Xela Edna and Eius Echo have known each other for a very long time. Partners in crime since childhood – they were on the same speed skating team – they lost sight of each other, then found each other again to pool their energy. But this time in a creative way, rather than a sporting way. Musically, they combine their talents to create atmospheres that push us to dance, and get rid of anything that prevents us from feeling pure and simple well-being.

Xela Edna, Eius Echo

Photo: Maryse Boyce/Francouvertes

“High-level sport is addictive,” says Eius Echo, adamant that musical performance has most certainly taken the place of sports performance in their lives. “We needed to go as far from sports as we could,” says Xela Edna. “Instead of going around in circles doing something physical and automatic, we found ourselves in musical performance.” His stage partner agrees: “We clearly took a lot of characteristics from sports and applied them to music: perseverance, giving it everything you’ve got…”

Recognizing each other as creative people by nature, they saw in music a practical path to convey both political and philosophical ideas. “We needed to find a different way of coping with life,” says Edna. “Sports and music are two highly therapeutic ways of getting rid of negativity.”

Before collaborating with Echo, Edna wrote in English. He delved into languid hip-hop that flirted with R&B and soul. “Our process has evolved,” continues Echo. “But it’s always been that I create a beat, she writes based on it, and then we record it. Nowadays, it’s more complex and there are more layers. She often brings complete song demos to the table.” They both enjoy being involved in each other’s creative process. “I’ll be on my own writing in a poetic frame of mind, and Eius Echo gives me beats, or themes. Increasingly, we create demos on our own, and then we work on them together.”

It’s the fusion of their talents that led Edna to sing in French. “Eius pushed me in that direction,” she remembers. “But I couldn’t find my own sound and I didn’t like how my voice sounded in French. In the end, we tried something that closer to French spoken word over electronic beats, and ended up with what we’re doing now.”

From the very inception of their musical union, they’ve sought to give their audience a unique stage experience. “It was always our goal,” Echo insists. “It’s ambient and laid-back, and aggressive at the same time. We had all kinds of beats and wanted to tell a story, to have a storyline. When we started, we knew what we wanted to achieve, but we didn’t know how, and didn’t have the means to do it. We pooled our ideas through studies and experience.” Writing in French has allowed Edna to get closer to her truth, and Echo’s learned all the techniques that now allow them to produce their unique sound.

“Just by sitting next to him, I ended up understanding how it all works,” Edna continues. “I installed that software on my computer and learned by watching. I’ve always composed by singing and playing the piano. It’s more inspiring and original to start with melodies that way.” Although she’s tried working with other producers, it was alongside Echo that she understood that the passion that drives him is a catalyst for her own talent.

The result can clearly be seen when they’re onstage: what we witness is a multi-faceted performance with meticulous attention to detail. “We want to make a physical demonstration, to feel alive,” says Edna. “There’s nothing more insignificant nowadays than releasing a song on Internet,” Echo adds. “The experience needs to be bigger than that.”

Following three EPs, the duo is now working on their first full-length album, slated for 2023. “We’re seeking eccentricity,” says Edna. “It’s our source of inspiration. Even if we’re doing experimental electronic music, we find inspiration in the work of Klô Pelgag, Hubert Lenoir, and all those artists who know how to do unique things without limitations.”

 



Paul JacobsDiscovered as a member of the popular Montréal-based garage punk band Pottery, singer-songwriter-musician Paul Jacobs is having fun playing live in a band, now that the worst part of the pandemic seems to be behind us.

“And since I’m working with the Bonsound label [and it’s Blow the Fuse sub-label], I have an opportunity to discover Québec on tour. I just came back from wonderful L’Isle-aux-Coudres, a small island located near Baie-Saint-Paul. and its small cabaret La Fascine! La Fascine, yeah! Pretty cool – they’ve built a kind of barn where they organize shows, and they lent us these small cottages… We were looking for a place to go swimming, but the St. Lawrence River isn’t a good place for that.”

At press time, Jacobs is embarking on a tour of the American midwest, where there’s an interest for his kind of rock songs. “These days, I’m spending all my time on my solo project,” songwriting, and getting on the road again.  Since the Summer 2020 release of his debut album Welcome to Bobby’s Motel by the Pottery band, Jacobs has enriched his own already ample repertoire with an excellent 2021 full-length album (Pink Dogs on the Green Grass), and his most recent 185 on the Corner EP, which adopts the psychedelic and groovy side of rock. “At the time I was writing these songs, I was discovering Arthur Russell’s music, with his blend of folk music and electronic sounds, and I was influenced by that. And there was also Neil Young, whose songs I’ve listened to all my life.”

These five new songs, written following the previous album’s work sessions, were even more influenced by the pandemic atmosphere, “which explains the different vibe,” says Jacobs. “I’m always trying new things – if you listen to my previous albums, you’ll see that they’re all fairly different from one another.”

What makes his approach different is that it’s independent. Originally from Ontario, Jacobs is a one-man orchestra who writes by himself and plays all of the instruments, records, and produces without outside help. “I was touring extensively across Canada, and every time we stopped in Montréal, the shows were cooler and cooler,” he says. “You know, the new-city-and-good-feelings type of thing. I was able to do one-man shows, and people were dancing and having a good time. So I thought I might as well try to live there.”

A visual artist in his own right, he even designs his own album covers, which are remarkably dynamic and colourful, “just to illustrate the musical atmosphere properly. Well, I’m not fond of commenting on my illustrations, but the dominant colour chosen [blue, on his recent EP] seems colder, as if I were more vulnerable and expressing my emotions more fully. It was like I was showing another side of my personality.

“I use the colour green a lot because it’s my favourite colour,” Jacobs adds, explaining why that colour, symbolizing hope, is frequently used on the covers of his four previous albums. “Visual illustrations are a complement to the music, which is my priority. But with painting, as well as with music, it’s pretty much the same thing: you start from scratch, and as you go along with your creation, a thing begins to exist, and then you get the same feeling of satisfaction you experience when you end up with something. Designing the cover, performing, drumming, playing guitars, and putting it all together is a thrill.

“I usually grab my acoustic guitar when I’m writing, but my drum kit is always nearby, so I’ll often sit down and record a groove on which I can build up a new song. However, there’s always a piano in the studio, and sometimes I’ll sit at it and write a groove” that will become the basis for a new song. That said, there’s also a piano in the studio, and sometimes I’ll sit at it. I get inspiration from all sorts of sources. “Christopher Robbins,” for instance, a song from the [Pink Dogs on the Green Grass] album, was started while I was playing the bongos, and I thought, yes, I should record this and try to add a bass line, that would be cool!

“I sometimes have a song topic in mind, but I often just sing anything, sounds, just to see what’s coming out of my mouth, without thinking too much. I don’t know, but sometimes it’s weird with tunes… I sometimes feel that writing a song is an out-of-body experience, as if the songs already existed, and I was only discovering now that they were there all along. And when I get that feeling, that’s when I know that I’m doing a good job in a very organic sort of way.”



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.