Iskwé will be sure to make waves this year. The Irish/Cree/Dene singer (whose name is pronounced “ISS-kway,” meaning “woman” in the Cree language) has already been praised as an artist to keep an eye on by CBC Music, as well as hitting No. 1 on the National Aboriginal Music Countdown.

“I was always drawn to blending styles, but I don’t think it was purposely,” says Iskwé, freshly returned from Vancouver, where she performed at the 2015 FIFA Womens’ World Cup. “I just liked the way it felt to combine, and to kick out my own place in art and music. It took me awhile to find my comfort in my artistic skin, and that only came once I let go and stopped trying to fit in someone else’s mold.  I decided to just create my own.”

This is very apparent on her single “Nobody Knows,” an anthemic, hard-rocking, electro ballad and heartfelt tribute to the missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada.

The summer found her performing at Toronto’s Pan Am games in July, and playing dates in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Her next album, The Fight Within, produced by JUNO Award nominees The Darcys, is due in January of 2016.

When we reach Antoine Corriveau for this interview, the young singer-songwriter is still in seventh heaven. He’s just won the SOCAN Songwriting Prize (and the $10,000 cheque that comes with it) thanks to his song “Le nouveau vocabulaire,” and he sees this victory as a validation that he is indeed on the right path. “There’s no doubt that a prize such as this one will allow me to relax a little,” he says. “The last year has been completely crazy for me, and that’s the kind of thing that reminds me I must concentrate on music.”

AntoineCorriveau_SSP_CSUp until very recently, Corriveau still earned a living as a freelance graphic designer. But since launching his album Les Ombres Longues (The Long Shadows), he’s reached a new plateau. Without being a radio chart dweller, he’s making new fans nonetheless, one by one, and his gig schedule is getting longer and longer.

“I self-produced my first album and during my first tours, the number of people in the audience was inversely proportional to the distance I drove to get there,” says Corriveau. “Still, I’m glad I didn’t become popular overnight, and had to go through the motions to earn my dues. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same. Nowadays I play in venues where there were only 10 people the first time around, and now there are 50; to me that’s a great improvement!”

If people are catching up, maybe it’s because of his voice’s peculiar timbre, reminiscent of Daniel Lavoie’s. But mostly, it’s for the quality of his songs, which skillfully mix the intimate and the universal – songs that he crafts patiently, like a Swiss watchmaker. “This prize makes me especially proud, because it touches on the very core of my trade,” says Corriveau. “Not the show, the sound or the lighting… just the song and all the work it entails. And I can tell you that there is quite a lot of work in ‘Le nouveau vocabulaire!’ The first draft of it came to me quickly, but after that I spent three or four months just putting the finishing touches on it. Sometimes I can spend weeks on a single word.”

“I often write in a very automatic, informal manner. To me the message always wins over form.”

Sung using the perspective of an all-encompassing “we,” “Le nouveau vocabulaire” is a song halfway between a manifesto and a confession, that can be understood on many different levels. The song tackles two themes that are ever-present on his new album: breakups and, mostly, the Montreal social upheaval of 2012, the so-called “Maple Spring.” “I hope the young people that took to the streets will keep at least part of the spirit of solidarity we felt then alive while they grow up,” explains Corriveau, who remains quite positive with regards to the aftermath of the event. But regardless of where Québec society is headed, Corriveau will remain, capturing the zeitgeist in his own unique way: lucid, sensitive, and aptly poetic.

“I’ve never felt I was mimicking anyone’s style, but I certainly can’t deny I have some fetish writers,” he says. “People like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Nick Cave are all writers I admire, and they all share one thing: they are, first and foremost, poets. These are artists that won’t hesitate a moment to write a song with 40 verses and no chorus, and all three are formidable raconteurs.”

Yet Antoine also has immense admiration for rappers who possess so much lexicological leeway, and fearlessness in wringing the neck of classical poetry’s rules. “I don’t mind truncating a word right in the middle, or not respecting the metrics,” explains the singer-songwriter. “That’s why I often write in a very automatic, informal manner. To me, the message always wins over the form. Even when I did graphic novels, I considered I was much more of a raconteur than just an illustrator: I was great at telling stories, and just good enough to draw them.”

That why Corriveau is still writing stories. For himself, of course, but for others too, as he’s done for Julie Blanche’s album. “I must admit that the first time I wrote for someone else, I was very hesitant at first,” he says “I was wary of letting go of my best ideas and weakening my own repertoire. Nowadays, I’ve made my peace with that, and I tell myself that I can still sing those songs if I want to. They are my songs, after all!”

Besides, it’s obvious he’s not about to run out of ideas, and if all goes according to plan, Corriveau will launch a new album in the fall of 2016. “Until then, I’m just writing non-stop,” he says. “I’ve got drawers full of riffs and lyrics snippets that are waiting to become full-fledged songs. I’ve realized that, in actual fact, creating an album is nothing more that: a deep clean-up session.”

A total of 23 composers have won more than $50,000 in the 2015 SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers and SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Audio-visual Composers. Both competitions, presented annually, are open to Canadian citizens 30 years of age and under.

View complete lists of winners with their biographies:
SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers
SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Audio-visual Composers

This year’s 24th annual SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers attracted 187 entries, awarding $29,250 to 15 prizewinners, some of whom took home multiple awards. The jury chose to award the Grand Prize this year to Montreal-based composer Darren James Russo, for his ambitious 72-minute opera Storybook.

The Awards for Young Composers attracted 187 entries this year.

The SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers recognize Canadian composers for specific musical works in five categories of concert music. The submissions were judged anonymously by a jury of three prominent composers with decades of experience teaching composition in the university milieu: Dr. Keith Hamel (at the right in the photo above) of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Dr. Eric Morin of l’Université Laval in Quebec City (at the left in the photo), and Dr. John Burge of Queen’s University in Kingston, ON (centre in the photo), a SOCAN Foundation Board member.

“I feel it has pretty much everything in it,” says Eric Morin of Russo’s Storybook. “Looking at it from any perspective, it is full of imagination and inventiveness, both pleasing and fulfilling.” Keith Hamel calls it “an exquisite, sophisticated work, showing superb control and pacing at every turn.”

The John Weinzweig Grand Prize celebrates the best overall work submitted in the competition, and is valued at $3,000. Russo’s work was also recognized with the $3,000 first prize in the competition’s Godfrey Ridout Awards.

Other major winners include Matthew Ricketts, who took the $3,000 first prize in the Sir Ernest MacMillan Awards category for Flat Line, the $1,500 second prize in the Serge Garant Awards category for In Partial View, and a three-way shared third prize ($750 to each co-winner) in the Godfrey Ridout Awards for Women Well Met; Philippe Macnab-Séguin, who took the $3,000 first prize in the Serge Garant Awards category for his Percussion Sextet, and the $750 third prize in the Hugh Le Caine Awards category for Through the Cracks; Christopher Goddard, who shared second prize ($1,500 to each co-winner) in the Pierre Mercure Awards category for And Chase, and took the $750 third prize in the Sir Ernest MacMillan Awards category for Janus Turns; and Michael Lukaszuk, who took the $3,000 first prize in the Hugh Le Caine Awards for his electroacoustic work Ritus.

Ricketts’ Flat Line impressed the jury greatly, says John Burge, “by the sense of orchestral weight and control. Despite being scored for an ensemble of 15 instruments, the effect is at times that of a large orchestra. Also, it shows imaginative use of instrumental colour and rhythmic precision.”

Macnab-Séguin’s Percussion Sextet came across, in the words of Eric Morin, as “a thrilling work that keeps the listener on the edge of the seat.”


The SOCAN Foundation Young Audio-Visual Composers Awards Jury. Left to right: Pete Coulman, Mike Shields, Marc Ouellette (recently elected SOCAN Foundation President).

Finally, Lukaszuk’s Ritus conjures “a rich and evocative sound-world, demonstrating excellent control of foreground and background elements,” says Keith Hamel.

This year’s fifth annual SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Audio-visual Composers attracted 46 entries, awarding $21,000 to eight prizewinners. This is a unique competition, the only one of its kind in Canada. It offers us an excellent opportunity to spotlight the many talented composers working in Canada’s vibrant film and television industries, including this year’s first prize-winners, Andrew Creaghan, Antoine Binette Mercier, Vincent L. Pratte and Isaias Garcia.

The SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Audio-visual Composers recognize Canadian composers for four categories of music created exclusively for audio-visual support (film, TV, Internet). The competition was judged by a jury of three prominent media composers: Pete Coulman of Toronto, ON, Marc Ouellette of Montreal, QC, (recently elected SOCAN Foundation President) and Mike Shields of Calgary, AB.

The jury members praised Andrew Creaghan’s score for Lola, a short film that relates the story of a 24-year-old girl who feels all control of her life slipping away from her, which won Creaghan the $3,000 first prize in the Fiction category. Pete Coulman found it “intriguing” and remarked on the “uniqueness of the sound palette.” Marc Ouellette was impressed with the “superb overall production quality.”

Antoine Binette Mercier’s score for the documentary Le Nez, which details how scents are intimately connected to our emotions and memories, also gripped the jury. Mike Shields was “won over by its originality” and Pete Coulman remarked on the composer’s “nice choice of instruments, behind a very active voice-over.”

Other $3,000 first-prize winners were Vincent L. Pratte for his airy music in the stop-action short Blossom (Animated film category), which Mike Shields found “emotionally engaging”; and Isaias Garcia for the short film The Path (Musical Theme category), which Marc Ouellette called “a most convincing signature identity for the film.”

Pratte, who has won multiple awards in this competition over the past several years, also shared the second prize in the Fiction category with Eli Bennett ($1,500 for each composer) for his score for the film Trenches (Bennett was recognized for his contributions to the film Jobless), and Garcia was honoured with a shared third prize in the Fiction category, also for The Path, along with Maya Postepski for her work on Closet Monster (each composer wins $750). Garcia also took the $750 third prize in the Animated category for his music for the video game Dream Revenant.

The next application deadline for both competitions is April 15, 2016.