La Bronze is far from a newcomer on the Montreal music scene. She released a self-produced EP in 2012. “I kept things simple, to me, that EP was like a business card,” she says. As for her first, eponymous, full-length album, it came out in September 2014 and it definitely didn’t remain below the radar.

Born in Montreal of Moroccan parents, La Bronze, a.k.a. Nadia Essadiqi, was raised in the Aylmer area of the Outaouais region before returning home. A die-hard music lover, her musical taste is as eclectic as can be, ranging from Lhasa to James Blake to The Black Keys. Her outside-the-box pop songs incorporate many influences and genres, with strong lyrics veering on slam poetry at times, some rock energy and splashes of electro. The artist also mentions “some trip-hop somewhere in the mix, too.”

“Bronze is all at once soft and rough, dirty and clean. I like its inherent poetry.”

The fusion of genres culminates on the track “Explose-moi” [“Explode Me”], a song which sees La Bronze give everything she has and rip her own heart out of her ribcage to give it the the one she loves, still beating in her hands: 

J’aurais voulu être celle que tu veux toujours pour dessert / I wanted to be the one you always want for dessert
J’aurais voulu être celle qui te manque même quand je suis là / I wanted to be the one you miss even when I’m next to you
J’aurais voulu être celle que ta mère préfère / I wanted to be the one your mom prefers

Her delivery is still animated by a youthful ferocity, and it’s obvious even on record that she has a magnetic stage persona, where she plays drums standing up, accompanied by a guitarist and keyboard player. The opportunities to see her live last fall were scarce, thanks to the buzz she started generating (over 28,000 downloads of her track “La jeunesse feline” on iTunes!), but such occasions will be more plentiful during the winter and spring of 2015.

“Yes, I can confirm that. I just changed bookers,” she says. “I feel very confident with my current team. I don’t have any expectations, I don’t know exactly how things are supposed to happen, at what speed and in what order. I’m grateful for what is happening to me and I’m ready for whatever’s next,” says the artist, who got a chance to perform in front of industry movers and shakers last June in Los Angeles. La Bronze presented her live act during three SOCAN-sponsored showcases, one of which was on the stage of the mythical Sunset Marquis Hotel. “It was an awesome experience, my music was very well received, and the fact I sing in French wasn’t a problem and, as a matter of fact, it was even a plus… People there found it exotic!”

La Bronze might have been absent from concert venues last fall, but Essadiqi was still busy as she starred in Le cœur animal, a stage play she wrote and starred in at Théâtre La Chapelle in late October. The play bears the same themes as her songs do: devouring passion, burning desire, sexual or otherwise, thequest for freedom… She says, “I did write the songs and the play at the same time!” It’s through acting that the 28-year-old came to a career as a professional artist. These days, one can catch her in several popular Québec TV series such as 30 vies and Toute la vérité, as well as in movies such as Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, where she played “a small role as a bitchy secretary, one of the few funny moments in the movie.

“But through it all, I was always drawn to music.  I started making music when I came back to live in Montréal, where I started in street percussion bands; I can do music through rhythm. One thing led to another, and playing percussion instruments made me want to write songs and sing them.” Essadiqi is a very instinctive person, and whether it’s music or theatre, she’s mainly self-taught, but does attend the occasional private class and professional development workshop.

“Bronze is an alloy made of copper and tin, known for its electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion,” she says. “It’s used to make weapons, medals, and jewelry, notably. I love what the name evokes: metal, vibrant colours, contrasts. Bronze is all at once soft and rough, dirty and clean. I like the sonority of it, its inherent poetry.”

Bear her name (and face) in mind. The Bronze Age has just begun.

Turning the Page
In this era where so many performers – from your run of the mill pop sensation to the most left-field songwriter – are “discovered” through talent contests, La Bronze thought she too would give that a go… No luck, though: For three years in a row I tried getting in Les Francouvertes, but I was never chosen. At some point, I just decided I’d go about it some other way, via a different route. I was a bit disappointed, but in the end I just let go and I turned the page.”

Journey from Kiran Ahluwalia’s debut album Kashish-Attraction through to her latest Sanata: Stillness, and you’ll trace the unique evolution of an award-winning singer-composer who has entranced listeners around the world by crossing musical borders with fearless grace and sure-footed artistry.

Ahluwalia calls Sanata “a fruition of musical ideas I’ve been building up.” Those ideas are rooted in the Indian and Pakistani forms she’s been involved with her whole life – most notably the ancient, love-and-pain, rhyming-couplets-and-refrain form of the ghazal. The songs also reflect a more personal integration of the Saharan desert blues sounds that emerged on her fourth CD Wanderlust (2007). “I fell head-over-heels for this sound,” she recalls. “This electric-guitar-heavy, mellow-yet-groovy African blues resonated with me, and I started exploring it intensely.”  Her fifth album, the JUNO Award-winning Aam Zameem: Common Ground (2011), saw her collaborate with two Saharan Tuareg bands, and the adventure continues.

“I never dreamed I could be a musician full-time.”

“With Sanata: Stillness, I’m creating this hybrid without Tuareg musicians, approaching it from an Indian music standpoint, but contained within my band,” she says. Digging into that canon of Saharan blues and Indian music, Ahluwalia latches onto rhythm before the melody and words progress too far, taking her ideas to acclaimed guitarist-arranger Rez Abbasi for a creative back-and-forth before bringing tabla, keyboards, and jazz elements into the mix.

Sanata: Stillness sees Ahluwalia’s lyric-writing come to the fore. “On my first three CDs, I found exceptional ghazal poets in Toronto, people who were born in Pakistan and whom I would not have met had I not moved here, so I was lucky to have such a treasure chest of lyrics,” she explains. But as her sonic palette has expanded over her most recent three albums, Ahluwalia found herself crafting lyrics more often. “I started writing lyrics to fit the melodies I was creating because there was a need,” she explains.

For Ahluwalia, music has been a serious pursuit since early childhood. Her study of music began in India and continued in Toronto, where she moved with her family at age nine. After graduating university and a brief work stint, she studied music full-time in India for a year.

“Then the bug bit me,” laughs Ahluwalia, now based in New York. For a decade she moved between India, where she would spend several months of intense study, and Canada, where she’d work to save up for her next trip. All the while, she was performing and building her repertoire. “I never dreamed I could be a musician full-time,” she explains. “I wanted to live in Canada, and thought I could never make a living singing in another language.”

Ahluwalia may translate the Urdu lyrics of her songs for the liner notes, but her music conveys meaning with an eloquence that transcends language and goes straight to the heart.

Turning the Page
Commissions from other artists – specifically dancer Jahanara Ahklaq and violinist Parmela Attariwala –marked a crucial turning point for Ahluwalia. “It got me going,” she says. “I was being pushed to do something for myself, but I found it difficult, partly because my training in Indian classical music had been about improv. Then along came these people who had certain criteria, and deadlines, and more faith in me than I had in myself at that time. After that, I loved composing.”

He’s played in acts that have opened for the likes of Robert Plant and Willie Nelson and played with artists like Feist, Kathleen Edwards and Jason Collett.

You’d expect that at some point, Afie Jurvainen, popularly known as Bahamas, would be done with being 20 feet from the spotlight, and show us there’s more to him than singing backup, or supporting someone else’s sound with his tasty, precise guitar playing.

“I was writing songs long before it was my profession, and I’m sure I’ll keep writing them afterwards, too.”

A few years back, Bahamas made a conscious decision to focus on his own music, and so the title of his third album, Bahamas Is Afie, can be seen as a declaration. In fact, he calls the album “a fully realized version of me.” Bahamas says he was referring to the fact that he played a lot of the instruments on the album.

“Not all, but enough so that the album has a unique tone to it,” he explains. “It’s a dangerous way to record, bordering on narcissism and the stroking of one’s ego. I’m not sure I’ll do that again anytime soon, but it sure was fun to try.”

Bahamas says that while making the record, he “started playing this game, like, ‘What would ‘80s Van Morrison do if he were producing this?’ or ‘What about John Williams?’” He was just trying to find ways of pushing himself past the initial song ideas.

“Often you end up realizing your instincts were in the right place and you go back to the first idea anyway,” Bahamas says. “But you get a chance to try out a lot of different musical directions, and I enjoy that process. I’m not really crazy about mixing, in fact I don’t really even like to be there. So the recording process is where I’ll try out most of my ideas.”

The fun and games manifested themselves in a headphone album full of gorgeous instrumentation, different flavours and Bahamas’ breezy voice. Considering how many songs deal with affairs of the heart, we asked the critically-acclaimed songwriter what the key is to penning songs about relationships without resorting to clichés?

“People have been trying to write and re-write love songs for so long now, so obviously it’s a deep well for many writers, and I suppose the only way I can create something legitimate and unique is to make it about my experience, my perspective,” he replies. “Even though it’s ‘my’ song, I do hope there’s a way for listeners to hear themselves in it.”

So, how is Bahamas adapting to being in the spotlight?

“It’s not like I’ve ever had any hit songs or big-time videos,” he says, “so my day-to-day experience is more or less the same as it was 12 years ago. I was writing songs long before it was my profession, and I’m sure I’ll keep writing them afterwards, too.”

Downtown Songs DLJ
Discography: Pink Strat (2009), Barchords (2012), Bahamas is Afie (2014)
Member since 2002

Turning the Page
“In high school, I met Carlin Nicholson and Mike O’Brien. They were a year ahead of me and I really looked up to them, musically speaking. We started playing together and making recordings, and a whole world of music opened up to me. Original music! Writing songs! I was very inspired by those guys, and 15 years later I still am. They’re busy with Zeus and I’m doing something, but we’re still tight, still writing, still playing. They changed my life when I was 16, and I’m forever grateful.”