SEAN LEON

Prolific, Toronto-based rapper and screen director Sean Leon boasts an artistic range and clear-eyed vision that sets him apart, with a style that changes all the time. He founded an artistic collective called IXXI, or The Initiative, in 2012, and has now seen that bear fruit with the 2017 breakthrough success of his colleague and friend Daniel Caesar. Leon’s relentless, obsessive love for music translates into his songs, and he often makes dark aesthetic choices in his music that can be powerful and affecting. Originally from Toronto’s Eastern suburb of Ajax, he dropped out of high school to pursue music, and often spent more than 20 hours each day in the studio. He’s confident, brash, even arrogant—and his new audio/screen project, CCWMTT, released late in 2017, is poised to break him through to widespread commercial success in 2018.

 

 

BÜLOW

Bülow is a 17-year-old artist currently finishing high school in the Netherlands, but planning to move to Canada. Born Megan Bülow, she’s also lived in Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., and began busking on the streets of London, England, when she was only 11 years old, and was discovered at a summer camp in 2016. Her first release, “This is Not a Love Song,” racked up thousands of spins on SoundCloud and earned playlist action on Spotify, despite her being a virtual unknown. After writing and recording with producers in Toronto, London, and The Hague, Bülow has released her debut, three-song EP, Damaged Vol. 1, and her bouncy, catchy, subtle electro/R&B/pop songs are gaining some serious traction. She’s already begun earning rave reviews and drawing tens of thousands of listeners for her immediate, honest songs, and has recently signed a deal with Canada’s Wax Records.

 

 

JOE COUPAL

Fresh out of college, Joe Coupal went straight to work with award-winning Toronto music/post-production audio house Eggplant LF, editing music and scores for television series. After several years spent editing, mixing, and arranging screen music written by other composers, Coupal seized the opportunity to attempt his own submission for an onscreen song. It’s a testament to his talent that he won this first pitch he ever composed, for the hit original Netflix series True and The Rainbow Kingdom –  the creative team for which includes Pharrell Williams’ i am OTHER (sic) company. After he won the pitch on his single episodic, call-to-action song (“The Wishing Tree Song”), the impressed True creative team decided to have Coupal and Eggplant submit theme ideas as well. His work earned him first prize in the animated category of the 2017 SOCAN Foundation Young Audiovisual Composers Awards. Coupal’s success has only grown since then, and looks to continue to do so in 2018.

 

LOUD

The tsunami prompted by the late-2017 release of Une année record (A Record Year), the rapper Loud’s first solo album, shows no sign of abating, as evidenced by the frenzy surrounding his sold-out concerts, and his ever-increasing buzz online. By all accounts, 2018 is the year when the Québec rap scene will anoint this versatile singer-songwriter, who initially made his mark as one-third of Loud Lary Ajust. France is also hungry for him, and his album will be released there thanks to a partnership with a Universal subsidiary. In other words, he’s poised to have…  a record year!

 

 

 

 

ELI ROSE

Having emerged into the public eye as on- half of the duo Eli et Papillon, her participation in SOCAN’s very first Kenekt Québec Song Camp, in 2016, literally changed the course of her career. Thanks to Kenekt, she met Marc Vincent (Ruffsound), Mike Clay of Clay and Friends, and Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier (DRMS), and later Jeff Marco Martinez Lebron (Realmind). This group became the core of a new urban-music sound, an irresistible pop/hip-hop hybrid, of which her single “Soleil” was only the first shiny glimpse. This explosive piñata is about to burst wide open in 2018 – and not just at home in Québec, but overseas as well, where Rose has already generated a lot of interest.

 

 

 

 

GEOFFROY

The Montréal songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is the perfect example to prove that an international development strategy, carried out with determination and conviction, always bears its fruit when one has a solid musical offering. Since the release of his 2017 debut album of sophisticated electronic pop, Coastline, Geoffroy has crossed many an ocean and border, and has developed a taste for such travel. Already, his 2018 calendar is quickly filling up with European, American and Canadian gigs. He’ll also set some time aside to write and produce new material, which should be out in Spring, as well as a sophomore album slated for late 2018 or early 2019.


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Exco Levi has won five JUNO Awards for Best Reggae Recording in the past six years, an enviable track record by anyone’s standard, but he’s not a household name… yet. Nobody’s working harder to change that than Exco Levi himself.

“We have to understand life, and realize that life, in itself, is a challenge,” says Levi, born Wayne Levy in the countryside town of Harmons, in Jamaica’s Manchester parish. In his songs, he typically remains positive while facing sometimes harsh realities. “Nothing comes easy, and you have to just work hard… In Canada, as a musician, especially when you sing reggae music, it’s a constant struggle to get out there… But in spite of the hardship, you can also project a positive energy.”

Levi comes by that optimistic attitude naturally. He started in Gospel, singing hymns in the choir at school; now, as a Rastaman, he sings reggae songs often deeply rooted in social comment and spiritual or philosophical concerns – as evidenced by his JUNO-winning songs, “Bleaching Shop” (2012), “Storms of Life” (2013), “Strive” (2014), “Welcome to the King” (2015) and “Siren” (2017).

Typically, Levi’s new album Narrative stays on that constructive tip, ranging from the sweet lovers’ rock of “Feel Like Dancing” to the conscious roots of “Old Capital” to the anti-war anthem “Frontline Soldier.” Elsewhere, “Burn” (featuring renowned reggae star Sizzla) recalls Bob Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” “Don’t Cry” references Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” in the chorus, and “Maga Dawg” evokes the song of the same name by Peter Tosh. But if you tell Levi that he’s a natural heir to those pioneering originators, he’s quick to deflect such praise.

“I’m a part of it,” he says. “I don’t want to say me alone, because that would be a ‘self’ thing. And reggae music is not really a ‘self’ thing, it’s a movement of people. There are so many artists in this time that are still bringing the torch of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. They already set it for us, and we’re just transporting the good deeds and the good tidings from their time to now.”

Similarly, if you claim Levi – who’s played throughout Europe, and in Dubai, Zimbabwe, Malawi and elsewhere – as a prime ambassador for reggae music, he’s quick to share the glory.

“Not me by myself,” says Levi, who himself lives in the suburban Toronto neighbourhood of Brampton. “I give thanks that I was blessed with the opportunity to perform in all of these different parts of the world… and there are so many reggae artists who are not from Jamaica: Alpha Blondy [South Africa], Gentleman [Germany], Alborosie [Italy]. In any part of the world, there are artists there who are moving with this spiritual, majestic vibration. I’m truly honoured to be a part of that.”

As for his songwriting skills, Levi emphasizes that his path is largely an instinctive one, where the beat of the rhythm – or “riddim,” in Jamaican patois – often leads the way.

“Sometimes, when you hear a riddim, it automatically tells you something.”

“We’re doing a project soon and they’re asking for written music,” he says. “But reggae music plays on feel… I can say that 75 percent of the musicians in Jamaica have never seen a written strip of [sheet] music. We play on feel, we play our feelings. That’s what makes reggae music different.

“Sometimes, when you hear a riddim, it automatically tells you something. For instance, when I heard that riddim for ‘Feel Like Dancing,’ it just told me… Like ‘Maga Dawg,’ I just heard the riddim and it told me what it needed… And the next stanza, you [might have to] tell the riddim.”

Riding his riddims as far as they’ll take him, Levi is as hardworking and ambitious as he is humble. At press time, he’s vying for a spot performing on the JUNO Awards live television broadcast later this year, only one of his many goals for 2018.

“There’s nothing that happens for Exco Levi in music that surprises me,” he says. “My whole life is déja vu. From a tender age I could see everything that would happen. All my JUNO wins, I could see that from [when I was] a youth growing up in Jamaica. I could see greatness.

“The thing is, in whatever your endeavor is, if you can’t see it here,” he says, pointing to his head, “you’re not going to see it in the physical [world]. You have to see it and work on it.”


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On the other end of the line, in rural Québec area code 819, Denis Massé couldn’t be happier to share the 20th anniversary of his band, Les Tireux d’Roches, born in 1998 at the Ste-Élie-de-Caxton’s café La Pierre Angulaire. He was the owner of the place back then. A 16-year-old Fred Pellerin, at the time, swept the floor, when he wasn’t presenting – under the guise of a folk tale – the roughly 100 shows a year that the place hosted.

Les Tireux d’Roches“It was built on a cliff,” says Massé. “At the end of a rural road. The café printed its own newspaper and Fred distributed it in and around the village to about 60 drop points. It was a great era to own a café venue: Pierre Calvé, Pierre Létourneau and Bertrand Gosselin, to name just a few, were all doing comebacks.”

Six albums later, and more than 1,000 gigs in Québec, Europe and Asia, the fiuve members of Les Tireux d’Roches’ are still going strong, sharing traditional Québécois songs.

“The source is inexhaustible,” says Massé. “We cherish those little gems of memory. I live in the countryside, and on the road to my house there lives an 87-year-old woman who wants to sing me the 21 songs she knows by heart, which she learned from her father, who also learned them by heart. I recorded all of it, and one of them is featured on our latest album, Tarmacadam.

“Every region of Québec has deep repertoires like this. But Lanaudière, an outstanding traditional region, stands apart: St-Côme is the Mecca of traditional songs in Québec. I truly believe each house has its own repertoire of songs. André Marchand (Les Charbonniers de l’enfer) and Yves Lambert (La Bottine souriante) unearthed those treasures.”

Davy Hay Gallant – known for producing for Cirque Éloize, artistic-directing the Mondial des Cultures, as well as having played guitar for the Francophone Saskatchewan band Hart Rouge (1995–2005), as well as for Chloé Sainte-Marie – contributed his studio in Drummondville, Dogger Pound. “Usually, we record in a cabin, we do our own thing,” says Massé. We “weren’t necessarily thrilled to have a producer meddle in our stuff, but the connection with Davy was instantaneous. We got to his studio with fully formed and arranged songs. Usually, a producer will want to put his stamp on that aspect of creation, so you take him aback a little. He did shine bright, thanks to his immense talent as a multi-instrumentalist; you can hear all kinds of new sounds, thanks to him.

“Each new album by the Tireux d’Roches is always a little bit disorienting,” says Massé. “We never have a very precise direction. But this time around, we wanted something closer to our roots, rooted in our territory. And we also write a lot, so much so that now, people can no longer distinguish between a public domain song and one of our new ones.”

Yet, it’s outside of the studio that the magic truly happens. “We exist for the stage, we basically have a rock attitude, but with acoustic instruments in our hands,” says Massé. “Unavoidably, the energy is irresistible, and even people outside of Québec succumb to it, even if the lyrics are unintelligible to them. And although we do hybridize a lot, it’s style music from Québec’s terroir, and people know it, regardless of the fact that they’re Chinese, German or Spanish. Obviously, it’s very festive…”

Ironically, it’s often far from Québec that the band finds its inspiration. There are frequently pauses of several days between gigs. “We rent a house in the hills or by the seaside, we’re like a closed-circuit, and we work relentlessly,” says Massé. “Our most fruitful writing sessions are always on tour, which happens four or five times a year.

“Time has bonded the Tireux d’Roches. While on tour, we spend two hours on stage, and the 22 other hours together, non-stop. Thank God we get along!”

To top it all off, Massé also tours another show: Henri Godon, chansons pour toute sorte d’enfants (songs for all kinds of kids), which he co-presents with Jeannot Bournival, a fellow Ste-Élie resident, and also tours a lot in Europe. “I truly believe in the trade of songwriting for children,” he says.


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