“Let’s sing together” is an invitation that’s been extended for three years now in Atikamekw language by the Nikamotan MTL event. Being presented as part of the Présence autochtone (Montreal First Peoples) Festival, this new edition (dubbed “Nicto”, the Atikamekw word for “three”), remains faithful to its original mission of bridging cultures by promoting Indigenous artists from here and beyond.

NikamotanNikamotan MTL is the main showcase of Musique Nomade, an organization created in 2006 by filmmaker Manon Barbeau on the same model as her famous Wapikoni Mobile. That mobile studio endeavoured to bring filmmaking and visual creativity to remote communities, and Musique Nomade is doing the exactl same thing for music. Their mobile studio brings equipment and resources to Indigenous communities in oder to create professional-quality recordings, but it mostly contributes to the creation of an emerging Indigenous artist network.

“We have three main mandates,” says Artistic Director Joëlle Robillard, also the Artistic Director of the Nikamotan MTL show. “First and foremost, we’re working to promote emerging artists from indigenous communities. There’s also a preservation role, through the building up of a kind of digital memory, for the broad purpose of keeping alive a culture that has been transmitted orally from time immemorial. Finally, we do representation work in festivals, which is another way of promoting talent both locally and internationally.”

Networking is being done both at the provincial and country-wide level, and also internationally as part of large folk music gatherings being held all over the world. It was thanks to her presence at events such as WOMEX and the Folk Alliance International that Robillard met the members of the Finnish group Vildá, a female duo that proudly carries the cultural torch of the Samis, an Indigenous people from the Laponian area. Vildá will be performing at the 2019 Nikamotan MTL festival. “Setting up an event with so many different parts is always stressful, particularly since we’re bringing together artists who sometimes don’t know each other, but it can produce magical matches. Sometimes, the artists themselves impact our programming: when I contacted (2017 Polaris Music Award winner) Lido Pimienta and asked her who she’d like to work with, she immediately suggested Pierre Kwenders.” A meeting between Africa and Latin America at a festival dominated by our own Indigenous cultures – that’s a great example of the kind of eclecticism being promoted by Musique Nomade.

Thanks to her involvement in the organization, Robillard is in a good position to attest to the strength of what Wolastoqiyik Nation and 2018 Polaris Music Award winner Jeremy Dutcher famously called the “Indigenous Renaissance.” And while the abundance of talent has never been in doubt, Robillard also noted that the audience is increasingly eager to discover new artists. “Music and the arts are powerful cultural reclamation tools for indigenous peoples,” she says. “So many unique voices are emerging, but one must know how to listen. And I’m not talking about the audience only: the entire music industry, which has often excluded Indigenous artists, must de-construct itself and start from scratch on a more inclusive basis.”

Still, one must admit that things are changing for the better. As a sign of the times, ADISQ will be presenting their first-ever Best Indigenous Artist Award during its next gala ceremony, a move most welcomed by Robillard. “I think ADISQ did the right thing by contacting communities and organizations such as ours,” she says. “They also adapted their selection criteria to make it possible for indigenous artists compete.”

Throughout our conversation, Robillard repeats that she sincerely hopes this renewed interest for Indigenous First Nation, Métis, and Inuit artistic productions will amount to more than a passing fad. “When you see the talent being deployed in the various Indigenous communities, there’s reason for optimism,” she says. “The first step in our work is to bring walls down; but we must move further and build solid foundations upon which that culture can grow.”

August 9, 2019,
at Place des Festivals, Montréal

Three Nikamotan MTL festival performers to reckon withMatt Comeau

Matt ComeauMatt Comeau

“We discovered him while travelling through the Maritimes, and he’s one of the most luminous and engaging people there is,” says Joëlle Robillard. A member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, New Brunswick singer/guitarist Matt Comeau is featured on the All my People EP that was created during a workshop set up by Musique Nomade at the Metepenagiag Heritage Park in in 2017. “He has the warmest voice, and he’s an outstanding guitarist who writes blues-tinged pop songs,” says Robillard.
Soleil LaunièreSoleil Launiere
This Innu multi-disciplinary artist, originally from Mashteuiatsh, is, above, all “multi-talented,” according to Robillard. As the Indigenous artist-in-residence at Montréal’s National Theatre School, Soleil Launière works variously as an AUEN band member, an actor, and primarily as a performance artist. “Her movement performances are heavily influenced by the Innu culture and mythology,” says Robillard, “particularly through her evocation of the half-man-half-beast creatures depicted on our poster.”

Quantum TangleQuantum Tangle
Originally from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Quantum Tangle won the 2017 JUNO Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year, for Shelter As We Go. “I had wanted to schedule them for a long time,” says Robillard, “because I love their fusion of tradition and modernity, and their really cinematic sound. They use throat singing, usually performed a cappella by two women, in a completely different context. We suggested that they prepare something with Lydia Képinski, and they immediately went for it.

For Shauna de Cartier, founder of the independent record label Six Shooter Records, an intuitive approach to her business suits her best.

Six Shooter Records, Staff

The staff at Six Shooter Records. (Photo: Lyle Bell)

De Cartier, originally from Edmonton, started the label almost 20 years ago, with one artist on the roster: Luke Doucet. Eventually, she moved to Toronto with the business, and has since established what is truly, not just optically, a diverse and real Canadian-representative roster of musicians, including The Rheostatics, Zaki Ibrahim, The Strumbellas, Riit, William Prince, and Polaris Prize winner Tanya Tagaq, among others. Nine people of their 13-person staff identify as female. Six Shooter Records also includes the Six Shooter Management company, Girl on a Horse Publishing, and the Interstellar Rodeo music festival, back home in Edmonton (and in Winnipeg as well, from 2015 to 2017). Recently, she was the 2019 recipient of the Entrepreneur Award at the Canadian Independent Music Awards gala. But none of these successes would have happened if de Cartier didn’t, as she puts it, lead with her heart.

“My decision-making style is very steeped in emotion,” she says via e-mail. “How does it feel to me if I make one decision, versus how does it feel if I make another. This sounds flaky, and maybe it is, but I like to think about it in terms of leading with the heart. All of the other parts of me feed into that, whether it’s my head or my gut. I acknowledge that this is a style of doing business that makes me more vulnerable than some of my colleagues, and ultimately, I’m okay with that. Art is a business of emotion.”

This is the part where I tell you that the robust conversation I had with de Cartier in early July doesn’t exist anymore. Call it a Mercury Retrograde flub, or a technological nightmare come to life, but what we spoke of — the minute details of her work life, where she talked about delegation, and her role shifting from day-to-day management to bigger-picture strategy – is lost forever. But since piecing together this article with my notes and research, and e-mails from de Cartier (brief but fully-formed thoughts, delivered while understandably busy with running the Interstellar Rodeo this year), I’ve come to see this portrait of her as a decision-maker. How her position in Canadian music really does have an impact on a community, or artist, and it comes down to a vulnerable approach in her business.

Often, vulnerability is seen as weakness, but emotional awareness is a crucial strength. And this is no more true than in art, a wholly emotional endeavour.

Six Shooter Records, Tanya Tagaq

Six Shooter artist Tanya Tagaq

Prioritizing what may feel good over what may seem like a “good business decision” has led Six Shooter down a path of great international success. There had been, de Cartier admits, some decisions that weren’t financially that lucrative, but the passion for the project, the artist, or the art itself felt worth it. Taking on Tagaq, for example, who is so spine-tinglingly brilliant, was a decision she made because it felt like the right one. And, of course, it was.

De Cartier also told me that values factor into how she makes decisions and what sort of strategy she’ll take, whether it’s working on a project,  hiring a new employee, or anything else. Alignment is key. “I learned early on that you can negotiate almost anything: your vision, your goals, money, strategy, etc.,” she says. “But you can’t negotiate your values. They simply are what they are. In fact, they are who you are. If you work with people whose values aren’t in alignment with your own, that relationship is not going to work out.”

The label’s motto gestures toward an ephemeral approach to business with the crisp, “Life’s too short to listen to shitty music.” Though the motto is going to change for the label’s official 20th anniversary, the sentiment of going with pleasure, with what feels good – essentially, with your heart – is immeasurable, in an industry so often stuck on other measurements of success.

From heartbroken rocker to film music producer and composer, this musician and businesswoman now feeds her passion for short-, medium- and feature-length films.

Anik Jean“Be a good boy, my love” are the words spoken by Anik Jean’s character to Nathan, her six-and-a-half-year old son, as she’s leaving for the evening with her husband (played by Jean-Nicolas Verrault), and before the little monster gives his stupid babysitter the hardest time of her life. That’s the set-up for Sois sage, the 12-minute short film she recently directed and presented at the Fantasia Festival as part of the Fantastiques Week-ends du cinéma québécois. The film was produced by her production company, Nathan Films, which she co-manages with Milaine Gamache. She is also partnering with her husband Patrick Huard in Jesse Films, a company that creates feature films and TV productions.

“I’m producing for TV and film, I’m going through a creative boom,” says Jean. “It’s mind-blowing. I’m playing ping-pong with my projects. And I want to prove to the film people that I’m not an imposter.”

Anik Jean became known thanks to Bon Cop Bad Cop 2. “Patrick wanted me,” she says. “’Find yourself a Plan B,’ I told him, but in his pigheadedness, I was the one. With 72 cues for an 85-minute film, it’s a big load. For instance, I had to use the score to get cars that were too slow to sound like they were moving faster. I added lots of percussion instruments to bring out the high-speed effect. Sometimes you need 12 seconds of music, sometimes you need 47. It all depends on the scene. In Bon Cop 2, you know there’s music, but you don’t hear it.

“I love being in the studio, the process is a blast,” she continues. “I enjoy the group work, among others, with the producer and the editor. The communication is non-stop. But the hardest thing is to take the plunge. For a film like Bon Cop Bad Cop 2, I worked with digital sound effects software that reproduced the sounds of explosions or revving engines, but for Sois sage, it’s me at the piano and Catherine Ledoux on violin. There are creepy moments that only two instruments are capable of portraying. I was in my element, because I love the horror genre, but it’s important to calibrate the music properly, otherwise it’s going to ruin the film.”

Sois sage is the third film that Jean has scored. In February of 2019, as an opener for Les Rendez-Vous Québec Cinéma, she presented La Porte, a 15-minute short film in which Huard plays the part of an agoraphobic painter. In 2016, her 62-minute Lost Soul, a musical film without dialogue, launched her filmography. The artist is now busy writing two feature films, including one with the horror maestro Patrick Sénécal as a screenwriting advisor, as well as the music of a well-known TV series which she’s not yet allowed to identify by name.

“Martin Léon helped me with Bon Cop 2,” she says. “Whenever I was freaking out, I’d call him, because I needed someone to reassure me. I was receiving edited film scenes as an inspiration, and after viewing them, I would sing melodies over the phone to him, and he would transcribe them into music scores. He added eight violins, four brass instruments on some parts, and working with him is awesome. Same thing with guitarist Guillaume Doiron, a childhood friend who has a full arsenal of pedals that he uses knowledgeably.”

Is she not, however, neglecting the singer-songwriter career that she launched in 2005 with her Jean Leloup-produced first album Le Trashy Saloon (winner of the JUNO Award for Francophone Album of the Year)? A career that was boosted by her performance opening a January 2006 Rolling Stones concert? Isn’t she turning her back on her Keith Richards- and Ronnie Wood-autographed Gibson Firebird, and her Ron Wood Signature Telecaster (she owns 19 guitars)? And on her Discovery of the Year ADISQ Award?

“I was sick and tired of doing an album, then a tour, then an album, then a tour,” says Jean. “But now, I’ve just started writing my next record. And you know what? I attended the release of Jean Leloup’s latest album in April, and I feel like making another album. I have a concept in my head of blending a ‘Best Of’ and collaborating with the singer-songwriters that have inspired me to make music. I’ve called, and they’ve accepted the invitation to join in the adventure. So together, we’ll co-write some new songs.”