DawaMafia, Carlos GuerraThe album title, of their sixth LP as a duo, reflects the way brothers Zacka and Tali B see themselves. For them, Infréquentable (meaning “bad company”) is a way of accepting their past, and being at peace with what people think of them. “To this day, I see the distance between me and others. I feel it every day. It’s like I have ‘bad company’ stamped on my forehead. So I chose to accept it and to live with it,” explains Tali B, seven years younger than his brother.

This clear demarcation between DawaMafia and the rest of the world is expressed in various ways on this new album, the duo’s first since 2020. Both rappers present themselves as mistrustful characters, who aren’t afraid of anything. Their secret weapon to confront the sometimes brutal gaze of others is quite simple: loyalty. “Loyalty is the most important quality to have for a man. If someone isn’t loyal, walk away from them,” says Zacka.

“We have two or three friends in our lives, but other than that, it’s family first,” adds Tali B. “Our family is made up of five brothers and two sisters. We’re a tight-knit family. I would die for my brother, and I know he would also die for me.”

They grew up Montréal’s South Shore suburb of Brossard. Renowned for its DIX-30 district and its more affluent areas, the city is also home to a poorer social class in its various low-income housing complexes. That’s where the duo’s roots lie. “Let’s just say we weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouths,” says Zacka ironically. “We did what we needed to, to be where we’re at today.”

Throughout their teens, Tali B, Zacka, and the rest of their siblings built a solid reputation all over town for being makers of “dawa,” slang for mayhem. “There was always at least one brother that was causing chaos somewhere,” says Zacka. “Sometimes you’d get somewhere, and people would go, ‘You stirred shit up here last month, you ain’t coming in!’ And yet you’d never set foot in there! Our evenings would often end up with a fistfight. That was our daily life.”

Music rapidly became a fortress in which to hide from the chaos. “We’ve always made music. Before we recorded, we’d all freestyle together. Rap started taking up more and more space in our lives,” says Zacka.

DawaMafia, Infrequentable

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the DawaMafia song “Infréquentable”

As time went by, Zacka and Tali B emerged as the two most assiduous of the bunch when it came to music. After developing separate projects – as a solo act for Tali and as a member of various bands, notably Bagdad Musik, for Zacka – they decided to join forces officially as DawaMafia, in the second half of the 2010s. “We figured that if we were going to waste our time in various projects, it would be better to do it together. Nothing is stronger than this blood bond,” says Tali B.

“Initially it wasn’t very serious. It became serious once we stopped investing money in the project. I can say that something switched about three years ago,” says Zacka. “Sometimes, God puts people on your path, and for us it was Rico Rich [one of the bigger players on Québec’s rap scene]. He showed us how to structure things.”

“We’re at our peak, now. Right now, Infréquentable was released about two or three weeks ago, and we already have 2 million views,” says Tali B.

Beyond the numbers, Infréquentable’s content is striking. More than ever, the two brothers are in perfect symbiosis on the mic, seamlessly relaying each other’s flows and vocals with equal dexterity. “We strive to come across as singing and rapping all at once. We really meld both. We were inspired by what’s going on in the U.S. recently with artists like NLE Choppa and A Boogie wit da Hoodie,” says Tali B. “We help each other and work as a team. We have to project a connection. We’re a duo, not a ‘featuring.’ We’re a single artist.”

The duo’s evolution can also be heard in their lyrics. The two brothers talk about their past in a perspicacious way, revealing dark episodes of their lives without becoming overly dramatic or explicit. “Aujourd’hui, j’fais de l’art à plein temps/Avant j’faisais du tort à plein de gens” [freely: “Nowadays I make art full-time / Before, I used to do a lot of people wrong”], the duo confides on “Fast,” a song very representative of the rest of the album – which, slowly, over the course of its second half, introduces the idea of change and transformation.

Would the pair admit to gradually becoming more well-behaved? “I don’t know about well-behaved, but more mature, yes,” says Tali B. “We still have a lot of wisdom to gain.”

Sometimes songs – even those that seem pre-ordained to reach the artist for whom they’re meant – take awhile to get their destination.

Such was the case with “Catchin’ Grasshoppers,” written by SOCAN members Laura McCall Torno and Earl Torno. Pop and country music superstar Kenny Rogers – who sold more than 100 million albums prior to his death in March 2020 at the age of 81 – first promised the Toronto-based duo that he’d record the song back in 2009.

Fourteen years later, that promise was finally kept: “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” is the third single, and the epicentre, of Rogers’s first posthumous album of all-new material, Life Is Like A Song. It’s a 10-song effort that includes classics written by Lionel Richie, Eric Clapton, and the Motown tandem of Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and Rodger Penzabene, as well as fresh numbers by the likes of Kim Carnes, Gary Burr, and “Straight Into Love” by SOCAN members Jimmy Rankin and Patricia Conroy.

 “I feel gratitude,” says McCall Torno, who initially birthed the song and wrote the lyrics. Her husband chimed in to help with the melody, chord progressions, and musical composition, creating a guitar-and-piano demo, with McCall Torno singing the words into their iPhone and TASCAM digital recorder.

“We’ve got a nice little set-up at home,” says Earl. “Laura’s got a really nice writing room here, with a piano, and that’s where our ProTools rig is.  When she writes, it’s her thing – playing the piano and coming up with ideas.  When we get to the point where she’s got the idea,  a good general outline of the story, and a good sense of the melody, she’ll bring it in. I might pick up the guitar, sit down, and start jamming together.

“Then we’ll build it from there. I will say that Laura, from that point on, is the wordsmith. I might make a suggestion, but it’s Laura who puts words to paper and comes up with the actual lyric. My strength is more on the melodic, arrangement, and production side.”

McCall Torno took a trip down memory lane for “Catchin’ Grasshoppers.” “For me, it was  a look back on at my childhood and some of those wonderful, cherished memories, and wishing that there were more of those,” she says. “And then thinking about how life changed so dramatically. As I started, I immediately envisioned Kenny. I was thinking about what life must have been like for him. In a career that can be consuming, being able to find time with his kids. I wanted it to be a song that inspired fathers – and I hope it does that.”

Kenny Rogers, Catchin' Grasshoppers, Laura McCall Torno, Earl Torno

Select the image to play the YouTube static-image video of the Kenny Rogers song “Catchin’ Grasshoppers”

The five-times married Rogers had, in fact, five children. When U.S. publisher Rex Benson, who’d previously sent Rogers his 1999 chart-topping comeback hit “Buy Me A Rose,” pitched him “Catchin’ Grasshoppers,” he took to the song like a duck to water. So, the Tornos adjusted the lyrics slightly to reflect he and his wife Wanda’s relationship to their own twin sons, Jordan and Justin.

“We were thrilled to modify the lyrics,” says McCall Torno. “To have the twins woven throughout the song, tailoring the lines to reflect on the heartwarming relationship Kenny had with his boys, and his deep devotion to his family. Then, much to our surprise, we found out that the sons’ fifth birthdays fell within days of this song landing into Kenny’s hands. Pretty amazing!”

In 2009, Rogers invited the Tornos to a show, and onto his tour bus – where he surprised them with his recorded version of  “Catchin’ Grasshoppers.” “He told us how much ‘Catchin’ Grasshoppers’ meant to him personally; how greatly he valued it; and that the song is a legacy to his twin boys Justin and Jordan,” says Earl Torno. “That was the most fulfilling moment that we as songwriters could ever experience.”

Rogers promised to place the song on an album, but his passing seemed to indicate a premature end to fulfilling that mandate. Then, in the summer of 2021,  the Tornos received a call from Vector Management, which was handling Rogers’s estate. They shared the news that a posthumous album was in the works, and that “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” was likely to be included on the project, curated and executive-produced by Rogers’s widow Wanda, and Vector’s Jason Henke and Ken Levitan.  The official release became a reality on June 2, 2023.

The Tornos are no strangers to the music business: Earl has engineered and edited projects for Platinum Blonde, Triumph, and Glass Tiger – as well as being busily involved with animated and live-action TV series, including Odd Squad, Race Against The Tide, and Numb Chucks. Laura, meanwhile, has had songs placed on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Still, to this point, “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” is the biggest feather in their cap. “What I love about this story is that it’s inspiring to all of us as songwriters,” says McCall Torno. “I know writers who have amazing songs, really believe in them, and end up shelving things if something doesn’t happen the way they expect it to happen, when they expect it to happen. Don’t give up hope.”

Beau NectarMarie-Clo and éemi each have their own, separate, musical project, but when they work together, they become Beau Nectar, a bilingual electro-pop affair that tackles topics like feminist issues, or nature. Indica Records recently released their album Two Lips, a universal, accessible representation of eco-feminism.

Franco-Ontarian and Franco-Saskatchewanian, respectively, Marie-Clo and éemi met through a musical competition presented by the now defunct BRBR TV show, hosted by TFO.

“Then, the pandemic separated us and made us want to write an album as a duo,” Marie-Clo explains. “We wanted to express how passionate we feel about nature, and its fauna and flora.” Beyond their shared interests, especially in feminism, they took their quest for knowledge a step further by pursuing Gender Studies at the University of Victoria, training in herbal medicine, and recording in the woods – to tie it all together.

Each in their own province, they were able to take Beau Nectar forward as if there was no physical distance between them. “The technologies that emerged during the pandemic really helped us forget the physical distance,” says éemi. “With Zoom and Google Drive, we strive to get as many creative residencies together as possible, but everything else is do-able.” Among the songs on Two Lips, “À fleur de pot” tells the story of a houseplant that dreams of living outdoors. “I wrote that during the pandemic,” explains Marie-Clo. “We were stuck inside and we couldn’t wait to go out.”

The two partners explore the world through a shared vision: “Woman and nature under the capitalist and patriarchal umbrella,” says éemi. “We love to improvise when we get a chance to get together,” adds Marie-Clo. “We love effects pedals, we record ourselves and try all kinds of stuff. We have less and less creation time because of touring, but we tour because our project is successful, so it’s a good thing.”  éemi adds, “It’s when you’re noodling around that the best ideas come out.” There’s one recommendation to remember.

The women are free, and thrive in the role of being a bilingual musical project outside of Québec. “We want to avoid being the token artists at all costs,” says Marie-Clo. “Beau Nectar is bilingual without being Québécois, so it’s different. We represent confidence in our linguistic insecurity. We couldn’t be prouder that French is our first language, even though we’re from Canadian provinces that are largely Anglophone.”

Beau Nectar, Buds

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Beau Nectar song “Buds”

Well aware that making music in English only would afford them a much wider audience, they’ve still decided not to go that route. “We don’t need to write in English to be successful,” says éemi. “A lot of Francophiles love what we do, and that makes us very proud. We love all the possibilities French words give us.”

Music is often presented in rigid boxes, but the two singer songwriters don’t subscribe to that approach. “When we were in France, I thought they’d talk about our strange accents, but they love our melodies – and that’s what they talked about, in the end,” éemi remembers. “When we played Phoque Off [in Québec City], we expected to be the ‘from outside of Québec’ act, but everyone kept stressing how our project is important because it’s an alternative one led by two women.”

They flex their strengths even more through their rhythms, and brilliant word plays. “I’m a dancer, a choreographer, and an actress, and that profoundly influences my stage persona,” says Marie-Clo. “éemi is strong in acting, and she’s extremely talented in design, editing, and video projections onstage.”

Their voices work together like two pieces of a puzzle, so much so that they’re often asked if they’re sisters. (They’re not.) In feminine solidarity, they shatter the false assumption that talented women have to be in competition with each other. “We met in a competition and we had compatible energies,” éemi remembers. “Society encourages us to feel intimidated by each other. We realized we were both careerists, and that a joint project could take us even further.”