Mélissa Laveaux“To me, each new album is an opportunity to go through an identity crisis of sorts,” says Mélissa Laveaux from Paris, where she’s been living for about a decade. For this Ottawa-raised young woman, self-examination is the heart of creativity. “On my first album, I was discovering who I really am, I was still looking for my own voice. The second one was about a rupture, and the difficulty of communicating – most notably with my parents, with whom I lived through a bona fide rupture when I came out as a lesbian.”

Born in Montréal, to parents who’d fled the Duvalier regime, Laveaux was raised in the nation’s capital. She split her musical education between her father’s Haitian records and Top 40 radio (“I’d listen to Kacey Kasem religiously,” she says), before moving on to Joni Mitchell’s folk and Broken Social Scene’s indie rock.

Signed to the No Format label (responsible for records by Oumou Sangaré, Nicolas Repac and Gonzales, to name a few), she released her first album, Camphor and Copper, in 2008. After tinkering with a blues-tinged, folk-rock sound, developing a signature style, and offering surprising cover versions – of songs by Elliott Smith to Eartha Kitt to Weezer – Laveaux was compelled to re-discover her roots after a trip to her homeland in 2016.

She dreams of re-visiting the songs she discovered on the albums of Martha Jean-Claude, a Haitian artist whose activism forced her to flee to Cuba in 1952. “Obviously, I can’t recreate the sound of Martha Jean-Claude, who used to work with an Afro-Cuban orchestra,” says Laveaux. “But I can play guitar, and I know how to make pop music, so I used my strengths to create something new.”

The artist – who confesses to singing in Creole “with a thick accent” – studied a repertoire of folkloric and popular melodies from the era of the American occupation of Haiti, around the beginning of the 1900s. This meant exploring vaudou (a.k.a. voodoo, or vodun) culture, a space of freedom and an instrument of resistance, both to Yankee imperialism and the social determinism of her family. “Even though part of Haitian culture, that of my parents, is quite conservative, there is a lot of freedom within vaudou, and even queer characters have their place in it,” she says, while referencing the documentary Des Hommes et des Dieux by Anne Lescot and Laurence Magloire, which examined that subject.

The end result, her album Radyo Siwèl, presents a very personal vision of those songs, creating modern, guitar-based pop that’s respectful of tradition. “When I sing to an audience in the diaspora, whether it’s in London or Paris, people are very indulgent because they’re nostalgic,” she says. “The real test will be playing them in Port-au-Prince, this summer, for people who are likely going to be much more critical!”

That will be a first for Laveaux, who, in the wake of signing to Montréal’s Bonsound label, will also play Montréal, Toronto and New York, where she’s started creating a buzz. That’s thanks in part to the protest aspect of her art. “Let’s just say that the president is almost promoting my album by talking about ‘shithole countries,’” she says, laughing. Since her record came out, “I’ve been getting as many interview requests from political blogs than I have from music blogs!”

Does that mean Radyo Siwèl is a protest album? “It wasn’t meant that way initially, but the context has made it so,” says Laveaux. “I do feel a duty to remember, but I don’t want to become the flag-bearer of a cause. I’m not a historian or a politician, I’m a singer, and all I want is to place Haitian music on a podium.”

In the first year of an annual song induction partnership between the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) and the East Coast Music Awards (ECMAs), “Song for the Mira,” by Allister MacGillivray, will be inducted into the CSHF at the 2018 ECMAs. Heather Rankin will perform the song live, and MacGillivray will receive the honour, during the awards ceremonies on Sunday, May 6, 2018, in the Nova Scotia Ballroom of the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel.

MacGillivray’s peaceful Celtic ballad “Song For the Mira” has been recognized by Billboard magazine as a folk classic, and is a favourite song with roots musicians and choirs in Atlantic Canada, and far beyond – having been translated into Scots Gaelic, Italian, Japanese, and several other languages. It has made the secluded, picturesque Cape Breton community of Marion Bridge and its Mira River famous the world over.

“‘Song for the Mira’ is a beautiful composition that embodies our East Coast culture, and we’re very proud to be a part of its induction into the Hall of Fame,” says ECMA Executive Director Andy McLean. Says CSHF Executive Director Vanessa Thomas, “We’re thrilled to induct MacGillivray’s iconic song into the Hall of Fame, and to be there to celebrate with him, and our partners at the ECMAs, in the province that inspired him.”

MacGillivray is a Cape Breton Islander, songwriter, guitarist, folklorist, author, and record producer, and has served as music director for various Celtic television programs out of St. John’s and Halifax. As an accompanist, he’s toured internationally with traditional musicians such as Tommy Makem & Liam Clancy, John Allan Cameron, and Ryan’s Fancy, and also worked for a short time with Canadian songwriter Gene MacLellan.

Many artists set out to write original music, to create something that’s completely unlike anything they’ve ever heard. Putting their own songs up against classics can be an intimidating task, but for Michael Rault, early hits by The Beatles and The Kinks served more as a bar, or a standard, that he wanted to uphold.

When the Edmonton native began performing music fresh out of high school, he relied on “almost entirely old blues, country and R&B” renditions. “I enjoyed performing that material more than what I had written up to that point,” he remembers. “I only would add original material to my set if I actually believed it was holding its own alongside those other songs.”

Two albums later – with a third, It’s a New Day Tonight, coming out on May 18, 2018 – Rault is still using that method of songwriting to better his craft, in the hope that “maybe one day, I might actually get good!” Of course, he’s well on his way, with a successful string of records that have formed Rault’s guitar-driven glam/rock/pop, a sound that simultaneously recalls the iconic acts from which he draws inspiration, as well as contemporary acts like Ty Segall and King Tuff.

For his latest, Rault teamed up with producer Wayne Gordon of Daptone Records and Wick Records (Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, BadBadNotGood) – to the last of which Rault has signed. It’s a relationship that formed thanks to his tour-mate King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and has blossomed into a partnership of which Rault is very proud.

“Recording at Daptone was a cool experience,” he explains. “Every time we got back in the control room after laying something down, it already sounded right because of the way Wayne engineers, and gets sounds, right on the way to the tape. It’s cool to be able to watch the album take shape in front of your eyes in real time like that.”