The first time Raffa Weyman wrote a song, she cried. It was a tune she co-wrote with her best friend at the age of 12, an “epic pop hit” that excited her to the point of tears. While there’s no recorded proof of this track, Weyman as RALPH, has since gone on to write a few more pop gems that contain just as much sentiment, embedded in an infectious synth-based sound. “Songwriting is how I work out my emotions,” she explains. “It’s therapy, it’s how I accept things and move on; I love being transparent that my songs are often autobiographical, because it makes them real and raw.”

That kind of honesty is crystallized into earworm melodies on her latest self-titled EP, and it’s paid off with millions of Spotify streams and an increasing amount of interest from music fans and critics alike. For Weyman, the key to a great pop track is “a wicked hook, and a melody that gets stuck in your head for days,” with an added bonus of exceptional lyrics, if possible. Weyman easily checks off all these boxes with a poise that’s striking for a new artist. “I would be lying if I said I was 100% confident in my sound and who I am; I’m always learning and growing but I feel like I’m in a really good place,” Weyman says.

Weyman just signed to 604 Records (home of Carly Rae Jepsen, Coleman Hell, Small Town Pistols) and is already hard at work on her full-length debut. Working with producers in London, Berlin, Los Angeles and Toronto, Weyman says she’s super-excited about the work she’s put into the record so far, and isn’t afraid to take some risks, too. “What happens if you try to write a ‘70s ballad with a dubstep drop?” she ponders. “I love the idea of genre bending.”

CorneilleCorneille has nothing on his plate lately. No album or tour on the agenda. Free as a bird. “Writing my autobiography (Là où le soleil disparaît, 2016) taught me another way of using words, and I find it harder to go back to the songwriting format. I need a break,” he says.

His last album, Entre nord et sud, was released in 2013. It’s a marvellous, 17-songs deep work written by Corneille, in collaboration with French rappers Youssoupha, Kerry James and Soprano. “I love hip-hop, but I don’t feel I’m good enough to make some,” says Corneille. “Collaborating with those guys was a great way to incorporate some into my music.”

Back in Québec since March, after the European tour of the Rat Pack-like act dubbed Forever Gentlemen, in which he shares the stage with Garou and Roch Voisine, Corneille looks back with a smile. “Getting dressed to the nines night after night came very naturally to me,” he says. “I admire crooners like everybody else, so it wasn’t something new for me. I sing that repertoire in the shower, and as lullabies for my kids!”

After the tour, the singer-songwriter reunited with his wife and kids, hunkered down, and threw his day planner out the window. Except for one thing: a show during the Francofolies de Montréal, on June 9, at Club Soda. “That show will be an chance for me to do only my hits in acoustic mode, seventy-five minutes of my best material,” says Corneille. “It’s going to be a celebration!”

Five musicians and two backing vocalists will accompany the suave, soulful voice of the elegant singer. “The Francofolies invite me every other year, and this year, it was even easier to say yes to the programmers’ proposition: put on a unique and exclusive show to celebrate the 15th anniversary of my first album, Parce qu’on vient de loin, released in 2002.”

His first album, it’s worth remembering, was double-platinum in France and propelled this Rwandan-born Canadian to the upper echelons of stardom. His double-live album, from 2005, was certified triple-platinum. Stupendous figures.

Let’s take a quick look back. Corneille has released six albums and, as is well known, has an enviable career in Europe. The recordings have been peppered with various collaborations, notably Génération Goldman in 2012 (Quand tu danses) and GG2 (Bonne idée). He’s also done humanitarian work (Africa Live in 2005) and soul-pop (the Eurovision 2006, in front of a jury presided over by Charles Aznavour). As a result of all this visibility, he was signed to the legendary American label Motown in 2007, a fantastic break that, sadly, didn’t pan out.

Then, in 2014, he sat alongside Garou as a judge on La Voix (the French version of The Voice), in France. “I loved it,” says Corneille. “People might think that such a well-oiled machine means you lose the essence of things, but I saw it differently. France and Québec aren’t that different. I have two parallel careers, but I made it very clear early on, for both territories, that I would only do music that I’m interested in. I don’t separate my audiences. I do, however, get the impression there are more options in France when it comes to financial means, and the number of opportunities.”

And what’s Corneille’s take on the road traveled during those 15 far-from-boring years?

“I get bored really easily and I’m in a trade where it’s safer to have a certain artistic consistency in one’s choices, following a line that doesn’t confuse people and the media,” he says. “That’s why I don’t feel like re-visiting what I’ve done in the past. I think my six albums are quite different from one another. Otherwise I would feel like I can’t breathe. I’ve had albums that did very well, and others really not so well [his two English albums, notably, The Birth of Cornelius in 2007, and Sans titre in 2009]. As time goes by, I feel like I want to try everything even more! I dream of doing an Afrobeat album with African musicians. But I think my next one will be a covers album.”

AliochaHe popped onto the scene, last fall, with his first EP: an engaging calling card, but one that could have used a few finishing touches. I got the same impression when I saw Aliocha onstage during M for Montréal last November. He was a mix of likeable ingenuousness and genuine enjoyment, yet the project still felt a little wet behind the ears.

Now, Aliocha is on the verge of releasing his first full-length album; in a very short time, his music has matured, his ideas have gelled, and his songs now seem sewn with a common thread. It’s a real pleasure to listen, again and again, to the heavily Dylan-influenced folk offerings – especially “Flash in the Pan” – on Eleven Songs.

Aliocha has just returned from Europe, where he was warmly welcomed. On top of his recording contract with Audiogram, the young Montréal-based, France-born songwriter has also signed with the PIAS label in France, and is still buzzing from his performance at The Great Escape, in Brighton, U.K.

“We’ve come a long way in the past year, I’ve gained a lot of experience since my first show in March of 2016,” says Aliocha. “Right from the get-go, I opened 15 shows for Charlotte Cardin. At first, I acted very mysterious, but now my approach is simpler and more natural, my songs have evolved from one concert to the next.”

But to really move people, Aliocha – whose acting career involves feature roles in movies such as Le Journal d’Aurélie Laflamme 1 and 2, Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Ville-Marie, and, on TV, in Feux and Les jeunes loups – had to shed his acting reflexes. “At first, I was trying to deliver a performance, I was too in control,” he says. “I learned to let go and make room for the music, and the unforeseen. I unveiled myself to the audience, but also to myself, because I had no idea how I’d react.”

“I was approached, and offers were made to me, by a lot of people. Everybody seemed to know which way to go better than I did.”

Music was part of Aliocha’s life very early on. He remembers family road trips with Cat Stevens and Neil Young as the soundtrack. Around the age of 10, he signed up for singing lessons, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his big brother. A few years later, he picked up the guitar. “I would play by myself, in my room, and for a few friends,” he says. Until one day when he met Jean Leloup in a café. Leloup took Aliocha under his wing, and invited him to jam with The Last Assassins. “One thing Jean taught me is the importance of having musicians so that your project can come to fruition,” says Aliocha. Their jam session turned into a recording session for eight demos, that allowed him to sign a record label contract. That’s one generous Leloup!

Another crucial encounter was the one with producer Samy Osta (La Femme, Feu ! Chatterton), with whom Aliocha shares many musical references: The Band, Beck, John Lennon. “I was approached, and offers were made to me, by a lot of people,” says Aliocha. “Everybody seemed to know which way to go better than I did. Then Samy came into my life, took some time to visit in Montréal to get to know me. We talked for a long time before deciding to go ahead. We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go at first, but we quickly discovered we shared a love of the same flagship albums. Then we worked as a two-person team in studios in Paris and Gothenburg, Sweden.”

They recorded on tape, with vintage guitars, to achieve the modern yet old-time sound that, at its best, yields little gems like “Sarah.”

Aliocha’s third lucky star is the brightest and the one to whom the album is dedicated: Vadim, his big brother, who passed away tragically in a car accident. “He’s the one that introduced me to music,” says Aliocha. “I lost my brother Vadim in 2003, when I was 10, and that’s what drove me to sing. My first songs – “Milky Way,” “As Good As You” – are disguised as love songs, but in truth, they’re for him.

I just can’t believe that you care for me
You know I want to be moved
By the music that has moved you
Talking about your sunny soul,
You know I’ll never be
As good as you…
Everyone, look at the sun

– “As Good As You”

Nowadays, the musical adventure is being written before our eyes, alongside his other brother Volodia, who drums in his band, and younger brother Vassili, a budding photographer – all three of whom share the same characteristic curly blonde locks.

Eleven Songs is released June 2, 2017.  Aliocha will perform at the 2017 Montréal International Jazz Fest on June 29 and 30 at Metropolis’ Savoy Room.