Lu Kala knew she was going to be a singer. She never deviated from her dream. But not everyone had faith in Lu’s vision. “No one believed me when I said, ‘I’m a singer, this is what I’m going to do!’” Lu tells us. “I just remember being young, like, singing and annoying every single person near me,” she says with a laugh, “And just believing in this dream that was bigger than myself.”

It’s this persistent confidence in herself that led Lu to self-release her first single as a solo pop artist, the anthemic “DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out).” The track – apropos, as it traces the feelings of being overlooked – begins with a sparse rhythmic base before soaring into a catchy chorus. She wasn’t expecting much, other than the personal satisfaction that comes with creating music. But then the song popped the hell off.

So far, the track, released last year, has almost half a million streams on Spotify, with the French version at almost 40,000 streams. “I never expected it to go so far,” says Lu. “Not that I didn’t have any confidence in it – I believed in the song – but I didn’t know if people would actually listen to it.”

Lu has almost 40,000 followers on Instagram. She’s flown to L.A. and New York, writing with prominent producers and songwriters, hoping to shape her career the way she’d always envisioned it after this enormous propulsion. She also just released the video for “DCMO.” She’s continuing to build a steady following, again, off the strength of one song. A not unheard-of feat (hello, “Old Town Road”) but the high quality of a track – which is true of  “DCMO” – can propel an artist much further than its status as a trendy hit. “As much as I talked about ‘this is what I’m going to do’ and ‘this is what is going to happen,’ to see it happening in front of your eyes is something very different,” says Lu.

Before the release of “DCMO,” Lu had already garnered early praise for her performances. Reviewing her performance at the Manifesto Festival in Toronto, NOW Magazine wrote that Lu “stole the show with her powerhouse voice and stage presence that seems ready for international success.” The Congo-born Ajax resident has been chipping away at her goal of pop success for awhile now, despite the seeming curveball appearance of her immediate, single-song success. She’s been professionally working in the industry as a songwriter since 2013, working with the likes of DVSN, and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson on her JHUD album in 2014. She knows her way around crafting a pop song for others (lovingly calling herself Dr. Lu), helping to coax the most out of the performers with whom she’s writing. But writing for herself, promoting herself as this formidable artist, too, is a whole other task.

Lu Kala is a compelling artist, not simply because of her enormous skill as a singer, but because her dedication to honesty in her work complements her performance. As a singer, her vocals are interesting, both jagged and lofty. She’s so perfectly studied pop music that her delivery is just as impeccable as pop stars who’ve been at it for years. But her songwriting, the material she’s bringing us in these verses, is so authentically Lu, you pay closer attention to the message she’s delivering.

“I’m actually living my dream.”

“I remember when we were writing ‘DCMO,’ I [closed] my eyes, singing ‘I know I’m a big girl/ you are afraid to claim me,” and I remember opening my eyes feeling embarrassed a bit,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I said that in front of someone!’ But at the same time, there was this feeling of relief that felt good. It was almost me realizing that I felt that about those situations.” From that moment on, Lu says she made a promise to herself to put forth honest music; to have a body of work representative of her innermost thoughts and feelings.

We come back to the point of confidence. Lu’s belief in herself feels like a form of survival. Her belief, as with that of many others who don’t fit a specific mold in pop music (hello, Lizzo), is the singular truth that the only person you can trust is yourself. It begins and ends with Lu, first and foremost. “I’ve always had to be confident growing up and being this plus-size girl,” she says. “Automatically, I think that was something I needed to have when I was really young. I knew I had to believe in myself more than others would. [That] I’d have to turn down the naysayers.”

With this much impact on her one song so far, it’ll be thrilling to see where she’ll go when she releases her as titled first EP in 2020. (Same Para) “I’m actually living my dream and making money off of my dream,” she says, “And that’s really cool.”

Many artists deal with mental health issues in their daily lives. But not that many discuss their issues openly and directly in their work, which is one of the reasons why Rae Spoon’s latest album, Mental Health, is so powerful.

Mental Health is the Victoria-based, gender non-binary singer-songwriter’s 10th album, and it frankly discusses their struggles with the lingering effects of childhood trauma, the siren call of suicide, and the inability to sleep, or pay for crucial medications. And yet despite some heart-wrenching lyrics, Spoon’s sweet melodies and lilting voice counterbalance the darkness with poppy optimism.

Perhaps that’s because Spoon finds relief in creativity, and in social connection. “Living with complicated issues is a lifelong process, and surviving another day can be a big victory for people with mental illness and other challenges,” they explain. “There have been a lot of losses in my communities – folks who didn’t make it through. In the last few years it’s felt very close to me. But I like how if you tell a story, you hear a lot of stories back. And I’m hoping if I start a discussion about it, other people will also have discussions, ‘cause it’s really important.”

“For me, songs are a way to leave space for other people in the conversation.”

Spoon’s sound has shifted over the years, from folk-country to electronic pop. That’s partly reflective of where they’ve been living. “I grew up in Alberta, so country was all around, but I wasn’t into it,” they say. “But I moved to Vancouver and heard the Be Good Tanyas, and started to wonder what parts of my background I could explore and be part of as a trans gender person. And then I moved to Germany and Montréal, and I met people who played computers like instruments, which was new to me. I was excited about an environment where teenagers were more likely to learn to DJ and make electronic music than play electric guitar.

“But I’ve always liked a traditional song. I like using everything. I have folk elements, and I enjoy bringing them together with rock and electronics.”

On Mental Health, Spoon enlisted The Pack A.D.’s drummer Maya Miller and singer-guitarist Becky Black to pump up the rock. The collaboration came about after they played B.C.’s Artswells Festival with Carole Pope. “We learned three or four of each other’s songs and played together,” they say. “That was fun, and it informed my thinking about this record. It felt very creative to work with them. If I write a vocal riff and a singer changes it, or if a guitar player adds to something in the studio, that’s great for me.”

One song, “Blaring,” was written and sung with Northcote, a.k.a. Matthew Goud. “He sang at one of my shows and I really liked the vibe. The song just came out, long before I wrote the others,” says Spoon. “We used a line I’ve wanted to use for years: ‘I will love you until I don’t.’ It always came off as harsh, but adding ‘…or I still do’ changed that. We both worked on it, and I realized it fit the context of Mental Health.”

Spoon also writes books, and was the subject of a 2014 National Film Board documentary called My Prairie Home that discussed their painful past. But though their story is difficult to share, Spoon feels less exposed and vulnerable when there’s music involved.

“People are very hesitant to talk about themselves – we talk about issues in general,” Spoon says. “For me, songs are a way to leave space for other people in the conversation, so although I feel vulnerable, there’s something cool about having the music there. Writing personal stories in a book would be more difficult. One thing I like about songs is that you can get up and play them for anybody, and people have their own experience. You don’t need to be specific for listeners to connect with it.”

Tenille Townes was the big winner at the 2019 Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) in Calgary, where she took home four honours: Single, Video, Songwriter (all for “Somebody’s Daughter”), and Female Artist of the Year.

Veteran country singer-songwriter Charlie Major and publicist Anya Wilson were inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 7, at the CCMA Gala Dinner & Awards presented by SOCAN, at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary. The same night, Paul Brandt was honoured with the Slaight Music Humanitarian Award, Lindsay Ell took home the CCMA Award for Interactive Artist of the Year, while Donovan Woods and The Washboard Union tied for Roots Album of the Year (for Both Ways and What We’re Made Of, respectively). The Reklaws took home the award for Top Selling Canadian Single of the Year, “Long Live the Night,” while ole (Anthem Entertainment) was the Music Publishing Company of the Year. During the gala dinner, Emma-Lee and Andrew Hyatt sang a medley of songs co-written in early 2019 at the inaugural CCMA Song Camp, co-presented by SOCAN.

At the nationally televised CCMA Awards show, held the next night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and hosted by Billy Ray Cyrus and Dallas Smith, the latter earned awards for both Male Artist and Entertainer of the Year. Show-stopping performances by Old Dominion and Tim Hicks had fans on their feet, while never-before-seen collaborations from High Valley & Lindsay Ell, and country sweethearts Meghan Patrick & Mitchell Tenpenny, created some memorable moments. The Reklaws’ mashup performance of “Feels Like That” and “Country Roads” had fans excited, while Dallas Smith’s performance of his hit single “Drop” segued into a collaboration performance of “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus and Terri Clark, and then into Morgan Wallen’s debut performance of his chart-topping hit “Whiskey Glasses.”

Throughout Canadian Country Music Week (CCMW) conference and festival leading up to the awards shows, SOCAN presented No. 1 Song Awards to Townes, Tim Hicks, and James Barker.

SOCAN CEO Eric Baptiste, Director, A&R Rodney Murphy, and A&R Representatives Melissa Cameron-Passley and Racquel Villagante presented a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award to Tenille Townes for the unstoppable “Somebody’s Daughter,” which reached No. 1 on the Nielsen BDS Country Chart on Jan. 28, 2019. The song was written by Tenille Townes, Luke  Laird, and Barry Dean, and published by Red Brick Songs.

Tim Hicks, SOCAN, No. 1 Song Awards, CCMAs, 2019

Left to right: SOCAN’s Eric Baptiste and Melissa Cameron-Passley; Tim Hicks; and SOCAN’s Marc Ouellette, Racquel Vilalgante, and Rodney Murphy. Photo: @coreykellyimages

All of the SOCAN representatives listed above, as well as our Board of Directors President and Chairman Marc Ouellette, presented a No. 1 Song Award to Tim Hicks, for “What a Song Should Do,” which topped the Nielsen BDS Country Chart on June 10, 2019. The song was co-written by Emma-Lee and Karen Koswoski.

James Barker, SOCAN, No 1 Song Award, CCMAs, 2019

Left to right: SOCAN’s Racquel Villagante, Anthem Entertainment’s Tim Wipperman, James Barker, Anthem’s Tim Hunze, SOCAN’s Melissa Cameron-Passley. Photo courtesy CCMAs.

Cameron-Passley and Villagante also presented a No. 1 Award to James Barker, of the James Barker Band, for “Keep It Simple,” which scaled the peak of the Nielsen BDS Country Chart on May 27, 2019. “Keep It Simple” was co-written by Barker, Gavin Slate, Travis Wood and Todd Clark and co-published by Anthem Entertainment and Downtown Music Publishing. The three co-writers were unable to attend, but will be honoured later this month.

SOCAN congratulates all of its members who won Canadian Country Music Awards and SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards this year!