Ten years back, SATE asked me this question: “Please, name me a Black woman in rock in Canada. It’s fucking pitiful, and can really kill a spirit!” Fast-forward 10 years, and you’d be hard-pressed to name someone other than her. [Um, Fefe Dobson? BACKXWASH? But still very few. – Ed.]

While the fierce rocker has developed a reputation for being one of this country’s most charismatic frontpeople, she confesses she internalized the thinking that hard rock is “white boy music” when she played with Blaxäm, a Toronto band that mixed rock, funk, blues. and jazz in the late ‘90s.

It was after SATE heard about the Black Rock Coalition that the daughter of the legendary, recently deceased singer Salome Bey recalls thinking, “I’m not weird, I’m not doing something wrong, I’m not doing something that Black people don’t do or don’t like. It was an affirmation and inspiration.” SATE admits she still struggles with “absorbing it [the stereotype of who can play hard rock] or deflecting it,” along with a desire to appeal to as many listeners as possible.

She says she named her latest album The Fool, after the hero of the Tarot deck, because that card is about “taking the leap into the unknown over and over again. Trusting your intuition. Opening yourself up to be this artistic vessel in spite of any doubts, fears, or insecurities that creep in.” Not only does that perfectly sum up SATE’s musical journey, but she experienced all those emotions when making The Fool. It left her emotionally spent.

“I hated everything I did,” she says. “I was like, ‘I suck!,’ ‘People are lying to me when they say they like my music,’ and I cried a lot.” She says she was also stuck “in this place of wanting to please people who don’t give a fuck about me.” SATE says. “It took this global pause” (the pandemic) to follow her intuition, and to trust in herself wholeheartedly.

So she re-visited The Fool, which she’d completed in 2018, but felt “wasn’t ready to be released,” and not only fell in love again with the songs, but re-recorded some vocals, and added background vocals and interludes. She also learned how to engineer, and produced several tracks on the album. “And when I sang, I was, like, ‘This is my rock! This is my voice! This is the way I do my thing!’” she says defiantly.

The self-doubt – and consequent revelation – she experienced has paid off. The Fool was nominated for a 2022 JUNO Award in the Alternative Album of the Year category, and SATE now sits on the SOCAN Foundation Board of Directors – helping to foster and empower the next generation of music creators in Canada. She also signed a publishing deal last year with Ninja Tune, the U.K.-based label started by Coldcut. It signed her after hearing “Warrior,” a song from her debut album that’s on the Voices For The Unheard playlist on Spotify.

“(The deal) gives me the opportunity to write with other people, work with other producers, and have my music placed in a TV show or a film,” says SATE. “As a songwriter, I don’t necessarily need to be onstage – even though I love performing – but my music can live in so many other places.”

On the topic of songwriting, SATE gives props to her mom, who was recently immortalized on a Canada Post stamp, for inspiring her to “protect her work and get paid for it if it got airplay. My mother was a member of [SOCAN’s predecessor rights organization] CAPAC, and she signed my dad, my sister, and I up,” she says, adding that it’s a no-brainer for musicians to join SOCAN.

“It’s nice getting a cheque from them,” says SATE. “It’s like, ‘My shit is out there and someone’s playing it.’”

The new Executive Director of Musique Nomade takes over from Manon Barbeau and continues her mission to promote Québec’s First Nations artists.

Born in Sorel-Tracy and now leader of the NPO Musique Nomade which supports music creators from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, Joëlle Robillard and her team have an essential role to play.

“I don’t want to be falsely modest,” admits its new executive director, “but I think that the work of Musique Nomade has greatly contributed to what’s happening right now in terms of the next generation of musicians. I see an open-mindedness, an interest, a change in the structure of things to make it sustainable, I see it at all levels. Five years ago, the doors were closed, the industry structure extremely centred around Québec’s Francophonie, with no space at all for Indigenous artists.”

Robillard now sits on the Board of Directors of ADISQ — “which allows me to open up conversations”— and has been part of the Musique Nomade team for nearly five-and-a- half years. “I replaced a project manager who went on maternity leave, and then I became the Artistic and Operations Director, before becoming the head of the organization.”

After graduating in journalism, her first job was at Francouvertes: “It was really foundational, it allowed me to get into the music business and to develop a network of emerging artists. I was doing press relations, I wanted to be a journalist, but finally I found myself on the other side of the mirror,” she laughs. She then became coordinator at XS Musique, the sound production company of Jean-Phi Goncalves.

“I was negotiating contracts with big clients like Cirque du Soleil, so I really had to educate myself on music rights management,” she says. “My involvement with Indigenous music was quite natural, I felt comfortable in that environment and that’s where I discovered most of the artists and cultures.”

Bookings, promotion, international marketing: there’s not a dull moment at MN. “You can’t cherry-pick a single fight, you have to fight on all fronts,” says Robillard. “We’re starting to see specific playlists on Spotify and there’s our independent streaming platform, Nikamowin. These are all components that have been added to the organization to meet a need. Musique Nomade has gradually equipped itself and has become a label, a management company, a producer of concerts, and a music production agency — we have resources. Our business model is pretty atypical, we never fit into a really defined box; a big part of my job is advocacy and representation within the industry.”

And how is that playing out within the communities? “The songwriting studio is made to invest a place that we will temporarily transform into a studio, and make sure that there are professional-level recording conditions,” says Ropbillard. “We organize our various stops in collaboration with a local community co-ordinator and the office team, Maude Meilleur and myself, among others.”

Montréal’s Présence Autochtone, La Noce and the essential Innu Nikamu (which means the First Nations Sing) festival that has taken place every year in Mani-Utenam, on the North Shore, since 1985 — in the community of Kashtin, Florent Vollant, and Matiu, among others — are among the partner festivals of Musique Nomade this year, in addition to stops in Carleton-Sur Mer for the Mi’gmaq communities of Gesgapegiag and Listuguj, and of Kawawachikamach in the Naskapi community. In the fall, Robillard and her team should be in Abitibi for a stopover in collaboration with the Minwashin organization, as well as in Ste-Mary’s, New Brunswick.

Scott Pien-Picard, twice nominated for the Félix (ADISQ) Award for Indigenous Artist of the Year, rapper Samian, Laura Niquay, Matiu, and Elisapie are playing at the Francos this year, and Émile Bilodeau has been asked by the programmers to put on a show with Indigenous guests. Watch out for the excellent group Maten, which includes Ivan Boivin-Flammand, a 22-year-old rising Atikamekw star from Manawan.

“Anachnid [already winner of a Félix] started from scratch, she had never made music, we just had to find the way to nurture her so that she could evolve,” says Robillard. “For Laura Niquay, it’s been a complete journey, she went through many stages before she got to where she is. They all have a unique personality and style. I develop friendships with them that go beyond the creative relationship.”

One can’t overlook the fabulous project Nikamu Mamuitun: chansons rassembleuses, another enlightened vision by Alan Côté of the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée featuring four Indigenous and four non-indigenous performers. “We’re partners with Petite-Vallée, who adds an Indigenous artist in residence every year,” says Robillard. “It’s important that we stand together in this community.”

ModleeNearly 15 years after her musical debut alongside Vlooper, visionary Alaclair Ensemble producer Modlee offers us Soul Urge, her first full-length album – which showcases her talent, ambition, and inner strength.

The Québec City-based R&B singer has once again tapped her producing partner in crime for this project, launched in April 2022 on the well-known Disques 7 ième Ciel imprint. At the helm of each composition, Vlooper has nonetheless taken a step back compared to the writer and singer’s previous EPs and mixtapes.

“Vlooper has been making music for 20 years now,” says Modlee. “He’s the one who saw my potential and understood my voice. He has tons of ideas, and we’ve always worked collaboratively. But for this album, I took control of the artistic direction and what I wanted to put forward as my musical essence. I played with my voice and intonations the way I wanted to,” she explains. “I embrace myself in my imperfections, in my discovery… in the power of what I have to represent.”

Born in Montréal, Modlee spent her formative years shuttling between Québec, the U.S., and Jamaica, her father’s home land. It’s that journey, partly, that she wished to “represent” on her first LP, an incredibly rich offering with layers of bewitching R&B, cosmic funk hues, smoky soul, and thrilling hip-hop beats. All in all, it’s quite far from the more spontaneous sonic signature of Digital Flower or Analog Love, Modlee’s first projects, released at the turn of the 2010s. “Back then, I was really into sounds and the repetitive aspect of music,” she says. “I used my voice as an instrument, as a layer of atmosphere. I still have that exploratory side in me, but it’s more fine-tuned and thought-through.”

The name of the album evokes the will to take flight. “Soul Urge is a notion that comes from astrology and numerology,” says Modlee. “It means the desire of the soul, that is your inner purpose, your deepest aspiration. The album brings out desires that I’ve been hiding for too long. The pandemic gave us a lot of time to think, and time to kill. It was a mega-wake-up call for me. I lived through personal issues that turned out to be awakenings. I finally had time to make music. I no longer had any excuse not to do it.”

Awakenings are an important theme on Soul Urge. Far from the canon of modern R&B, the lyrics of which often revolve around “love and relationships,” the songs on this album have a more philosophical side, rooted in Modlee’s desire for human and spiritual evolution.

The opener, “Birds,” sets the tone right after a short intro titled “Mornin’,” and the song title is significant to the concept of being re-born: ‘Birds’ is a very important song, where I talk to myself,” says Modlee. “It’s rooted in a depressing moment, where I had to recognize the darkness inside me. I had to learn to admit, and tell myself, that I wasn’t feeling good. It was a period where I slept a lot, but was constantly exhausted. Nothing made me smile. I felt guilty of never being enough. I had to learn to recognize this darkness… the time had come to move on.”

At the other end of the album, “Rise” examines a complicated relationship that Modlee obstinately tried to maintain with a member of her family. But at a certain point, she had to choose herself above them, and burn that bridge. “It’s hard to accept when you’re trying to save someone, but realize it’s not your place to do it,” she says. “The relationship changes, it dulls, and you have to let it go. In hindsight, it’s a very decisive experience. I learned a lot about myself.”

“Rise,” in a way, embodies the very mission of Soul Urge: winding oneself up to achieve self-realization on a human and artistic level. Hence the idea of teaming up with a renowned label, Disques 7 ième Ciel, for this album, rather than relying on self-production, and a more discreet release on digital platforms. Modlee, it’s worth remembering, marked the label’s almost 20-year-old history – it was founded in 2003 – as the first woman signed to its roster.

“Initially, I was making this album with a single goal: making the best possible music,” says Modlee. “But once we started realizing where the finished product was heading, we felt it would be appropriate to give it a little more love by releasing it more professionally. We wanted to share the dose.”

Modlee’s inner journey is as radiant as it is important.