It only took three EPs in less than a year for Josie Boivin, who goes by the name MUNYA, to establish herself outside the country. But this isn’t her first rodeo; music has been part of her for so long that her main issue with it is the overabundance of possibilities. What do you do, when you know how to do everything?

While in a high-school integrated arts program, MUNYA furthered the piano skills she’d picked up as a child. Then one day, things changed when she imitated – loosely yet convincingly – a schoolmate who was an opera singer. “I was in the stairwell and there was a ton of echo,” she says. “The opera teacher heard me sing and said I should do opera. I studied that for two years while pursuing piano, too.”

Stepping Out of The Comfort Zone

Opera remained part of her life during her cégep studies in Saguenay, after which she headed to Montréal. “I wanted to travel, my focus no longer was music,” she says.

But don’t be fooled: MUNYA’s music isn’t classical, and you won’t find Puccini’s entire oeuvre on her Bandcamp page. “I don’t sing opera anymore, except for the members of my family who are quite fond of it, but it’s a muscular vocal technique that needs to be maintained,” she says. “It allowed me to have control over my voice and be really comfortable with it. No matter what happens, my voice rarely gets tired.”

It’s was a strong, sudden interest in jazz brought her back to her calling. “I started listening to John Coltrane, Chet Baker, icons,” she says. “That’s when I decided to study jazz at Université de Montréal.”

She quickly dropped out, and was propelled into the world of music as never before, by becoming a session musician for the likes of Philémon Cimon, Alex Nevsky and Stirling Groove, to name but a few. “The problem I have with music is that I love so many genres that I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to play,” says MUNYA. “I started doing re-mixes of songs that I liked, and developed producing skills.”

She started working on her solo project in November of 2017. And by “solo,” MUNYA means it, her two hands firmly on the steering wheel. “I recorded a bit of guitar and drums with two other musicians, but otherwise I always work alone,” she says. “My sound is quite personal, I guess, because people who play all their instruments, produce, and sing are quite rare.”

Thus were born three ethereal EPs over her rich, charged past year. All three episodes of MUNYA’s output follow each other gracefully, like the seasons of life. “I didn’t want to make a whole album in one go, it would’ve been too taxing on my soul,” she says. “The attention that the first EP attracted gave me the confidence to start writing another.”

On the Road Again

May, November, March. Three stops on the journey, three landmarks on the road map, three EPs: North Hatley, Delmano and Blue Pine. A cottage in the Eastern Townships with a view of a lake, where everything began; a hotel bar in New York City ,where an outlandish dream was sown and gave birth to “La femme à la peau bleue” (“The woman with blue skin”)  from “Vendredi sur mer”; and a fictional place discovered in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It’s often said that great things would happen if places could speak. As it turns out, they speak a language that MUNYA understands.

She shares her productions as little as possible before they’re final. “People will share their opinions with you and that makes you doubt what you wrote,” she says. “After that, the result isn’t as natural.”

Working, but not travelling, solo; that’s how she progresses, finding inspiration in artists she appreciates, while not needing any day-to-day help.

The Journey of a Voice

The celebrated label Luminelle Records took MUNYA under its wing early on in the journey. “My first EP was released independently, and music blogs shared ‘Des bisous partout.’ I had a review in Pitchfork, and people all over Europe and the U.S. started writing to me. No one from Québec,” she says.

No one is a prophet in their own land, and even though the song that broke her out on the scene is written and sung in French, it’s not in her native Québec that her career took off. “It’s a timing thing,” she says. “Québec will always be my home. A lifetime is years, not just months. Everything in its own time.”

After giving just two solo shows, MUNYA’s embarked on her first tour, a string of sold-out shows where she opened for Cults in the U.S. “These guys are my friends now,” she says. “They really helped me out, and I know that once I’ve progressed in my own career, I’ll want to help others like they helped me.”

For MUNYA, creation is a living thing, and things need to be in motion, and we have to let them carry us forward. “One has to make music for oneself,” she says. “We’re humans, not robots. We absorb stuff. I feel like today’s delivery modes allow us to let ourselves be guided, and see where creation takes us. We don’t have a model or a recipe. You just gotta keep your feet moving.”

It’s said that no one is a prophet in their own land. It certainly becomes much less disappointing when said prophet convinces a whole continent, instead. When Chad-born Montrealer Caleb Rimtobaye donned his AfrotroniX costume – including a Daft Punk-inspired helmet – in 2015, the whole African continent bowed down before him. Now, it’s on to Europe, before America finally succumbs to his African rhythms-and-chants inspired electronic music.

AfrotroniXTimes are good for Rimtobaye, who we had to track down for three months before managing to talk with him – because his touring schedule is so packed. In a recent profile, France’s daily paper  Le Monde introduced him as the “Pan-African musician of the future.” Last November, Rimtobaye was crowned Best African DJ at the Afrima Gala (All Africa Music Awards) in Ghana. Last February, he was crowned Best Artist at the third annual Gala Dynastie celebrating “Black Excellence in Québec.” Those recognitions come not a moment too soon, when you consider that the AfrotroniX project has been going on for four years, not to mention the 15 years of existence of his other project, the Afro pop outfit H’Sao.

It was while working on a new H’Sao album that Rimtobaye began his AfrotroniX transformation. “I felt a need for a new artistic challenge, I wanted to explore a new universe,” Rimtobaye told us from Montréal, between connecting flights. “I didn’t want to do what we’d done before. I’ve always liked electronic music, I met a lot of musicians from Berlin’s underground scene and I liked the way they worked. That’s when I decided to amalgamate those techno and electro sensibilities to African art.”

Art, here, is meant in its most universal sense, since Rimtobaye believes “AfrotroniX is a concept, a universe, a vision that points to Afro-futurism,” a literary and musical movement that dates back to the 1950s. Afro-futurism frames Africa (and its diaspora) in science fiction,  imagining an African society that’s as avant-garde as, if not more than  the Western world — especially on a technological level. Marvel’s superhero, Black Panther, recently became the icon of Afro-futurism, and musicians such as Sun Ra, Drexciya, George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic, Jlin, and Janelle Monae have all espoused this optimistic vision of Africa.

All aspects of Rimtobaye’s AfrotroniX project have been carefully considered, from his songs to his live performance, his space-hero costume to the show’s visuals, created by Baillat Cardell & Fils. “I felt the need to show another side of Africa,” he says. “It’s a modern continent, but I get the feeling that Western media aren’t interested in that [modernity]. Young Africans want to participate in this movement, and in the future of our world. They, too, are globalists.”

Not only is this vision of Africa at the core of AfrotroniX’s themes, but it was quite literally the catalyst for his project, conceived in 2011, and launched in 2015. “The H’Sao experiment led me to re-think my vision of African music,” says Rimtobaye. “We travelled extensively thanks to that project, and I realized that our music, in the eyes of the world, was still the music of another ethnic community. I wanted to present African music differently,” says the musician, who was dubbed the “African David Guetta” when he first performed in Tanzania, four years ago.

In other words, AfrotroniX summarizes the whole debate about the ill-designated, so-called “World Music.” In the Western world, anything that’s not from the Northern hemisphere is thrown into that hodge-podge, “even though what H’Sao did was quite universal” – namely a fusion of soul, R&B, pop, reggae, and African rhythms. “I do African electro,” says Rimtobaye. “Rhythmically, I use a lot of African polyrhythms, and the electronic element is only there to support that. The core of my songs is very African, even more so than what I did with H’Sao. I even use [African music] samples, rhythms, and voices to further link my work to the African traditions.” The next AfrotroniX album, planned for release next fall, will go even further in that direction.

When you travel like Rimtobaye has with H’Sao since 2001, and then with AfrotroniX, “you realize that what you hear when you spend a night in a club is always the same,” he says. “It’s the same music whether you’re in Australia, or Europe, or North America. It’s the same style of music everywhere. So it’s nice to have access to this Afrobeat alternative, African club music.”

The booking agent as the main ally of the singer-songwriter? Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that over the past two decades, booking performers has become an increasingly influential activity in the musical ecosystem. Record sales are declining, nothing replaces live shows, and artists are earning most of their living by playing in person, for an audience. We talked about booking with Louis Carrière, founder of Preste, a booking agency that is turning 20 this year.

Preste“Actually, I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years,” says Carrière, who, in a previous life, was the bassist for the punk band Tuniq’s, whose sole album was released in 1985. “Playing in a band and going on tour are learning experiences,” says Carrière. “Back then, I was the guy in charge of booking shows in school gymnasiums. I produced shows, mostly punk and metal – alternative, as we called it back then. I learned a lot: how to rent a venue, buying a show, selling tickets. It was an era when we worked with very little. The Internet wasn’t really big yet.”

The fun he had organizing concerts would quickly become a calling for Carrière, and he founded Preste in 1999 in order to provide a better structure for supporting the tours of his friends in Grimskunk. “There were only two of us at the office in the beginning, but that number grew, gradually,” he says. “[Preste] expanded, thanks to my association with [record label] Indica, which was taking off. Grimskunk attracted other bands, and that’s when I understood that there was a need for these services out there… because otherwise, someone else would’ve been doing it!”

Today, the company employs seven people, and is in charge of organizing shows and tours for a roster of at least 30 artists, mainly from Québec, including Klô Pelgag, Lydia Képinski, Half Moon Run, Voivod, Hubert Lenoir, Choses Sauvages, Sally Folk, and Roxane Bruneau. Preste grew by leaving its “alternative” roots behind in order to occupy the widest possible territory, both geographically and musically.

“Over time, you meet new people, work with new artists,” says Carrière. “Whether you want it or not, your roster widens to include artists of whom you’re not necessarily a fan… But then you realize that they, too, have a story, good potential. Plus you also grow to understand better and better the mechanics of a tour. Opening up to more popular musical projects also gave us credibility with venues and networks that attract a wider audience, and also with festivals.”

One thing makes Preste stand out within the industry: it manages tours, and nothing but tours. “I sometimes say that we’re a boutique agency, in a way,” says Carrière. “To each their trade, and others can go into publishing, album and show production, artist management. Even though, lately, album production organizations have increasingly taken the responsibility of bookings.”

When Preste started, this type of “360-degree” contract didn’t really exist, asCarrière recalls. The drop in revenue from selling recordings transformed the industry’s business model, and such contracts became more widespread. Labels increasingly produced and organized their artists’ tours, incentivized in part by subsidies available for the development of the live show for a musical project.

But times, they are a-changin’… again. “Artists are moving away from that type of contract,” says Carrière. “There was a peak, about 10 years ago, when a lot of artists wanted a ‘360.’ But lately, it’s more fluid: artists who had signed that type of contract are coming back to work with us.

Carrière’s Career Advice
“I believe that, as an artist, it’s always a good idea to try out your material, to challenge yourself, before embarking on a tour. With your expectations of the public, of the way people see you, you should test what you’re able to deliver on a stage. And that’s easy to do with friends, colleagues, and people close to you. You just take over a small bar venue on a Sunday night, and try out your material in front of your friends and community to see if you’re able to deliver for 60 to 90 minutes; to play your songs right and, mostly, to have fun, to not look like you are stressed out. The idea, ultimately, is that you want to find out if you’re cut out for the stage, and if you can at some point go on tour. Playing in a rehearsal space is one way of testing it out, but why not test it in public? That’s the advice I most often give to new artists.”

“Nowadays, when I talk with younger artists, I see that that’s not necessarily what they’re after. To them, a record label is just one of many service providers. Signing to a label is not an end unto itself, but the beginning of something. And they know what they need: they choose to work with this or that organization for very specific reasons, and they seek out the service that is best suited to their needs. Business models have exploded, in other words.”

Carrière is in a good position to gauge how much the booking trade has evolved in the last few years. “Touring is even more essential now, but one of the main changes is the urgency,” he says. “What I mean by that is that as soon as an artist generates a buzz with a song, networks and venues want that artist on their stages right now. We used to have a little more leeway to develop an artist, but nowadays, if a song hits, the show has to happen quickly, even if the artist doesn’t really have much of a repertoire, or stage experience.

“Then there are artists who want to tour no matter what, but the impact of the web and the instant access to an artist’s work can have an opposite effect on the public. For some artists, we’ve noticed that tickets don’t sell well even when they’re played all over the web, or they’ve found an audience on YouTube. That complicates my job. I’m starting to wonder if the web means that touring is no longer the obvious answer to the decrease in record sales.”