During the summer Karl Wolf is often on the road. And 2016 is no different, says the Toronto-based singer-songwriter/producer/recording artist, admitting he’s had very little sleep. Not surprisingly, he’s keeping very busy, which seems a perpetual and normal state for Wolf.

Always prolific and driven, Wolf began his career as a songwriter and producer before stepping into the limelight in the early 2000s as lead singer for the pop band Sky. With Sky’s Antoine Sicotte, he collaborated on Quebec’s hugely successful Star Acade?mie reality TV show and two subsequent albums, Star Acade?mie I and II, the first of which went five-times-platinum in Canada. Since then, he’s won multiple SOCAN Awards, including two for his international hit version of Toto’s “Africa,” from his 2008 album, Bite the Bullet.

The success of “Africa” propelled his career to new heights. In all he’s released six solo albums prior to his latest EP, The Export Vol. 1 – the first of three EPs scheduled for release on B.C.-based indie label Cordova Bay Records. And among the markets that have embraced him are all of those he’s called home; Canada, obviously, but also his birthplace of Lebanon, and Dubai in the UAE, to which his family fled in the 1980s to escape Lebanon’s brutal civil war, and where he lived until emigrating to Montreal in 1995.

Currently Wolf is riding high on the success of his co-write (with Jenson Vaughan), of OMI’s international hit, “Hula Hoop,” but that’s no reason to take a break. Instead Wolf has thrown himself into the creation of The Export, writing roughly 40 songs over the course of late 2015 and 2016 to draw from for the EP.

“I feel it’s important to show my cultural heritage in my music.”

The result is a record that, while focused on Wolf’s desire to express a positive worldview, also reveals much about him as an artist and individual. “I wanted a little bit of a journey, a story, for the EP, and really these six songs are an expression of my story,” Wolf says.

The songs that make up The Export Vol. 1 tread the line between emotional tracks that offer candid glimpses into Wolf’s life and history, and all-out party tracks; songs he collaborated on with his producer, Mastertrak, as well as others, including Brandon Unis, Kardinal Offishall and Jenson Vaughan.

The blend of tracks, Wolf says, is a testament to what he believes people need to hear; a mix of tunes intended to lift listeners’ spirits, while providing fans with insights into his own life.

Nowhere is that clearer than on the album’s title track, “The Export,” a tune Wolf says reflects his life’s journey from Lebanon, to Dubai, to Montreal and, ultimately, to Toronto. It underlines the fact that he feels he doesn’t necessarily belong in one place, but in many.

On The Export Vol. 1, Wolf blends Middle Eastern and Western musical influences in a way that’s calculated, but subtle. “That’s crucial for me,” he says. “I feel it’s important to show my cultural heritage in my music. It grounds me, but there’s definitely a balance; it’s really East meets West… It has its own sound.”

Beyond that, the recording displays Wolf’s desire to move forward, both professionally and personally. The first single, “Amateur at Love,” being a case in point, a tune he considers one of the most genuine he’s ever written, and in which he admits he may have a bit of an issue committing to one person.

He’s included two versions of the song on the record, both the original single and a re-mix featuring Kardinal Offishall. “The re-mix I did at the same time and I put both out there because my gut feeling was we need to have something a little lighter,” he says.  Both tracks speak to listeners, but in different ways, something Wolf values. He realizes that by altering a song, it can provide similar emotional weight while offering a different kind of vibe for listeners to identify with. As for the re-mix, Wolf says, “It’s catching fire in Canada and on Spotify… We’ve got over 11,000 plays a day.”

Again, it being summer and Wolf being on tour, he’s letting loose, having fun with friends, and so the greater questions seem less important, for the moment. “Now it’s time to just be happy and push some good vibes out there,” Wolf says.

But, that said, his personal experiences have always informed his songwriting. Given his early life was characterized by war and displacement, and the fact that with so much darkness in the world, people now seem to need a lift, he’s currently aiming at putting songs out that will make people happy, make them move and hopefully help them to forget their problems for a time. “I want to be one of those artists that spreads the light,” he says.

Carol Ryan, the 2016 winner of the Christopher J. Reed Award, presented by the PMPA (Professional Music Publishers’ Association), seems a little surprised by the news. “I operate in an environment that doesn’t quite resemble that of my colleagues,” she says apologetically. Yet Ryan, now in charge of managing Cirque du Soleil’s music rights, has a most impressive track record. She began her career at Polygram in the late ‘70s, and was introduced to the world of music publishing by working in the Membership Department of PROCAN, a pre-cursor organization of SOCAN. “That experience was decisive for me,” she says. “I learned a lot. That knowledge, all that theory, gave me the tools I needed to work at Cirque later on.”

Ryan arrived at Cirque du Soleil in the late ‘90s, and was met with several challenges, notably setting up Créations Méandres, a music rights management team and structure. This work, carried out in an atypical environment, highlights Carol Ryan’s singular career path. “Working with music rights within an organization is so different than what Québec’s independent publishers – who have chosen me for this award – do. It means even more to me because of that. We have very different realities. I don’t work with stars, and music is not one of Cirque’s core activities. We’re an important element of the organization, but we’re far from the centre of it all.”

“How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from?”

Ryan needs only show you the list of stakeholders she deals with on a daily basis to reveal the complexity of an organization like Cirque du Soleil, one as creative as it is sprawling. “I work with sponsors, media outlets, and bookers on projects that are presented on many continents,” she says. “So beyond maintaining a relationship with the composer of the show’s music, I must also serve the rest of the company, which is busy deploying additional content and promotional tools, whether it’s a “making-of,” a video of a show, an album or a DVD. It goes way beyond maintaining a relationship with an artist and getting acquainted with new repertoire.”

Ryan, who manages more than 2,000 active works, stresses how important it is to be in problem-solving mode, and having the capacity to adapt to change. This is especially true since several cultures are involved. Cirque du Soleil’s culture is deployed differently in Europe than it is in China, for example. And Ryan is in a constant dialogue with a corporate culture that puts creativity first.

Carol Ryan, David Murphy, Daniel Lafrance, Jehan V. Valiquet

Carol Ryan and previous winners of the Christopher-J.-Reed Award: David Murphy (left), Daniel Lafrance (to the right of Ryan) and Jehan V. Valiquet (right).

Throughout the last 20 years, she’s also had to adapt to the various shapes and sizes of the company. During Cirque du Soleil’s expansion years, Ryan handled rights licences for three simultaneous shows: Ô, La Numba and Dralion. These multi-territory projects created as much pressure as they did contentment. “At the end of the day, we’re really proud to have gone through all that,” she says. At that time, Créations Méandres doubled in size, going from three to six employees. But lately, new changes have rocked the company. In 2015, Cirque du Soleil was sold to American and Chinese interests, which cast a wave of uncertainty over the business. Ryan, however, confirmed that the heart of the company remained intact, and the show creation schedules are well under way. “The priority is always the shows, and that’s a good thing,” she says.

True to her disposition for forging ahead, Ryan sees the many challenges facing music publishing in a positive light. “The Cirque recently won a prize for a virtual reality experience,” she says. “We’re constantly becoming familiar with new realities, and the naysayers are long gone by now. I can’t wait to see how things will evolve for this generation that throws everything online for free. How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from? Publishers found a solution in music placement. But there are more solutions waiting to be found. I’m not worried. When that question is resolved, another one will show up. Movement is the very essence of life.”

It’s done! On June 15, 2016, Alexandre Désilets launched his fourth album during the FrancoFolies de Montréal at the Gesù. The ambitious orchestral project, Windigo, marks the end of a cycle for the singer-songwriter. The 12-track album includes two new songs and 10 re-visited ones. “When I listened to the original demos, I got the feeling that for some songs, I didn’t go to the end of that trip,” says Désilets. “I felt like they were unfinished. It’s not because you burned a song onto a CD that it’s finished. It’s just like a painter who, many years later, decided to add an element to one of his paintings.”

The result, recorded last March at Radio-Canada’s Studio 12 with 17 musicians, including Olivier Langevin, Robbie Kuster and François Richard (piano, organ, arrangements, co-producer), is simply magnificent. Much care was given to the treatment of his voice, which is never drowned out by the orchestra. “The modus operandi was that the voice and lyrics would take centre stage,” says Désilets. “I’d never given so much care to that aspect before; these recordings are, hands down, the best takes of my life. I trained, visited my vocal coach, and didn’t compromise. During the recording, I felt enveloped by the orchestra. At no point do the instruments take over the voice. We used my voice as an instrument, as a matter of fact, creating a wall of sound that makes it all the way to you.”

“Being too obvious with your lyrics when you do pop is like adding sugar to sugary cereals.”

“Tout est perdu,” the last song on Fancy Ghetto, his last album, is now the second one on the new album – and it sends shivers down the spine, truly a gem of a bittersweet song. The impressionist lyrics are a mirror of the narrator’s inner torment; there’s nothing frivolous about Alexandre Désilets.

“At first glance, one could think it’s a love song, but when you dig deeper, you find it’s something else,” he says. “Being too obvious with your lyrics when you do pop is like adding sugar to sugary cereals. When I write with Mathieu Leclerc, I’ve already been living with the music for a few months. We create a universe; the songs are like chapters in a story. Then, I find myself with themes that are in tune with the raw emotion emanating from the music. Writing, for me, is often somewhat of a shock.”

Alexandre Désilets So where does the title Windigo come from? “It’s an archetype that was able to tie together all those songs from different albums together,” says Désilets. “According to the Native legend, the Windigo is a hungry, slightly cannibalistic beast that haunts the forest and eats flesh. In this case, it’s like the forest has been removed but the beast remains. All my characters have one thing in common: they wander aimlessly in the city. They are hungry and thirsty for something, an insatiable desire. It’s a metaphor for our fast-paced, ever-unsatisfied society. It is never sated, and it doesn’t create its own love or its own warmth. It takes and takes and doesn’t really give anything back.”

On “On sème,” one of the two new songs on this album, Désilets deftly plays with the word’s phonetics. One hears “on s’aime” (we love each other), but it’s really “on sème” (we sow), meaning sowing hate. “We forge ahead with such lack of concern for what Mother Nature has offered us,” says Désilets. “We split the atom to go to war, with not a single thought about the consequences, as if we were the only ones on Earth. We sow hate, and hate is what we reap.”

On the day of our interview, he’s wearing a t-shirt with a starry night motif. Now 41, he’s about to become a father, and has just launched an album that brings beauty to our often ugly world. He sings:

Je crois en la beauté, mais elle n’est plus la même
Elle ne s’est pas montrée, et ça, depuis des années
Longtemps j’ai laissé tourner la vie
Comme un vieux disque
Mais j’ai faussé sur l’hymne à la joie

(Loosely translated:)
I believe in beauty, but it’s not what it used to be
No one has seen her for many, many years
For a long time I let my life go round
Like an old record
But I sang out of tune on the Hymn to Joy

Is the creator of “Hymne à la joie” pessimistic? “When I write, it’s the melancholy side of me that expresses itself,” he says, “but I do believe in our capacity to get ourselves out of our predicament. I’m into alternative forms of energy. Thanks to new means of communication, scientists can now instantly share key data. There are solar panels, water-powered engines… I have a lot of hope for the next generations.”