Even before they got started, you could say that Toronto R&B duo Spiritsaver had one up on the competition.

Prior to the duo of Zale and Tajudeen releasing last year’s psilocybin-inspired joint “I’m High, Have You Met Me?,” they were – and still are – being mentored by two of Canada’s brightest production gurus, 2023 Grammy Producer of the Year nominee Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels (Drake,  Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Jack Harlow, Travi$ Scott) and Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter  Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk (Dua Lipa,  Kendrick Lamar, Madonna, Nicki Minaj).

Spiritsaver, "I'm High, Have You Met Me?"

Click on the image to play the video for Spiritsaver’s “I’m High, Have You Met Me?”

“We’re really fortunate to be able to push ‘play’ on the music for guys like Stephen Kozmeniuk and Boi-1da,” says Zale. “People who are mentors, and that we work closely with, and get their opinions. That’s like having the top A&Rs to be able to bounce ideas off of.  We’re very grateful for our network, one that we’ve been building for our whole lives.”

Zale’s not kidding when it comes to mentioning lifelong connections, which extends to Nigerian-born singer Tajudeen, whom he met at age 12 at The Lair Studios.

Zale’s built up a bit of a heavyweight track record himself, working in the producer’s chair for such megastars as Eminem, Kanye (now Ye) West, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Hudson, Meek Mill, and Childish Gambino – both individually and as half of the songwriting-production duo The Maven Boys. But he got his start at the age of 13, handling the MySpace page for Boi-1da, creating beats with him two years later, and eventually signing with his production company when he was 18.

“I have a long history with 1da,” Zale explains. “Then I met Koz,  brought him into 1da’s system. At the time, Koz was doing two-a-days, he was doing a lot of synch/advertising music and pop stuff from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Then I’d pull up on him and we’d work until 2:00 a.m. on stuff to pitch to 1da. We got a bunch of cuts together; there’s a whole family relationship there that’s deeper than music. It’s the same thing with T [Tajudeen]:  We’re all friends before the music thing, and it’s more like a brotherhood. Everybody wants to see everybody else shine.”

While Zale and Tajudeen have known each other for a lifetime, their new Spiritsaver project is fresh out of the gate.

“We wanted to control our own destiny,” says Zale. “And we wanted to be able to make the art we want to make. There’s a lot of politics on both sides of the industry, whether you’re behind the scenes or you’re the artist. The difference is, we can take our careers by the horns, and do what we need to do to make sure the music comes out the way we want it to come out.

“We wanted to control our own destiny” – Zale

“When you’re working behind the scenes, you’re kind of giving your art away, and trusting the artist to make the right decisions. Being the artists, we’re able to make the art that accompanies the music.  It’s not just about writing songs: it’s about building a brand, showing the lifestyle, and doing all these extra things that are a lot of fun – photo shoots,  shooting music videos, and making content.”

Tajudeen calls Spiritsaver’s music “destiny-written soul,” and says the chemistry between the two was immediate, as evidenced by their first two songs: “I’m High, Have You Met Me,” which garnered 33,000 YouTube views in a single month, and their current ballad, “Killing Us Slowly.”

“That’s why we gelled so fast: This has been marinating for a while,” says Tajudeen.

Zale says, “I’m High, Have You Met Me?” was inspired by magic mushrooms. “We started writing that song after I had dabbled with a psychedelic experience,” he says. “It’s based on a trip, astral projection (when the soul leaves the physical body). It’s kind of like a rebirth. The experiences you have in that other dimension – and then the re-integration – is what the Spiritsaver project is for both of us. And the name, too.”

Click on the image to play the video for Spiritsaver’s “Killing us Slowly”

“Killing Us Slowly” is  a song about heartbreak, says Zale. “It’s about getting into something too soon,” he explains. “The beginning of the relationship can start fast and take off, and sometimes it may be based more on attraction than the right type of fit. We  wanted to look at a love story from that perspective: Looking at the relationship from outside, as a greater idea of,  ‘We’re both at fault here.’”

Zale notes that the two songs are derived from approximately 15 other songs they have in various stages of completion. “I come from a producer background, so I make the beats,” he says. “I’ll be creating music on my computer with T in the room, and he’s more of a melody guy. So, he’ll start going off on some melodies, and then I’ll start shooting lyrics at him. Then, we start building something freestyle, and see where it goes. We’ll get in a vibe, and once we feel we have something, we zero in and start arranging all the melodies.  Then if there’s a concept there, we figure out the hook, lock it in, and work on the verses.

“We re-write a lot. We’ve probably re-written, like, 10 different versions of  ‘Killing Us Slowly’ alone.  We’re always experimenting and trying to get it right.”

The next step for Spiritsaver is working on their live show, which they’ll debut at some point in 2023. They also aim to release a new song every four to six weeks, and, in Zale’s words, “stay consistent.” “We’re trying to do everything from a place of originality, and a place where it’s not about ego,” he says.  “It’s just about telling our stories, and doing it in an original way that we feel that people can relate to. Music is a way for people to overcome things in their life, and look at it from a fresh perspective.”

To mark Black History Month, we gave SOCAN member Jenny Salgado carte blanche. She’s a Québec-based multi-disciplinary artist of Haitian origin, a singer-songwriter, and screen composer. She was also a pioneer of Québec’s Francophone rap scene as a member of the legendary group Muzion, and accepted our invitation with the militant and poetic writing style for which she’s renowned.

“I have a dream…” 
I am the Dream.

When, during the day, my mom used to scour hotel rooms trashed by European tourists on René-Lévesque
While, her lips tight, she would let the melodies on the radio whisper in each room of her floor
The same whispers, when the night fell, that she would harmonize without profanity while she moistened and gently scrubbed their withered skin
That of our forebears, hidden in hospices and hospitals.
That of the Gran Moun who mumble with their head tilted to the floor… their souls already ascending
Who barely remember anything at all, not even themselves, nor that show which must go on…
But they remember, by heart, all of our songs.

My mother described each of their faces while the sun was rising through their eyes…
Silence, suspension
Never too late, nor too early.

When my grandfather was dying in Fort-Dimanche, while the guardians of the dictatorship were looking one with a dark, glassy stare. . .
On the walls were as many names as there were cross-outs…
Background: the echoes of the Dessalinnienne’s ringing trumpets
While bare chests are lining up, recognizing death,and no longer bother to give a defiant look of hatred. When the night of its release…
Feast and fanfare! Come thunder and rain, celebration!… My grandmother came back home
alone and a widow.

The home…
Buried, too.
All those heavy stones, this monument, those heavy frequencies… All it took was one January 12 for them to evaporate in our history, in History…
The one that silences us. The one that lies to us. Rest, suspension…
There once was a denouement…

When, by the moonlight, my great-grandmother looked out the window of her tiny shack, sat in her rocking chair with just the smoke from her pipe coming out of her mouth…
There, fully ready, between the riches and the niches, in them little boxes, where all the huts of the most mistrustful servants rubbed shoulders
And time observed us, dispassionate, following its own beat
Humming worry free, motionless
Not even a dodgy look
With the assurance of a single impulse, fissureless and fictionless 
Dictating its own score
Leaving us to our own devices, to interpretation

When? But mostly, Who?
Who among those who were inspired before me?
When they dreamt of that future, did they dream of me?
The I in Black History Month…

It’s been more than 20 years now, since I was able to exist as myself before the others, with the others, all the others, I presented myself as a singer-songwriter. Artist.
I told them I wanted to make art and tell my story in the future tense, too.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves: no one here actually lives in the present. As soon as we act, reply, even to harmonize, we are in fact responding to something that has already happened. And as soon as you shut up, you hear what was… since forever.
There are those who dream of the future, breathing out the past, and then there are those who create the future, breathing in the past.

And that, for me, is how I summarize this world I was born into. 
This choice. These words, that music. This voice.
Choosing what I want to say when I respond to silence…
Knowing fully what those dreams are made of, the dreams that breathe out, that rest, hanging from branches endlessly looped towards the roots until their origin is forgotten.
Those dreams that stick to your skin, that get coated with resin, that are resigned to seal the wounds of a small story that pleased.
Knowing fully that there are so many artists that, quite simply, no longer dream…

Photo : Berekyah

I said so much to an 8-year-old child, the other day: 

Really? They can no longer dream? You mean in poor countries? 
In the poor worlds! 
The poor worlds? But isn’t it countries that create worlds? 
Ah! But no, my precious one. Your world is everything that you feel, everything that you create when countries let their walls evaporate and let you roam free when and where you want. It’s like a dream! 
Ahhh! OK… And what do they create, those artists who no longer know how to dream. 
They don’t create, they replicate. They duplicate walls. Walls filled with cross-outs. To fit in small boxes. 
I don’t want to become an artist. I want to be the dream…

February 2023: 

Cold beer, pizza, fritay… all over the world we are waiting for the halftime show where one of the most beautiful women in the world is supposed to sing. A black, pregnant woman who’ll allegedly steal the show during the Super Bowl. In the back of the room, the kids are playing, the scream in an accent I don’t know, totally new and pieced together from a thousand different origins. Time stops. Pure music
My boys big up me; I started the year singing Desjardins’ Les Yankees on TV. Inhabited like a Winter that has never known any boundaries. And the Sun rose. In Creole…

I tell them about this project I’m working on, the story of music in Québec, where I will tell the story of the arrival of jazz’s syncopation, of swing, of improvisation and of hips swaying, sound-wise and body-wise, of the blue notes in the storytelling, the underground freestyles and railroads that have had so much influence on whom we’ve become today! How we sound today! Like the Tam Tam and the Afrobeats of today. How they infiltrate what presents itself as “urban music” and takes centre stage in today’s musique québécoise. It hasn’t been told yet. Archived. Fossilized. Rests, suspensions. . . It’s an honour. A duty. 

In a coupla weeks, I’ll be selecting the winner of the Breakthrough Hip-Hop Artist of the Year. That Hip-Hop that’s no longer sung just by Blacks (everybody raps, all the worlds rap, nowadays!) and no longer talks about Blacks. But it is derived from all the currents, and flaunts the slang used daily by the neighbourhoods where the Blacks that create our future also dream, our literature. . . As many names as there are cross-outs. 

Before embarking on my next soundtrack, which criss-crosses the cinema that tells our story . . . and going to I don’t know which country to represent Québec, I’m finishing, invited as a “model of success,” my tour of schools, where I have learned so much about the future that awaits us! I learn that from those youths who don’t want to become anything at all, who don’t want to be defined in these tiny boxes, not even the artist’s. They only dream about creating themselves as they see fit and become influential where they are. 

I went back through my shole story with them to meet them where they had imagined me. Where they recognize themselves. 

They heard my mother’s mutterings, those melodies that are always with us, My grandmother’s prayers, the soul you cannot disavow

The trumpets of revolt, the power of words, like a gaze propelled beyond the parapets 

The drums of rebellion, the riddim that leads all the sounds that we call, that we assemble, that duplicate the movement of the heart of a single choir beating as one 

The songs of freedom, the raison d’être why this trade, I will learn it until the end of time 

The silence of that 8-year-old artist before she finally said: 

“I’m not just an artist. I’m just the dream.” 

 Believe it or not, music is in the blood. 

Thank you to everyone who dreamt of me before me. 

And let me create while it is my turn. 

 Drop the needle. 

Jenny Salgado alias J.Kyll 

Wondering how to transition from a basement-studio songwriter/producer to a world-class musician, who works with the likes of The Weeknd and Noah Cyrus? “When I find out, I’ll let you know,” responds Mike Sonier, half-jokingly.

While not a household name, the Cornwall, Ontario-born, L.A.-based producer has spent the last five years making inroads into the pop music community, and has something to show for it: co-writes and production credits with Maggie Rogers (“Love You For A Long Time”), Julia Michaels (“Priest”), and his biggest hit yet, Noah Cyrus’s “July” – which, both as a solo song, and in a version that features Leon Bridges, has accumulated more than 1 billion streams.

Mike Sonier, Noah Cyrus, "July"

Click on the image to play the video for Noah Cyrus’s “July”

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” he says, over the phone from L.A.  “As a fan of music –  somebody who’s been chasing this dream since I was 17 years old – to have a song that’s touched a lot of people is the greatest honour.  Just yesterday, I saw a video on Instagram, where someone tagged me, that was about ‘July.’ People have told me that they’ve written essays about it to get into university. That’s better than any reward.”

Signed to Jenna Andrews’ TwentySeven Music Publishing / Sony Music Publishing, Sonier might attribute his success to timing and luck, but the truth is closer to his ability to hustle, and “reaching out to the guys who’ve made it” – promoting his availability to assist with whatever they need in terms of studio expertise, musicianship, and grunt work.

“I’d end up in a lot of situations,” he says. “I met Alessia Cara on her first writing sessions, where she wrote ‘Here,’ as I did the engineering and the demoing.  Over time, as I worked for different producers, I had a big bag of tricks that was useful.” He rented a room at Toronto’s Dreamhouse Studios, and  also worked separately  with Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk as an assistant on Dua Lipa’s debut record during that same time period.

Later, after being frustrated by a project he’d just finished producing, Sonier aired his frustrations on Twitter saying  he wanted to work on “higher quality” projects.  Also on Twitter at the time: Martin “Doc” McKinney, co-writer and producer of Esthero, and an early writing/producing collaborator with The Weeknd.  He was looking for someone to help him out. “A contact at Dreamhouse was kind enough to make an introduction,” says Sonnier. “I interviewed with Doc and started the next day.”

One of the first projects he worked on with Doc was the Black Panther movie soundtrack main title song, “Pray For Me,” featuring The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar. Eventually, he signed a production deal with McKinney to find and develop artists, and also landed the Michaels, Rogers, and Cyrus tracks.  Sonier signed his publishing deal with Andrews after the end of his production deal with McKinney, then moved his young family to L.A. “It just felt like the right thing to do, considering the amount of work that’s available here,” he says.

“If I’m not in the room, I’m not really getting the cut”

“In my world, if I’m not in the room, I’m not really getting the cut,” he says. “With how I work, we’re in the room writing the song, getting the vibe, and doing the production as we go. When you look at the multitude of artists that come out here from all over the world – and you’re signed to a major publisher – that’s the caveat where you have access, and you get to write with multitude of different people.”

When he writes, Sonier says he’s looking for something particular. “I really try and find where I can bring my perspective to a situation,” he says. “Sometimes, when writing a song, I may be just focused on the lyrics and strumming acoustic guitar. Or sometimes, I may be really trying to tap into the music side of things, where maybe the artist is off in their own world with the lyrics, and I’m trying to create an interesting music palette that might be unique for them.   I’m always trying to find a way to put a unique emotion into something that resonates.”

Produced by Sonier, and co-written with Noah Cyrus, Peter Harding, and Jenna Andrews, “July” was the result of a songwriting camp. “‘July,’ and a lot of songs like that, start with a conversation when everyone gets into a room,” he explains. “Everybody gets to know each other, and everybody’s going to be at a different emotional life-point. People start to communicate, and become a little more open, and share stories. I shared something that was going on in my life, and I had a very simple chord progression, strumming along.

Sonier Kenekts at SOCAN Sync Song Camp
In July of 2022, Sonier participated in the very first SOCAN Kenekt Sync Song Camp in L.A., organized to create songs to pitch to music supervisors for screen productions. He says, “You get placed with a group of people –  maybe other producers, a writer, and an artist – and the goal is  to write and produce a piece of music with a time restraint. It’s a really fun project, a cool challenge, and a cool way to sharpen your sword – and get out of your comfort zone. I thought it went really well.”

“Just putting your heart on your sleeve, and just standing in your shit, for lack of a better word, allows you to pull out that story, that human experience that we all relate to.  With ‘July,’ it was the first day of a songwriting camp, and what you hear is very much the result of that day.”

In late 2022, Sonier collaborated with Ruth B. on a song she wrote for the movie Maybe I Do, called “Always You.” “It was a time-crunch situation,” he says. “Ruth and the director, Michael Jacobs, called me to have a chat about producing the song. In addition to my role as a producer, I also orchestrated and played piano on the piece. We actually recorded two versions.”

Looking to the future, Sonier is setting up his own creative company, Somebody Call Everybody Inc. “My goal is to use my platform, as it grows, to  advocate for creatives, and songwriters, and producers, and artists, and people that often don’t have a voice,” he explains. “One of our goals is to take part in the ongoing shifts in the culture of our industry, where we actively address the issues affecting creatives through action.”

Whatever happens as he moves forward, Mike Sonier continues to carve out an impressive niche for himself.