Shotto Guapo suddenly gets very emotional. We’ve just asked who for whom his song “Rose is written. It’s a very vulnerable piano-voice ballad that closes Âme, the first part of his first solo album, Âme Nesia. Imagine Alexandra Streliski or Cœur de pirate as an accompanist to a grief-stricken rapper.

Shotto Guapo“Who am I talking to in ‘Rose’?” Guapo repeats, as if to allow a moment to compose himself. “I’m talking to my maternal grandmother. She’s the one who raised me when I lived in France. It’s thanks to her that I’m the arts now. I wasn’t that good a student when it came to regular subjects, but she saw my creative side and encouraged me. [Sigh] Our last goodbye was not a goodbye. I thought life would go on and I’d see her again, but that’s not how it happened.”

Born in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, in 2002 Guapo fled the violent conflicts that ravaged his country, to stay with his grandmother Rose in Normandy. Reggae, up until then, had always been his favourite genre. He was even, for a while, the singer in a reggae band before being thunderstruck by the powerful flow of Tupac Shakur, and shortly after, by the whole consciousness-raising rap movement in France.

Such is the rich baggage that Shotto Guapo brings to his first album: African instruments (such as the kora on “Cendres”) and sung verses, but also afro-trap rhythms and sometimes oppressive moods. Which is why the MC wanted to make this project a double-album (whatever that means in the era of streaming): eight sun-filled songs heavily influenced by reggae’s quest for universal love (Âme), followed by eight rougher tracks about his views on existence, and his hope to one day be free of all servitude (Nesia).

In 2010, faced with the limited possibilities of social mobility in France, Guapo decided to come to Montréal. In 2019, he reached the semi-finals of Francouvertes alongside his acolytes David Campana and Major, with whom he released an album, CE7TE LIFE, shortly thereafter. It would be the cornerstone of his return to music, which he’d temporarily left behind to pursue a diploma from the Trebas Institute, studies which now enable him to be in charge of the visual aspects of all his projects.

“Our struggle in this world is to do everything we can to reach a level of freedom that allows you to live your life however you want”

A dream life, in other words? “Je suis déjà condamné,” (“I’m already condemned”), whispers Shotto, 29, on “Condamné,” one of the more pessimistic songs on Âme Nesia. “It’s not pessimistic, it’s a revolutionary song,” says the man who won the Best Artist of the Diaspora during the most recent edition of the Abidjan Hip Hop Awards.

“When I say I’m condemned, I don’t mean myself, I mean the whole human race. We come into this world and we are thrown into capitalism. Capitalism decides your degree of freedom and what you can and can’t have. If you don’t have money, you can’t live how you’d like to, and when you can’t live your life how you’d like to, you have no freedom. Our struggle in this world is to do everything we can to reach a level of freedom that allows you to live your life however you want, regardless of the social inequalities we have to endure.”

It becomes clear that music, for Shotto Guapo, is a tool that will get him closer to freedom. And it also becomes clear that said freedom requires deep introspection into what he wishes to leave behind, and the message he wants to convey. Even lighter songs that celebrate the beauty of the female form on a dancefloor include a discourse on how he doesn’t want to feed objectification.

“I have a kid sister, I just cannot denigrate women in any way, it’s that simple,” he says. “It’s not my thing, in any case. I don’t need to paint women in a certain light to feel important… It’s crucial for me to say things with my music, because music is a powerful tool. I’m not in it for the fame. The influence I might have on future generations is very important to me. Even when I do funny trap, and I’m not trying to make people have deep thoughts, I still maintain a modicum of consciousness in my lyrics.”

The TD Musiparc tour where artists such as France d’Amour, 2Frères, Marc Hervieux, and Laurence Jalbert have sung in front of a limited number of people in their cars, has been a resounding success.

Guylaine Tanguay “I’ve never enjoyed being honked at so much,”, Guylaine Tanguay recently joked about her shows in Gatineau, Bromont, Mercier, and the bay of Beauport. Chances are high that such will be the case again on July 19, during the latest iteration of this exceptional series, in Mirabel. “And from now on, if I get honked at when I’m driving, I’ll blow them kisses!”

Whatever the case may be, it’s not a straightforward experience for all musicians. “We were worried, I was afraid it would be over-regulated and procedural – so much so that the whole fun side of music would be lost,” says Tanguay. “Normally, we adapt to our audience and find our energy in there. If the audience members step out of their car, they won’t hear a thing. There’s no amplification onstage, you have to tune in a radio frequency to hear the music, so you have to stay in your car. It’s the whole point of the exercise. The musicians hear themselves through their in-ear monitors; otherwise it’s completely silent onstage.”

Tanguay, whose new album is simply titled Country, has returned to the top of the charts with a cover of Zachary Richard’s “L’arbre est dans ses feuilles” (“The Tree is in Its Leaves”), as well as several lyrics of her own – a first for her – and she’s adamant about the importance of her shows. “There are no down times,” she says. “There are even songs that we play only partially, we play medleys that last up to 12 minutes, and I try to talk as little as possible. I’m not comfortable with lengthy song introductions, I’m more of a show-off, even when I’m singing a ballad.”

“I’m an intense one”

That’s something Tanguay does with a lot of assurance on Country. If you need some convincing, just listen to “Je m’envolerai” or “L’incontournable,” which talks about mourning, and was mostly written by Tanguay. She’s slowly developing a strong repertoire of softer songs that create a nice counterbalance to her Dolly Parton-esque “working nine to five” brand of energy. “I’m an intense one,” says the 48-yeal-old musician.

Made in Québec but completed in Nashville, Country reveals the strength of a songwriter who’s worked with Jonathan Godin, himself no stranger to country music. “Initially, I asked him to write a country line-dance song, but not specifically with me in mind,” says Tanguay. “I told him to write for a guy, because I have a more masculine attitude onstage in the way I sing and act. I’m in heels and wearing makeup, but I’ll tell you for sure: I forget I’m a woman when I’m onstage. I’m one of the boys, and I stomp my feet hard enough to break my ankles!”

“On “Allez venez danser” (“Come Dancing”), I wanted a Lac St-Jean family party vibe, the kind of party where you expect to be 15 people but you end up with 75 guests.” On “La chasse” (“The Hunt,” a recurring theme for male country singers), she expresses a completely different opinion. “I hate hunting!” she says. “I was born in September and my village [Girardville, Lac St-Jean] would be empty for my birthday! I’ve wanted to write my own songs all my life, but I was afraid they would be too sad or first-degree. I like songs that are easily understandable.”

Tanguay forged a creative partnership with her guitarist, Sébastien Dufour. “He knows what I want and how things work in my mind,” she says. “I wanted more refined country, with several nuances in the textures that would remain the same onstage. I want to ‘de-tacky-fy’ country music.”

Dufour is far from a one-armed guitarist. His solo on “Mon Yodeling” is in a category of its own, and has the twang and the panache of a Junior Brown or a Bobby Hachey! The man could work in Nashville tomorrow morning.

Is Tanguay comfortable with her moniker as Québec’s Queen of Country? Knowing that Renée Martel is the Queen ex officio, have the two queens met? “I’m not the Queen, I’m not comfortable with that moniker,” she says. “I’ve told her, as a joke, that the crown is hers and I’m not interested in the throne!”

“Technology may have taken on a lot of importance in the rapport between songwriters and their audience, but it would be nothing without that human relationship [between a publisher and a creator], and that’s something I truly believe,” says the French, now Montréal-based, publisher Chrisophe Piot, who heads the publishing company Write Here Music and All Right Music, a neighbouring rights management organization.

“Nowadays, artists and songwriters are more isolated than they used to be, hence the necessity to have a team of close-knit guardians that support them,” he says, not even referring to the period of self-isolation from which we’ve barely begun to emerge. The publisher is, rather, referring to the new challenges publishers must overcome because of the digitization of music.

To Piot, the idea of a team is equivalent to that of a family, “I think of the work of a publisher as a craft,” he says. “Some are comfortable working with catalogues of hundreds of thousands of titles – and I’ve worked for major publishing houses [like that]. But we’re a ‘chic boutique’ with very few creators. We kind of have a relationship with every single song, because we represent a lot less.”

Having spent most of his career in the music publishing world in France, this August Piot will celebrate the second anniversary of his move to Québec, mostly “because of my deep appreciation for Québec itself, but also its enthusiasm and open-mindedness,” he says. “There were also business incentives, since I’ve partnered with people in Montréal since 2004 in a company called Premier Muzik, which is also in the neighbouring rights business.”

Professionally, the publisher has had ties with the Québec music industry since the ’80s; before founding Write Here Music and All Right Music about 15 years ago, he worked in the Parisian offices of MCA Music Publishing, record label Tréma, and then at Warner Chappell. “I worked for the publishing house that represented Jean Leloup around the time of his Menteur album,” says Piot. “We had also signed Robert Charlebois and we were reissuing Félix Leclerc. Later, in the field of neighbouring rights, I signed Natasha St-Pierre, and worked with some of Céline Dion’s songs for publishing. I’ve had ties to local music all through my career.”

 “I must say that faithfulness and loyalty are very rare and precious.”

The notions of family and craft are even noticeable in Write Here Music’s repertoire, which represents major electronic artists, especially French ones, such as David Guetta, Agoria, and Air, to name but a few. “Totally, especially when it comes to David Guetta – who I’ve worked with for nearly 20 years. I must say that faithfulness and loyalty are very rare and precious. That’s when you can truly talk of human relationships. Being a publisher means being passionate, it’s a line of work you choose, and I was lucky to meet songwriters who trusted me and still trust me.”

Although Piot’s companies have offices in Europe and the U.S., it’s from Montréal that he oversees their growth, and he hopes adding a few new artists from Québec to his family. “I came here in stages, and full of humility while I discovered this country and its music scene. I already had solid ties with some Québec publishers, I knew a few SOCAN members, and I received a warm welcome. There’s a community of very interesting musicians, like Pierre-Luc Rioux – a guitarist that’s worked with David Guetta, as a matter of fact.

“The music scene is incredible,” Piot continues, “so if you ask me what the next step is, it’s obviously to sign a Québec songwriter. I listen to a lot of local music, like Éli Rose, who I’d really like to work with! There’s also this DJ named Domeno. His stuff is played by a ton of other DJs. The EDM scene seems under-represented in Québec.” It is a natural area of interest for the publisher, one in which he intends to dig a little deeper. Word to the wise…