Brampton, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Astrokidjay recorded his breakthrough hit “Ibiza” in a closet. At the time, he had lofty ambitions of reaching 50,000 views with the video – a last-minute, DIY shoot in an Airbnb. Those visuals have over a million views to date, and a lot more has changed since then.

The 2019 single (recorded with Stenno) put Astro on a white-hot trajectory, earning attention from producers like Murda Beatz and Evrgrn, as well as Astro’s manager, Karma Jonez. “He’s the one who pulled me aside and told me to sit back and work on my craft. He felt like I had potential, and that I could do more,” says Astro. “I learned, and I practiced a lot. I read the dictionary, I read a lot of books to help my grammar and my lyrics. I sat back for a little bit [and] stopped dropping music, just to work on my craft. To get better flows, better melodies, and better lyrics.”

That diligence led to a big year for Astro in 2021. He dropped an independent album called Wizard Boy, earned a feature with Polaris Music Prize-winner Haviah Mighty on her single “Coulda Been U,” and landed a record deal with Interscope in November. “I’m more of a developed artist now,” he says. “I know better, I grew up a bit more. I’m signed to a major record label [and] I have way crazier music than [on] Wizard Boy. I just feel like my things are getting better and better.”

The youngest of six kids born to Tanzanian parents, Astro’s music aspirations started relatively late in life. As a child, he preferred soccer over songwriting, and didn’t take an interest in rapping until his late teens. Thanks to varying musical tastes across his large family, though, the 20-year-old does remember being exposed to a mix of genres at home; artists who would later influence his own work. His inherited an appetite for R&B from his siblings, and credits the genre with his distinct, melodic delivery.

“I sat back for a little bit, stopped dropping music, just to work on my craft”

“I listen to a lot of throwback R&B, like 2000s R&B – Keyshia Cole, Alicia Keys,” he says. “I [still] listen to a lot of R&B before my sessions, because it helps me with melodies. A lot of people my age don’t listen to throwback R&B. [But] there are different types of melodies in it that we don’t hear in today’s music. It definitely helps me.”

Andreena Mill

Astrokidjay mentor Andreena Mill

Now gearing up for his tentative April 2022 release, Guns and Roses, Astro – who turns 21 years old in May – is taking a different approach to his writing than his earlier music. He’s traded trap-leaning freestyles and small basement studios for heavier doses of R&B, big studios, and a production team. Seeing an opportunity for professional growth, manager Jonez paired Astro with singer-songwriter Andreena [Mill], who, in addition to her solo work, has collaborated with artists like Melanie Fiona, DMX, and Drake. She serves as co-writer for much of Astro’s upcoming music.

“She’s, like, the best in the world! I learn a lot from her,” says Astro about Andreena. “She helps me with my vocal training, helps me hit certain notes. [She] helps with my writing process sometimes. It’s great working with her and being around her. She’s definitely one of the mentors who help me with my sound today.”

Working with new collaborators like Andreena, OVO-signee Roy Woods, and Jamaican artist Popcaan (perhaps most widely known for his feature on Drake’s “One Dance”) means Guns and Roses will be Astro’s most versatile project yet. While he’s close-lipped about the full list of featured artists, he promises that his new album is sure to widen his audience, and leave a mark.

“I’m on a whole new wave. There’s everything on there for all audiences: children, grandmas, aunties, mothers, everybody,” says Astro. “A lot of people are going to be able to relate to it. It’s going to leave an impact on the city when it drops. I know that for sure.”

 



Having run the Permission agency ever since she founded it back in 1995, Lucie Bourgouin has known for a long time that copyright permissions ( better known as  licensing) are an important niche branch of the screen industry. More than 20 years after starting her own company, she knows exactly how to make sure that all parties are dealt with fairly when it comes to integrating one creative work into another one.

Lucie Bourgoin“When I got my Bachlor of Music at the Université de Montréal, I had no career path in mind,” Bourgouin admits straightaway. She simply went along taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves to her. Her expertise was frequently sought, and a few steps later, she ended up managing ancillary/product (or merchandise) rights for Société Radio-Canada. “Radio-Canada even had a record company at the time,” she recalls. “That was in the late 80s.” After running the Crown Corporation’s rights management branch right across the country, her position was eventually cancelled “on account of petty politics.”

“On February 1 of this year, I celebrated 27 years as a copyright negotiator for producers,” she says proudly. “I’ve had clients like Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil. When these people needed a song, I dealt with the release of the copyrights attached to that work.”

In her view, understanding an artistic creation as an indivisible whole is at the very heart of her career. ”You have to understand how people operate,” she says. “You have to know people, show temperament, and be able to understand the sensitivities that are involved for all those having a stake in the work: creators, and all those who wish to use someone else’s creative work.”

To this day, the fuel that drives Bourgouin is a deep respect for the artist standing behind each aspect of a work. “I negotiate on a daily basis with entities that have interests, but I always make sure that everyone gets paid fairly,” she maintains. “If we didn’t have creators, nothing would happen, and I’ve always been on the artists’ side.”

Since Permission was created in 1995, Bourguoin has been negotiating on behalf of just about everybody, with unsurpassed ardour, and a passion for creative works. And not just musical ones, but also paintings, or books that people wanted to turn into TV series. She always knows the real value of a work of art, and how to help all parties reach an agreement that’s satisfactory for all involved. “I’ve even negotiated a Picasso work. And what a trip that was!” she recalls.

Also in charge  of negotiations for the archive of the TV show Les enfants de la télé, she only brings up a single example when asked what was, in her view, the greatest thing she’s ever done professionally: “The best calling card I’ve ever got in my life was Jean-Marc Vallée and the film CRAZY,” she says, getting emotional. “That was my career’s top adventure. You rarely get to work together with film producers when you’re negotiating a copyright licence, but Jean-Marc and I worked side by side, all along.” This close partnership turned into a personal friendship. “He’s the only one who ever thanked me on TV. That was during the Jutra Awards show,” she says. “For me, that was a high point in my desire to help people get what they want.”

Over time, music and the way we use it have changed, and Bourgouin’s work has evolved accordingly. The reason why CRAZY stands out stands out so clearly in her mind is that, for the time, there was a monumental number of music copyright licences to be dealt with, as some 20 songs were to be embedded in the soundtrack. “Things are different today,” she added. “I’m working with Xavier Dolan on his next series, and we’re dealing with 52 songs, and counting!”

“All parties will have to re-examine their values if we’re to provide local artists with some visibility”

 Lucie Bourgoin

Lucie Bourgouin in 1995

In Bourguoin’s view, the lack of experience of some producers is one of the main challenges being faced because of the “magical thinking” some of them are exhibiting. “You can’t get a Beatles song on the cheap, alter the lyrics, and do it all in 24 hours,” she says, as an example. “I have a tremendous amount of contacts and healthy relationships in the industry. You have to, if you want to get all the rest. I obtained the G.I. Joe intellectual property for a film free of charge, provided we didn’t alter that image. We wanted to get “Stairway To Heaven” for Café de Flore, but we failed. We tried everything. My work is filled with lots of small victories, but there are disappointments too.”

Besides securing copyright agreements, Bourgouin also works as a consultant to suggest alternate avenues when plan A fails. “I love working with people who truly respect music,” she says. “Xavier Dolan is one of them. He’s a true music lover, and when there’s not enough money in the budget for a song he’s after, he’ll just pick something else, instead of asking me to negotiate a better price.”

As time goes on with the decline of record sales worldwide, copyright licensing acquires a new meaning. “My profession’s future is hard to predict,” says Bourguoin. “Copyright owners are becoming more demanding, greedier, and that’s normal, seeing as their sources of income are weakening in other areas. All parties will have to re-examine their values if we’re to provide local artists with a visibility for their songs in our homegrown productions, while making sure we don’t take anything away from film composers.”

Lucie Bourgouin’s success is squarely based on the plethora of relationships she’s developed with rights holders over time. Using psychology, and acting like a career diplomat, she’s spent the past 27 years meeting people half-way, to make sure that every transaction remains a human gesture. “You need a great deal of patience and passion to do my kind of work,” she says. “It’s a long, time-consuming process.” In other words, practice makes perfect.

 



DJ Shub doesn’t just make Powwow Step, he helped create the genre.

We ask the “Godfather of Powwow Step,” as he’s sometimes known, if it ever sinks in that he had a hand in cooking up a style that’s a monumental mix of powwow songs, drumbeats, electronic music, and dubstep. “It hits home whenever someone brings that up in an interview, or if I’m introduced that way before a show,” says Shub, born Dan General.

“It makes me realize (what I’m doing is) a responsibility, musically and culturally,” he adds. “I love Indigenous music! It carries itself through the culture, and it gives us the opportunity to shine and say, ‘Hey, look how beautiful our culture is!’ And what’s really exciting to see is that it’s getting more popular, and that there are all these sub-genres [of this style].”

Not only did the sound that Shub pioneered when he was with A Tribe Called Red (now re-named The Halluci Nation) fill dancefloors all around the world, their second album  Nation II Nation won a JUNO Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year – making Tribe the first Indigenous artist to win in a non-Indigenous category.

This year, Shub, a Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, has been nominated for Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year for his 19-track album, War Club. “A war club is a weapon used by our people during war times,” he explains. “My music is my war club. It’s my voice, and it makes you dance. And the MCs in the film, they’re writers, and their pens are their war clubs.”

The film (actually a TV show) to which Shub refers is also called War Club, and it’s a beautiful 40-minute “cinematic adventure” that was shot at Longwoods Road Conservation Area near London, Ontario. It’s currently streaming on CBC Gem, and features Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Fawn Wood, Phoenix Pagliaacci, and Boogat, as well as six Indigenous dancers in regalia.

Shub says the album and film, which is “a celebration of song and dance, with a message of power and protest,” provide “a doorway to learning about our culture, and for me to find out more about my culture. I grew up off-reserve, so the culture was there, but I’d never thought about mixing it with music. But now that I have, it feels like I was supposed to do this.”

Shub is in great spirits the day we speak. He’s chatty, jokes, and his excitement to take War Club on the road is infectious. You’d never know he was in a dark place a few years back, if he wasn’t so forthright about his former drug and alcohol abuse. He’s a survivor, he’s keenly aware of that, and credits his recovery to the people around him. “It was my family that got together, saw me at my worst, stepped up and made sure I got help – and got it fast,” says Shub. “I thank the Creator for them every day. Honestly, I wouldn’t be here if not for them.”

It goes without saying that watching fans lose their minds at his shows makes it all worthwhile for Shub. But, we ask, have there been moments when he realizes the cultural impact he’s making? “I got a message from an aunty who said, ‘I want to thank you for making this album. My niece and I were drifting apart, and I gave her your album for her birthday and we’re talking again.’

“I was in tears,” says Shub. “That’s the magic that people don’t see. It really hit home.”

(Originally posted in April 2022)