Nothing on Québec’s music scene sounds like Higher, Malika Tirolien’s sophomore album. Alongside renowned NYC composer Michael League (of Grammy-winning jazz-fusion band Snarky Puppy), the singer-songwriter lays the foundations of her “high soul,” an airy mix of soul, jazz, R&B, and hip-hop.

Malika Tyrolien “If by ‘clash’ you mean ‘a fresh sound that we rarely hear here,’ then you’re absolutely right. It’s exactly what we were aiming for,” says Tirolien when we point out the unique character of her project. “With ‘high soul,’ we wanted to create an original and unique sound that was ours.”

Despite its lack of roots in Québecois musical culture, this hybrid genre has deeply American sources, as evidenced by its similarity to the work of Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Erykah Badu, and other artists who cross Black music with more ambient and psychedelic overtones.

In the studio, “high soul” is crafted with a great deal of precision. “We placed the microphones and instruments in a specific way,” says Tirolien, also a member of the band Bokanté, as is League, her New York accomplice. “Michael decided to use only three mics to record the drums, which yields a more ‘oval’ and enveloping sound. We also recorded everything at a frequency of 432 Hz, which gives a more natural sound than the 440 Hz typical of pop music. That frequency is supposed to bring us into a state of relaxation, and connection with nature. It’s quite an esoteric belief – you either believe in it or you don’t – but to me, it fit with the album concept.”

The second part of a four-elements-themed quartet of releases, Higher represents the air. Hence its ambient and spiritual themes, flowing logically from the more down-to-earth, rooted concept of Sur la voie ensoleillée, her first album.

This time around, the Guadeloupe-born singer-songwriter invites us on “a psychedelic trip from anger to forgiveness.” The first three songs are a clear warning that this will be an intensely emotional trip. “It’s a suite in three movements,” she says. “First, on ‘No Mercy, you have anger, fire, and the urge for revenge. It’s important to go through those feelings if you wish to let go of them, instead of repressing them. Then, once you’ve dealt with all that, you can think about changing. That’s ‘Change Your Life. Finally, on ‘Better,’ you’re in the realm of my life’s mantra: mindful thinking. I consciously choose my thoughts so that they remain positive. The idea is not to be toxically positive, but to remain in control of our thoughts when things aren’t going so well.”

And although Higher is an “aerial” album, Tirolien still tackles very real, earth-bound topics. “Prière” re-visits a poem written by her grandfather, Guy Tirolien, challenging head-on the the falsified (and very white) history that’s been perpetuated for centuries in America. “It’s one of the direst consequences of colonization,” she says. “It should be a matter of fact for Black people to learn and know where we’re from. We must be proud of our history,” says the adoptive Montréaler.

Elsewhere, on “Sisters,” she advocates for greater solidarity between women. “Women have competed against each other for a very long time,” says Tirolien. “Reading anthropological writings that dealt with the subject, I understood that it dated back to the time when we had to try to please men, and compete to be protected by the strongest man. It’s in our cultural DNA, but we don’t need it anymore! I’m happy to see that, lately, there’s slightly more unity among women, especially thanks to the mobilization behind the #metoo movement. It’s important to stick together, ’cause we still have a lot of challenges to face.”

Malika TyrolienThe creation of the 11 songs on Higher required a full three years. In their New York studio, Tirolien and League fine-tuned and arranged their musical direction for two of those three years. It was a long-haul endeavour that allowed the artist to learn a lot about herself. “I tend to be a perfectionist and to focus too much on the result rather than the process,” says Tirolien. “I sometimes have a hard time enjoying the present. Thankfully, Michael is there to pull me in the opposite direction.”

Nearly a decade after meeting in a Montréal venue, where she was opening for his band Snarky Puppy, Tirolien says she’s especially happy to have found in Michael League a musician who complements her so well and makes her evolve so much.

Last year, a Grammy nomination for Bokanté (for Best World Album) reminded Tirolien of the importance of going international rather, than limiting themselves to the Québec market. “A lot of change has to happen in Québec for R&B/soul music to be truly accepted,” she says. “Just trying to find a label for myself here showed me how much work remains to be done. I was told, word for word, that my music would never work,” she laments, noting that there’s still no Québec musical gala that rewards her musical genre. “So, while we wait for things to change, I still want to produce myself. I have no choice but to aim higher.”

 

 



When Charmaine first started writing songs as a teenager, her goal was to use her natural talents to help her family get out of a rough patch. At the time, her dad had lost his job and the family was living in a motel. She signed up to perform at a talent show at Lee’s Palace in Toronto, where an A&R rep from Warner Music Canada was going to be present.

“I was underage, so my mom had to come with me, and I had to wait outside the venue until it was my turn,” says Charmaine. “Then I went inside, performed, and everything’s been kind of magic since.”

Born in Zimbabwe, Charmaine immigrated to North America as child, living in Chicago, Stevensville (Michigan), and Nashville, before eventually landing in Toronto. Although the city’s diverse population introduced Charmaine to new global sounds, it was the raw and energetic down-South rap music she grew up listening to in Nashville that had the biggest influence on her music. Her latest single “WOO!” is a feminist anthem filled with swagger and a relentless beat.

“We wanted a turn-up vibe, a song that women could listen to when they’re out with their friends, having a blast,” says Charmaine. “It’s about being really content with the woman that you are, and not allowing anyone who is not of value to penetrate your vibe.” Later this year, Charmaine will release her debut EP with Warner Music Canada.

More than just a lyrical theme, female empowerment drives her mission as an artist. “I feel like a lot of local female artists don’t get the recognition they deserve,” she says. “There’s a good amount of us who are super-talented and making amazing music, but it’s like we always have to compete against the men, and we get lost in the shadows. I’m just trying to bring light towards the female rap scene in the city, to show we can do it, too.”



Who would have guessed? It was a bold move. In the wake of the #MeToo movement that led to the hasty departure of record company Dare to Care/Grosse Boîte’s founder, one of the artists on its roster decided to buy the business. That’s unprecedented. Such a move has never been seen among Québec independent music labels.

Taking advantage of the professional lull caused by the pandemic, Cœur de pirate, a.k.a. Béatrice Martin, decided to dive in head-first. Is she a businesswoman? She’s been a businesswoman since the very beginning of her career in 2008: “All artists are freelancers and entrepreneurs,” she explains to Words & Music. “Now I’m on the other side of things, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. I’m really happy.”

Bravo MusiqueRe-christened Bravo Musique, the label owns the catalogues of (among others), Émile Bilodeau, Maude Audet, Jean Leloup, part of Fred Fortin’s, Chocolat, Jimmy Hunt, Gab Bouchard, Jérôme 50, Malajube, and… Cœur de pirate. A transaction worth its weight in gold.

Béatrice Martin has surrounded herself with new associates, but the Dare to Care personnel already in place aren’t going to change anytime soon. “It’s still a company that’s been around for 20 years,” says Martin. “For sure, some of the people who were at Dare to Care are no longer with us [General Manager Laurie Boisvert has just left], but they were extremely loyal and showed me a lot of empathy when I needed it. I kept what’s good and moved on towards a mindset that’s closer to my own.”

In any case, that loyalty and empathy are among the cornerstones of its corporate culture. Obviously, a clear code of conduct regarding the behaviour of its employees is in place. The cause seemed to have been heard after the departure of Les soeurs Boulay. “Some of my values are different from what Dare to Care used to be,” says Martin.

Hence another challenge that was missing from Martin’s universe: Artistic Director. “I won’t be there every day, but I intend to go to the office as often as possible,” she says. “I’ll finally learn how to create a proper Google doc! I do intend to closely monitor the Artistic Director, and supervise the planning, and I have a super-fun team that’s there to support me. I provide my feedback for all the aspects of the business!”

Singer and dancer Naomi is the first new artist to sign with Bravo Musique. “We’ll keep paying homage to the artists who are already part of the company’s DNA,” Martin confirms. “And to look after their interests. I’m confident that we’ll discover artists who will take us into this new decade.” In other words, Bravo Musique intends to carry on recruiting Québec’s best Francophone talent.

“2020 was horrible for artists in development; we have to find solutions now”

Although it’s not teeming with new finds, Bravo Musique, the flagship, has changed flags. To start with, Bravo is more festive. And the offices will move to 513 Saint-Joseph, in Montréal, says Martin. One thing is certain, the revenue linked to the different playlists and streaming will also be at the heart of the company’s priorities. “We’re facing some unexpected and challenging things right now, it’s forcing us to re-think certain structures; I find it more exciting to find solutions,” she says.

Coeur de Pirate

Photo: Caraz

But don’t you go believing Cœur de pirate is putting her own career on hold. “I’m still very active as a musician: I don’t have a choice,” says Martin. The year 2021 already sees her playing several dates in the U.S. this spring and in Europe in October… “It’s not about conquering new markets as much as it is returning to cities who are anxious to have you back!” she says. “Just to give you an idea, I played in Mexico City and the crowd knew every single lyric of my songs. Obviously, as an artist, you want to live moments like that over and over again.”

Her fifth album, En cas de tempête ce jardin sera fermé (2018), marked a clear musical evolution for the singer-songwriter and pianist. Her international stage experience and understanding of these markets reflect positively on her knowledge of the music industry. There’s no doubt that Bravo Musique will benefit from all that.

“I’m anxious to see when we can start doing live again, especially for the musicians,” says Martin. “2020 was horrible for artists in development. We have to find solutions now, and I’m actively involved in that process.”

It’s clear that Cœur de pirate is closely monitoring her investment. We should never lose sight of one thing: she intends to take care of Bravo Musique’s roster on a human level, too… and that’s excellent news.