Even if only by its very name – Brown – this Québec hip-hop project is one more example of an unavoidable truth: the province, just as the country as a whole, is increasingly culturally diverse. The trio is composed of bothers Gregory (a.k.a. Dead Obies’ Snail Kid) and David Beaudin (a.k.a. Jam) – who collaborate with K6A and Alaclair Ensemble, to name but a few – and their father Robin Kerr of Uprising. Their first eponymous album is slated for release on Jan. 22, 2016, on the 7e ciel imprint.

“We started with a song titled ‘Brown,’” explains Gregory. “But it didn’t even make the album’s final cut. It encompassed the basic concept that we kept refining, but everything was there – the genetic and cultural legacy of our mom and dad. The meeting of influences was the true starting point of it all: being born of a white, Francophone mom and a black, Jamaican dad.

“When we started brainstorming on this project, discussions about the Québec charter of values were just starting and it provoked a lot of reactions at home. We decided to tackle the issue head on, and out of that came the 12 songs on the album.”

Musically influenced as much by current hip-hop – thanks to the input of notorious Dead Obies beatmakers Toast Dawg and VNCE – as by 70s psychedelic rock, where Brown also borrows its visual signature. The album’s tracks were produced by Sébastien Blais-Montpetit, and are mainly built around the father’s commanding voice.

“He truly is able to sing on anything,” says Gregory. “Whether it’s reggae, dancehall,or rock, his voice is like butter. We were really happy!” He adds that no one knows if the project will have a life beyond this album.

“We didn’t start a band, it’s just a moment we captured on an album,” he says. “We’ll see what happens with the album and what’s next. We have other projects with my dad, we’d love to produce a solo album of his… We’ll see!”

Here’s the latest edition in our series of stories about the creative meetings between songwriter/composers. This week sees the meeting of two characters that seem worlds apart: Yves Lambert and Josh Dolgin, better known as Socalled. When two free musical spirits and their respective passions for tradition collide, the result is explosive!

 Another first in this series on songwriting duos: the interviews were conducted separately. Lambert, a bona fide forefather of Québec’s traditional-music scene, and former linchpin of higely successful Quebec group la Bottine Souriante, is true to himself on this day: ebullient, passionate, and on time for our meeting in a café in Montréal’s Mile End neighbourhood.

But where’s Socalled? Lost somewhere in the city, one can presume. Lost in his studio, busy producing songwriter Sarah Toussaint-Léveillée’s first album, we hope. Maybe he’s nursing a Chanukah hangover, because of eight days of celebration during this unusually mild month of December? “Socalled is one helluva weirdo, but I love weirdos,” says Lambert, with a smirk that says he’s not a bit surprised that his friend forgot our rendezvous.

Earlier in 2015, our missing weirdo launched his incredible People Watching album, a musical melting pot where pop, funk, rap, reggae and traditional Jewish music party together. Lambert was featured on that album in a duet with legendary reggae/dancehall singer Josey Wales on a song called “Bootycaller.”

As for Lambert, he recently released Lambert dans ses bottines, an album celebrating his forty-year musical career – arranged, recorded and produced by Socalled. “We’re kindred spirits,” says Lambert, explaining the nature of his relationship with Dolgin. “We don’t come from the same place, but he’s just as passionate as I am for tradition. He’s a true champion for it, he respects it, and that’s what we have in common.” Joined on the phone later that day, Socalled will add, “Also, we’re both accordionists!”

“I owned cassettes by La Bottine Souriante, I was a big fan. The way they mixed trad and jazz was unbelievable to me” — Socalled

Yves Lambert didn’t know of Socalled’s productions when they met for the first time about 10 years ago, during a benefit concert for Jeunes musiciens du monde. But Socalled was totally familiar with the work of La Bottine Souriante.

“I owned cassettes by La Bottine,” he says. “I was a big fan. It’s the only truly innovative music from Québec that I heard – their unique blend of trad and jazz, for example, was unbelievable to me. There are a lot of similarities between Québec and traditional Jewish music: they are both very festive, lots of wedding and other special events music, and both are often motivated by a desire to escape the daily grind,” explains Socalled. Lambert shares this perception.

Yves Lambert, Socalled
These two were meant to meet. It happened in Copenhagen, of all places, in 2009 during the WOMEX festival, a showcase for World Music. It was an instant match made in heaven, and they gladly exchanged phone numbers. Lambert, who had “energizing” stage experiences next to Socalled, immediately thought about him to produce Lambert dans ses bottines.

“We met a few times during the summer of 2015 at his mess of a place behind the Mordecai-Richler library,” Lambert recalls. “We were both in our summer buzz, overwhelmed with projects, we were hot, but we had to do it. The mission was simple: re-visit my old material. Then we’ll work on newer material.”

In the very specific case of Lambert dans ses bottines, the composition work was mainly orchestration since, with the exception a few old Lambert or Bottine creations, all songs are taken from the traditional Québécois repertoire. But that didn’t take away anything from the collaboration: one need only listen to what happened to songs like “Le petit porte-clé tout rouillé” or “La cuisinière” after Dolgin was done with them.

“One needs to intimately know that repertoire’s history before even thinking about having the right to mess with it,” Socalled insists. “Yves is an expert of that repertoire. All that time we spent together during the summer was used discussing, listening to each song to get to its very core, and what made it what it is, and what we were going to do with it. Going back to the grooves, harmonies, melodies, to the very foundation of this music, and building from that. You can’t just slap a house music beat on top of a song and pretend you’ve created something new.”

A few musical directions were outlined either by La Bottine Souriante or by Lambert and his Bébert Orchestra. “‘D’un bon matin,’ for example, already had a reggae feel to it,” explains Lambert. “With Socalled, all we did was take that idea to its logical conclusion, with a real reggae band.” Other directions were reached through consensus, after swapping many ideas.

“Here’s what our meetings were like,” says Lambert. “I got there with my computer, played Josh some songs – not for too long, never the whole thing – so he didn’t become too influenced by the original versions. And then we’d talk about it.” The first recording sessions with Lambert and his trio happened early in the fall, once the musical directions were well established.

“We got everything we needed to get out of our songs, and then Socalled and his collaborators started working with that material,” says Lambert. Such as American trombonist Fred Wesley, who wrote the brass arrangements. “Fred Wesley, on my friggin’ record, James Brown’s own arranger, can you imagine!” says Lambert.

Socalled agrees. “For Yves’ record, we needed the fusion to work flawlessly,” he says. “Create a true convergence between Québec’s traditional music and klezmer music, or Wesley’s funk, while using samples. It’s a delicate operation, each element needs to be carefully dosed. The rigodon, the turlute, podorhythmia, mandolin; I made up a mental list of what characterizes Québec’s traditional music and I tried to preserve those elements while coming up with new sounds.”

This musical collaboration between these two champions of folklore has paved the way for further projects, notably on original material, where two musical universes collide. Lambert is adamant: this is just the beginning. Stay tuned! Among the other ideas floating around is a stage musical that would retell a rich, yet forgotten chapter of the history of Montreal – written and composed by Lambert and Dolgin!

Vancouver-based artist/songwriter/producer Chin Injeti has worked on three Grammy-winning projects, has two JUNO Awards, and is perhaps best remembered in Canada as a co-founder of the ‘90s R&B trio Bass Is Base.

And in typical Canadian fashion, he’s a homegrown talent who came from elsewhere, and now carries the banner for Canada’s diverse musical mosaic on the global stage.

Injeti came to Canada from India at the age of five. Stricken with polio at a young age, he had spent most of his early childhood in a wheelchair. But his mother, Ellen, was determined that the disease would not get the best of her son, and the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto so Chin could undergo treatments and surgeries. Injeti eventually walked again, but it was while in hospital that he discovered something that would support him and lift him up for the rest of his life: his love for music.

“We’re more concerned with the quality of the song rather than the temperamental pop culture of what’s going on.”

Chin Injeti

Photo by Robin Miller

He realized then that he needed to make music his life. As he opened up his ears to all kinds of music, it was Geddy Lee’s playing on the Rush album Hemispheres that inspired him to take up the bass. His first success came in the early ‘90s as one-third of the R&B trio Bass Is Base with Ivana Santilli and Roger “Mystic” Mooking (now a restaurateur and Food Network celebrity chef).

Their 1994 debut album, First Impressions: For the Bottom Jigglers, won a JUNO Award. The follow-up in 1995, Memories of the Soul Shack Survivors, included the top 30 hit “I Cry.” But the band ultimately disintegrated, and Injeti headed west to Surrey, B.C. to get a fresh start.

From his new base, Injeti has produced such artists as Esthero, Kinnie Starr, Bedouin Soundclash and The Canadian Tenors. He’s also spent years traveling to Los Angeles to scope out the music scene there.

It was in L.A. in 2008 that Injeti met fellow producer DJ Khalil. The two discovered that they shared many musical tastes. With Khalil often as his production partner, Injeti began working with an impressive parade of A-list artists is the States.

His work with rapper Eminem includes the Grammy-winning 2010 album Recovery and 2013’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, as well as the track “Survival” from the video game Call of Duty: Ghosts. He’s worked with Dr. Dre, 50 Cent (Before I Self-Destruct), Virginia hip-hop trio Clipse featuring Kanye West (“Kinda Like a Big Deal”), not to mention Toronto’s own Drake on the mega-star’s So Far Gone mixtape/EP. Another album he worked on picked up a Grammy as well – Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae’s Gravity.

Then there’s his work on 2012’s Grammy-nominated The Truth About Love by pop powerhouse P!nk, and the 2014 album Lift Your Spirit by acclaimed L.A.-based R&B/pop/hip-hop artist Aloe Blacc.

“We don’t chase hits. We don’t chase the sound,” Injeti says of his partnership with Khalil. “We’re not the kind of producers where [we say], ‘Okay, this is what’s happening on the Top 10 – go work with those guys.’ We just try to do who we are, and we’re more concerned with the quality of the song rather than the temperamental pop culture of what’s going on.”

Injeti and Khalil sometimes work in the context of the writing/production team Injeti put together called The New Royales, which also features Erik Alcock and Liz Rodrigues. The team’s more recent work involved co-writing for another Eminem project, including the track “Kings Never Die” (featuring Gwen Stefani) from the movie Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

When we spoke to Injeti in late November 2015, he’d just been in the studio with Mr. “Uptown Funk” himself, Bruno Mars, writing and producing a batch of demos for the singer. He wasn’t able to reveal very much about the project, however: “Basically, we got into a studio with him and we just knocked out some ideas, really.”

And even though working with such big global stars south of the border is a Yankee Doodle feather in his cap, Injeti’s take on it shows some Canadian homeboy awareness.

“What I take away from working with those kinds of artists is that they’re incredible, but also from me being from where I am – which is Vancouver and Toronto – that we bring something to the table, too,” he says. “We bring something to the table that’s really our musical identity, which is quite international, I think. So we kind of have our own take and our own perspective on what they do.”

And what is that, exactly? “Just changing the soundscape, I would say; bringing a whole new cultural relevance to it,” Injeti says. “Culturally, R&B music has changed so much in the way that it’s expanding; it’s not just, like, funk and soul – it’s going to so many different places. People are sampling rock records, people are working with artists they would never have worked with before.”

“It’s so amazing that SOCAN has the ability to connect people and it’s really doing that right now. It’s like a dream record company. It’s just really, truly nurturing artistry.”

What he learned from working with these artists is to simply be who you are. He’s quite secure in the knowledge that his homegrown roots and identity are plenty enough to bring to the party.

“Don’t try to be them. Just stick to who you are and what makes you you,” he says. “Before, we used to have to look outside; we used to be like, ‘Gotta go to L.A., gotta go to New York’ to do our thing. But now it’s kinda like, we can do us.”

Injeti got actively involved in “doing us” not that long ago when he joined a gathering of other Canadian songwriters, producers and artists in SOCAN’s inaugural k?.n?kt Song Camp, held this past September in Nova Scotia.

Over the course of a week at the pastoral Shobac Cottages in the town of Upper Kingsburg, the camp brought together experienced songwriters such as Jully Black and David Myles, up-and-comers like Sophie Rose and Levi Randall, and accomplished producers including Injeti and Young Wolf Hatchlings (a.k.a. Jarrel Young and Waqaas Hashmi).

Chin Injeti

Photo by Chin Injeti

The goal of the Song Camp was to provide a fertile environment to cultivate the creation of music and the cross-pollination of musical ideas and skill sets. Each morning the participants received a briefing and group assignments for the day.

“It was incredible,” says Injeti. “We worked daily with each other, and at the end of the day we would present our songs that we worked on with the rest of the camp, and it was an incredible camaraderie that was happening. Just so many incredible artists that I never would have been able to connect with if I didn’t go to that camp.”

On the final day of the camp, about 20 music-industry representatives joined them for a listening party to review the week’s work.

“It’s so amazing that SOCAN has the ability to connect people and it’s really doing that right now,” says Injeti. “It’s like a dream record company. That’s what SOCAN feels like. It’s just really, truly nurturing artistry.”

As for Injeti’s own artistry, he’s recently released a new solo album, The Reverb. In keeping with his diverse tastes, it’s an eclectic affair featuring everything from trip-hop and funk to rock and dreamy ambient sounds. And he’s very excited about a brand new project called The Lifetimes, a band comprised entirely of fellow Vancouver musicians.

“I never get to do this, because I’m away all the time working on other projects,” he says, “but I’m really a fan of working with people in Vancouver, and with this project I get to do that.”

He’ll be going into the studio again very soon with Aloe Blacc, and he’s also scheduled to work on some new tracks for P!nk.

Having grown up in the diverse weave of the Canadian music mosaic, Chin Injeti is continuing to bring that sensibility to the world of global popular music, while also cultivating sounds and visions in his own backyard.