we.
Photo by Mélany Bernier
France D’Amour : Awakening the Beast
Story by Claude Côté | November 12, 2019
France D’Amour’s 13th album will thrill her early fans: D’Amour et Rock’n roll is raw, an album whose heavy sound grounds the listener while her voice and lyrics soar to the sky.
On October 2, 1994, France D’Amour finished the Rock Le Lait tour at the Montréal Forum, alongside Vilains Pingouins and Jean Leloup. We were there. Animal, her first album, was launched the previous year and Déchaînée would break the sophomore jinx a few months later. The young Mont-Rolland native told the media, back then, “I’m confident enough to not be afraid of standing up to artists like them.”
We were blown away when she sang her anthem “Vivante,” her fist raised and her leg kicking, as if on a mission: “Chanter à tue-tête / Tout ce que j’ai dans l’ventre / Chanter comme une bête / Pour me garder vivante” (“Sing as loud as I can / Everything I’ve got / Sing like an animal / Just to stay alive”). For many of us – despite the artist having shown us a softer side on hits such as “Si c’’était vrai” and “Ailleurs” – this woman is a rocker at heart.
Now, D’Amour returns to her roots with 10 songs recorded at the studio of Jason Lang, her guitarist, with the help of longtime collaborators Patrick Lavergne on bass and Sam Harrisson on drums – “my very own Dave Grohl,” she says. “It was about time, and even though I’ve never stopped playing rock, a woman told me at the record launch, ‘I’ve been waiting for this album for 20 years!’ I thanked her for her patience, I know I took people on a wild ride, in the meantime,” she says about the various musical styles she’s explored over the years, like her two-volume exploration of jazz, Bubble Bath and Champagne.
What’s the difference between the 1993 rocker and today’s rocker? “There’s one helluva difference!” she says. “The rocker back in the day of Animal operated purely on instinct and energy. Now, my energy is more channelled, controlled. There was something truly serious about Animal. Now, nothing’s serious, we don’t give a damn, we just let go and have fun! We were like teenagers, we just wanted to find good grooves, raw and imperfect material. When you listen to albums from the ’70s, there are off-notes, and it sounded more natural.
“I want to stand up on my chair, drive too fast, be too loud!”
“We’d sometimes laugh uncontrollably, as if the music was taking us back to childhood, and we were unlearning what we know. We wondered how we played when we didn’t know how to play. It feels amazing to let go like that, to play any which way. A lot of the songs sound like demos, which drove our producer crazy, trying to fix those imperfections, but we like those songs just the way they are. I was sick when we recorded ‘Tout à gagner,’ my voice is completely off, but I said, ‘let’s keep that!’ Rock ’n’ roll is all about feeling and emotion.”
Straight to the heart, without neglecting the mind, the album is very guitar-driven, and emerges as quite cohesive from repeated, playful elements, without being overly innovative.
“Rock music is perfect when you want to sing about topics such as outrage, which is the case on this new album,” says D’Amour. “I sing about what I’ve realized over the years, my personal life, I reveal a lot about myself. It’s me, right now. There’s not a single love song on the album,” says the newly-single 54 year-old, with a sliver of irony – although it’s worth noting that the last song on D’Amour et Rock’n roll, “T’étais mon père,” is the eulogy she read at her father’s funeral, not long ago.
It’s always in such moments that D’Amour gives the best of herself. She goes on, supercharged: “I want a scrapyard, I don’t feel like being sexy. I want to stand up on my chair, drive too fast, be too loud, turn around and stop only when I feel like it. I need to say, ‘Fuck off,’ and to just let go.”
The first step was duly accomplished during her record launch concert at Coup de cœur francophone. “My armpits were sweaty, but I didn’t fumble a single word of my new songs,” she says. “I’ve got a good memory; apparently Alzheimer’s won’t be [happening] right away in my case. I’m still a teen, inside. Age is all in the mind.”