Most people are said to be either right-brained or left-brained, but 21-year-old Moroccan-born Canadian Faouzia is both: artistic and academic.

The exceptional singer, who just released the eight-song Citizens, her second collection of Middle Eastern-imbued dance-pop and ballads, is also a songwriter, producer, guitarist, pianist, violinist; fluent in three languages – English, French, and Arabic; and apparently pens short stories, creates her own movies, and sketches fashion designs. She’s also majoring in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba.

“Yeah,” she laughs. “I’ve always loved both worlds. I’m making it harder on myself, for sure. But I’ve always loved being a bookworm and learning, and then, obviously, being creative is really big to me, too. I’m trying to do both and, hopefully, I can get there.”

She does plan on finishing her degree, but “trying” to do music is already long out of her hands. She’s tried and succeeded, releasing her first song, “Knock On My Door,” in 2015 at the age of 15, which racked up over a million streams on Spotify. In 2017, when she was 16, Faouzia and Matt Epp became the first Canadians to win the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition (ISC), the world’s largest contest for songwriting. The winning song, “The Sound,” by Matt Epp featuring Faouzia, scaled the peak of the then CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart, earning them a SOCAN No.1 Song Award. In 2018, she was featured on “Battle,” a cut on David Guetta’s album 7; in 2019, on Ninho’s single “Money”; and in 2020, on Kelly Clarkson’s Moroccan Arabic version of “I Dare You” (which she translated from English) and on Galantis’ “I Fly.”

And then there’s her own material. The mononymous Faouzia — her last name is Ouihya — has more than two million subscribers on YouTube, and numbers on some of her music videos are in the tens of millions: 2019’s anthemic “Tears of Gold” is at 30 million; 2020’s “Minefields,” with John Legend, at 81 million; “You Don’t Even Know Me,” at 22 million; and the lyric video for “RIP, Love,” at 21 million. That’s just for YouTube alone; Faouzia enjoys a grand total of more than 570 million total cumulative streams on YT, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, TikTok, and other streaming services. She released an “extended EP” in August of 2020, Stripped.

Faouzia, who comes across as confident, friendly, and humble, writes on her own — the big, uber-dramatic ballad “I Know” and unique lyric “Don’t Tell Me I’m Pretty” are solo credits on Citizens, the latter a song she produced — but she also co-writes. Johnny Goldstein, and brothers Andre and Sean Davidson, all appear multiple times in the songwriting credits. Faouzia says her ideas are never dismissed because of her age, or because she’s a young woman, and calls the experience of writing this latest batch of songs “lovely.”

“That’s another thing my team is really amazing at, putting me in sessions with people that they know are very respectful,” she says. “I would say that they even go above and beyond. They look forward to hearing my ideas and my input, and they really show that they care, and that they understand where I’m coming from, and what my vision is.

“I think that those are the people that songwriters should work with, especially if you’re an artist and a songwriter, because it’s your world.  I don’t feel like my age has ever been something that has been in the way, or might make people underestimate me. It’s actually quite the opposite. I feel like people normally forget my age until it’s brought up, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re born in 2000. I totally forgot,’” she laughs.

Faouzia’s family moved to Canada from Morocco when she was just one year old, settling in Notre-Dame-de-Loures, Manitoba, a rural town near Carman. She hasn’t been back to Morocco, where she still has relatives, since she was 13, but says her parents made sure she and her two sisters were exposed to their culture.

“As soon as I entered my home, it was like I was back in Morocco,” she says. “We even had a Moroccan living room, and we’d listen to Moroccan music and Arabic music, actually a bunch of different music from different countries. I spoke Arabic at home too.” Not surprisingly, Middle Eastern melodies are part of many of Faouzia’s pop songs, not just musically, like in “RIP, Love,” but in the way she sings – sometimes trilling and stretching a word like “thin,” for example,  on the ballad “Thick & Thin.”

When she first meets with a songwriting collaborator, she uses descriptions, such as “touch of, like, Middle Eastern melodies or production,” “very dramatic and powerful,” and “very emotional” to help provide some direction for the sound. “What I normally do is I play songs that I really love that are in my catalog, or songs that haven’t come out yet that I really love, that are very fitting to the theme of the project, and I try to set the tone that way,” she says. “I use a lot of descriptive words on what my sound is.

“After that, I proceed to tell them what I’m feeling for the day, whether I want to do something up-tempo or more slow, or I’ll give them concept ideas, like words or feelings. And then, that’s how we work around it. So it’s very much working around an idea in my head.”

Unlike the six-song Stripped, it’s also important to Faouzia that Citizens is not referred to as an EP, rather a “project” or “body of work.” “Citizens is much more than an EP to me, especially at this stage of my career,” Faouzia explains. “I feel like it’s bigger than an EP, in the sense that it includes songs like ‘Minefields’ and ‘Puppet,’ and so many things that I’ve been working on for so long. It really is a taste of what my next project is, but at the same time, I feel like it can hold its own ground as a body of work. That’s why it’s a lot more significant to me than an EP would be.

“I think ‘RIP, Love’ and ‘Anybody Else’ are the songs off this project that showcase the most where I’m taking my music.”

Songwriter, re-mixer, and DJ Geneviève Ryan-Martel readily admits she got caught up in her own game. Initially revealed by the atmospheric electronic pop of her RYAN Playground project, she felt like “exploring a different kind of music, right up to the edge of irony,” and the result was a disorienting EP of trance and Euro-dance compositions in the Fall of 2020, re;eased under the pseudonym TDJ. “Except as the idea progressed, there was less and less irony in the music. It became very real and concrete for me,” says Ryan-Martel, as her first full-length album under this new moniker, TDJ123, demonstrates.

“Ironically, I’m talking about the sound of these songs,” she explains. “I wanted to take on [club music] references from the late ’90s and early 2000s, a blessed time for fans of trance and progressive house, ‘euphoric music.’ I felt like I was being borderline ironic by doing this, in the sense that you could clearly hear these musical references without me taking them very seriously. But I should have known better… I have way too much integrity to simply make jokes about the music I create.”

When she first started out in music six years ago, RYAN Playground dabbed in experimental hip-hop, where she built the nest which her delicate voice would occupy. We were all a little stunned when she released her first EP under the TDJ moniker (which stands for “Terrain de jeu,” French for “playground”) two years ago. She followed it up with two more, as well as an album, TDJ BBY, in December 2021 – a hallucinogenic collection or popular Euro-dance/trance covers, and others songs, like Cindy Lauper’s “I Drove All N8” and Britney Spears’ “Hit Me BBY.” Now it’s TDJ123, where each song is her own.

These sparkling, colourful, ecstatic trance/prog songs offer a portrait of Ryan-Martel and her newfound freedom, prompted by “a will to start all over again” without definitively turning her back to the musical identity of RYAN Playground. “It’s a lot like TDJ emerged just as I was going through a period of changes,” she says. The young, shy musician has gained a lot of self-assurance.

“It’s probably because I’m growing into adulthood, or that I know what I want a lot more, now, which allows me to project myself towards something very specific,” says Ryan-Martel. “[The TDJ sound] is indeed very hedonistic, but I think even RYAN Playground was positive, even though my discomfort was way too apparent. I didn’t assume, back then, now I’m 100% solid in my desire to make happy music.” Her emancipated sounds come right after two years of pandemic, which, as she confirms, is not entirely a coincidence.

A composer, producer, performer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist, Ryan-Martel says she immersed herself in the excitement she felt when she first heard, at a very young age, this popular electronic music that has given a breath of fresh air and colour to TDJ. She cites the influence of “the old Tiësto,” the world-famous Dutch producer and DJ – after whom she’s named her dog – as well as trance heroes of lore, Push and ATB.

For her, music and beats come first, lyrics follow suit. “The lyrics are often quite minimalistic – there aren’t that many words in my songs and they come to me quickly,” says Ryan-Martel. “I don’t sit for hours on end to come up with lyrics. Ideas come to me naturally, and I’m generally inspired by very personal stuff related to what I’m going through; it’s hard to explain… It’s funny, but when I listened to the album again after it was finished, I could recognize the thread of what I’ve been going through these last years, these last months, almost chronologically. Except I didn’t do it on purpose!”

The artist we can catch at Île Soniq and MEG Montréal, before she heads to Europe and the U.S., is part of a new generation of young composers – including Montréal’s Maara – who are bringing back the spirit of the ’90s raves to the dancefloor. “I think we’re witnessing the birth of a new scene that’s specific to our time, without denying its roots,” says Ryan-Martel. “The important thing is to make space for the present in this music from the past. I think the music that Maara and I are making provides the soundtrack to the lives of people who want to trip out and have fun.”

Pierre KwendersPierre Kwenders couldn’t be any prouder when we reached him on the phone. “I was really anxious for this album to finally come out,” he says, almost relieved, as he discusses Jose Louis and the Paradox of Love.

Released in April 2022, Kwenders’ third solo album (sung in Lingala, French, English, Tshiluba, and Kikongo) arrives five years after his Félix-winning and Polaris short-listed predecessor, MAKANDA at The End of Space, the Beginning of Time. “I started working on the third one immediately after the second,” he says. “My goal, initially, was to release something in 2020, but we all know what happened… It gave me a lot of time, and I’m very grateful that I had that time. It allowed me to fine-tune my work, to re-write some of the lyrics, and to end up with something near-perfect.”

This time also allowed the Québécois artist to bring together an impressive lineup of collaborators from around the world, including Parisian producer, DJ, and singer Sônge, French-Senegalese artist anaiis, Chilean producers Esqo and Carlomarco, as well as Portuguese DJ and producer João Branko Barbosa, of Buraka som Sistema fame. Through it all, Kwenders acts as a conductor.

“I’m comfortable in that role. My main goal is to give my collaborators space to express themselves, even though they’re in Pierre Kwenders’ realm,” he explains. “We artists generally have big egos. I even have a song titled “Ego” [a 2020 duet with Clément Bazin]. But it’s important to set that aside to give way to a healthy collaboration.”

The song “L.E.S.” (which stands for “Liberté, Égalité, Sagacité”) is a perfect example of this “healthy collaboration” philosophy. Zimbabwean-American producer Tendai Baba Maraire – ex-member of the experimental rap duo Shabaaz Palaces, and Kwenders’s loyal collaborator – initiated the composition, before re-working it with producer and DJ King Britt at his home in Philadelphia.

“It was going well, but I still had no words, something was missing,” says the Montréal-based Kwenders. “And at some point in 2019, I was in New Orleans, and Tendai was there, too. I called Win Butler and Régine Chassagne [the two members of Arcade Fire who live there], and we just started jamming. The energy was unbelievable. I grabbed a mic and we started recording. My voice as you hear it on that track is the actual recording from that jam session. I kept it as is. The problem was that the song was now 35 minutes long!” he laughs. “I came back to it with a clear head, and we boiled it down to a nine-minute version.”

As the album’s opener, the song sends a clear message: “It says, ‘I’m inviting you, welcome to my idyll.’ It’s a journey, a call that begins with the sound of percussion and guitars that build gradually,” says Kwenders. “The energy level slow grows and grows.” Step by step, we enter the realm of this sonically rich and diversified album, which goes through ambient and dance-ier phases, peppered with electro, pop, R&B, Congolese rhumba, and coupé-décalé, Côte d’Ivoire genre that’s conquering the world, thanks to its percussion, African music samples, and penetrating bass.

Jose Louis and the Paradox of Love bears the traces of Kwenders’ travels over the past four years, notably in Santiago, Lisbon, Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia – all of them cities where the album was recorded. “Travelling opens your mind,” says the man who’s travelled the world with his Moonshine events, an evening of music that’s become emblematic of Montréal’s nightlife. “That’s how you come in contact with other cultures, and see how other people live. Each time I leave to go somewhere, I want to discover new artists.”

It would be a misnomer to say Kwenders’ third album is a collaboration album, if only because, in the words of its creator, it’s his “most personal to date.

“These last few years, I was involved in romantic relationships that made me think a lot. Thinking about myself, my sexuality. I felt like recounting my experiences, the man I’ve become,” he confides. “I limited my self-expression for a long time. I’ve learned to be a better version of me while I was working on this album.”

“Your Dream,” a duet with Québécois singer-songwriter Ngabo, is an affirmation of Kwenders as an artist. The song is especially dedicated to his mother, whose voice – on a grainy voicemail recording – can be heard at the beginning and end of the song.

“That song is a love letter,” says Kwenders. “It’s my way of thanking my mom, despite her doubts about my intentions when I quit accounting to dive into music. I came up with this song to reassure her, to tell her that deep down, it’s thanks to the education she gave me that I’m the artist I am today. Our parents have wonderful dreams for us, but sometimes we have different dreams, and we shouldn’t stop ourselves from living them. We must embrace them and live them fully.”