WesliIn early July, during the Montréal Jazz Fest, Wesli released his sixth album Tradisyon, an ode to his Haitian roots, and the forgotten parts of his native culture. Established in Montréal for many, many years, Wesley Louissaint has constructed 19 songs that sound like tributes to, and nostalgic fragments of, an island that has lost the means to develop its art to full potential.

“Haiti has undergone a lot of cultural change, influenced by American culture,” says Wesli. “The geographical situation of the country, coupled with an economy that doesn’t work, has swallowed our roots and our Francophonie as well.”

The birth of the Tradisyon is at the heart of these roots. It draws from the depths of a nation that is a victim of its own misfortunes, and a culture that should not “die from that.” “Haiti is unable to feed its people and over the years, bad luck and natural disasters have weakened us culturally. We didn’t take what our ancestors left us seriously,” says Wesli.

The artist worked like a monk as he dug deep to safeguard every bit of endangered Haitian musical culture. “I want to inspire this vision, this motivation to re-connect Haitians with their roots, and remind them of what they used to know,” says Wesli.

On July 19, 2022, he plays these new songs during the Nuits d’Afrique Festival in Montréal. “During this show, you’ll meet the songs from my new album with even deeper roots into Haitian music,” says Wesli. “I’ll also play songs from all my other albums, so as to not ‘lose’ the people who’ve supported me for a long time.” Running until July 24, 2022, the festival showcases the deep pride of all African-rooted forms of music. “Without an event like this one, Montréal wouldn’t know all the musical culture that the rest of the world has to offer,” says Wesli.

Tradisyon will therefore be presented in its entirety, and “in real life,” so that the collective Haitian memory resonates across borders. “[Creating] this album was quite a huge process, because my starting point is lost rhythms,” says Wesli. “Haitians have lost their Creole roots. I pay homage to Azor Rasin Mapou [on ‘Samba’], to Wawa Rasin Ganga [on ‘Wawa Sé Rèl O’] and to Éric Charles as well [on ‘Konté M Rakonté’], a tenor of troubadour music. I could see that I would need more than one album to go deep into my subject,” he says with a laugh.

Wesli unflinchingly accepts the duty of transmission that has become a quasi-mantra for him. He envisions the richness of the music< and the possibility of sharing it by through the amalgamation of folk and modern sounds. Yet, to him, this is obvious. “Musical influences are naturally permeable,” he says. “There’s no musician who can make [different] music compatible. All music shares a common soul that allows it to communicate. I want to recognize and listen to this soul, so that I can share it in my own music.”

For Wesli, music thus carries within it a universal soul that has no language, nationality. or pre-determined instrument. It’s just bigger than all of that.

“I had no choice but to leave Haiti to be able to speak about her,” he says. “I’m in the ideal situation, here in Canada, to shine a light of the roots of my homeland. If I was still over there, I simply would not have the financial means to carry out this mission. Promoting our artistic values requires a certain level of financial ease. Living in Haiti is an exercise in survival. People there do not see what has been lost and needs to be safeguarded.”

He sees his life here as a unique opportunity to share his nostalgia. “Of course we feel guilty for having access to all kinds of opportunities,” he says. “We also know we wouldn’t fare any better than our peers if we were still over there. The whole idea is to take advantage of the possibilities we get, to shine a light on the place we’re from.”

Wesli’s research has led him to so many discoveries that a single album couldn’t cover it all. So his seventh album, Tradisyon 2, is slated for release in September of 2022. “I would have to make five or six albums to showcase Haitians’ values the way I see them. I want to tell the youth they should play these rhythms our ancestors have bequeathed us. In Haiti, of course, the values of servitude were taken from Africa to the colonies, but our generosity, the social aspect, the hope of our nation, and so many other things must continue to live through culture.”



The creative process behind Zhawenim, the fourth album from JUNO Award-winning Indigenous husband-and-wife duo Digging Roots, is a compelling blend of the ancient and the contemporary. Singer-songwriters Raven Kanatakta and Shoshona Kish recruited Hill Kourkoutis, recent JUNO winner as Producer of the Year, to co-produce the album with them, as well as co-writing two songs, and playing multiple instruments.

“We had some ideas about growing the sound, and Hill was the perfect person to have on board to help us realize that vision,” says Kish. “When you’re into a journey like Raven and I, then I think the objectivity and clarity an outside person can bring is important.”

The recent single “Skoden” brought Digging Roots their first rock radio airplay, while other tunes continue the group’s tradition of drawing upon such diverse elements as folk, blues, soul, psychedelia, and their Anishinaabe roots.

“Folks have always struggled to put a label on our music,” says Kish. “I’m actually happy it’s undefinable. We seem to be moving to the beat of our own drum, in the sense it’s not exactly this or that. It feels authentic and right for us.” When pressed, Kanatakta comes up with “heartbeat music that carries sweet medicine” as a defining phrase.

In creating the material that appears on Zhawenim (the Ojibway Anishnaabemowiin word for “unconditional love”) Kanatakta and Kish drew upon the tradition of Anishinabek Songlines, one that uses the landscape to inspire music.

“We’ve been using Songlines for a long time,” says Kanatakta.” It started when Shoshona’s great aunt came over and told us about her residential school experience. She also talked about how we used to traditionally write music, which was following Songlines that follow the contours of the land.

“As a result, we have songs that come from specific geographical places. Sometimes I’ll just be looking at pictures of skylines and mountain ranges, as references to come up with a melodic idea. At one point our entire living and dining room were covered with six-foot to nine-foot landscapes that I had photoshopped!”

A work of many healing hands

A key track on Zhawenim is “The Healer,” a song with a message of universal love, featuring an all-star cast of Serena Ryder, Shakura S’aida, Alana Bridgewater, Amanda Rheaume, Kinnie Starr (co-producer of Digging Roots’ JUNO-winning We Are album), and Hill Kourkoutis. “That was an incredible experience,” says Kish. “It’s an ongoing learning journey to create voices with people who are so incredibly talented. We have the joy of working with Alana in our band on the road, and I’m just so honoured she’s chosen to support the work we’re doing.”

The songs on Zhawenim tackle such themes as Indigenous identity, climate change, and the residential schools tragedy. The latter topic is addressed on “Cut My Hair,” long a staple of the group’s live show, but only now captured on record. “We actually recorded it seven times before, but it needed to come out at the right time,” says Kanaktaka. “The song told us to wait until it needed to be born, and that came with the number of children being found. I believe songs have spirits and when you play them those spirits come alive.”

Digging Roots take pride in the increasing recognition of the Indigenous artists now creating vibrant work. “It is very exciting to witness and be a part of this groundswell,” says Kish. “I see the brilliance, innovation, and creativity coming out, first-hand, every day, and I feel really grateful to have access to that bottomless well of inspiration.

“Music really is a healing force, a medicine in our community. I feel honoured to be part of a songwriting team that’s talking about what’s happening around us.”

Beyond her own work in Digging Roots, Kish is now contributing to this groundswell as co-founder (alongside fellow Indigenous roots artist Amanda Rheaume) of new record label Ishkode, currently home to Rheaume, Digging Roots, Morgan Toney, and Aysanabee.

 



In 2021, Dani Saldo and rapper Troy Junker were participants in the TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship, presented by the SOCAN Foundation. It was an exciting opportunity, and both were eager to learn from, and collaborate with, other talented creators – especially during a pandemic that saw many artists like themselves isolated and unsupported. In no time, Saldo, a FilipinX-Canadian pop singer from Guelph, Ontario, recognized that the musical affinities between her and Junker, a Métis rapper from Saskatchewan, were attuned.

“I checked out Troy’s music and really loved his style in ‘We Up’ with Thea May. I resonated with his inspirational lyrics and wanted us to work together,” says Saldo, adding that she soon decided to reach out for a music session.

“When Dani told me she was coming, I set up a studio session,” says Junker. “It was our first time meeting in person. We hung out and got to know each before listening to beats or writing anything, and then we [each] listened to what the other was working on. We played a few beats, and when the beat for ‘Find A Way’ came on, she gravitated towards it, and we decided to jump in writing. I messaged my friend, Harmon1x, who made the beat, and he was excited that we were going to record it.”

For Saldo, making music has been a passion ever since her youth, helping her, literally, find her voice. “I began writing poetry, which helped me [overcome] being an anxious kid,” she says. “And then, because I was a big nerd, I began transcribing songs from Filipino shows, Japanese anime, and J-pop, K-pop, into sing-able English versions.”

Eventually, Saldo began writing her own songs.  “When I lived in the Philippines, I took part in ABS-CBN’S [a television channel in the Philippines] Star Magic Workshops. But I didn’t get professionally started in music until 2019, when I asked a couple of friends from out of town to share an Airbnb with me in New York for a spontaneous writing trip. We hit it off, and ever since, we’ve been writing songs for film and TV under the group name ABSTRCT, as an international songwriting team.”

For Junker, who began DJ-ing in high school, making music was a crew affair. “I’d take my favourite instrumentals and then plug in a capellas [unaccompanied vocals] from songs I liked on Cool Edit Pro,” he says with a laugh. “Then one day, my friends and I wanted to make a song for a party we were going to, so we decided to start rapping and making original songs.”

After attending Music Business Management at Durham College, Junker moved to Toronto to transform his dreams into reality. “I began networking and putting out as much music as I could,” he says. “As well, I got involved behind the scenes for other artists, but I always continued to push my own [artistry].”

Their goal for the track was to create something inspirational and positive. “I like music that makes me feel hopeful and good, and once Dani started writing the chorus, I knew that it was exactly in the right direction,” says Junker.

“Troy was so much fun to write with, and it was fun getting to write rap,” says Saldo. “We did this little dolphin wave thing to get into the flow, and just spitballed ideas back and forth.”

For both songwriters, the final result hit the mark. “I love it,” says Junker with pride. “‘Find A Way’ just entered the Indigenous Music Countdown [at No. 26], and [we’ve] been getting great feedback from fans.” And for those bitten by the song, be prepared for another co-written track, “Boss Up,” with Saldo’s producer, Riki, coming out soon.