There were flowers that weren’t allowed to grow. Singer-songwriter Antoine Corriveau re-thinks the places where things grow, the homes where people live, and the opportunities we give culture to bloom, even as we’re conscious of the end.

His fourth album Pissenlit (in English, Dandelion), released on Secret City Records on Oct. 9, 2020, was primarily inspired by the cute and naive aspect of the flowers of our youth, which we used to gather large bunches of before we learned that some were less valuable than others. Then the issue of territory and its ownership developed, lending a different colour to dandelions that insist on remaining yellow.

Antoine Corriveau“From day one, with music, I wanted to try new things. This time, I wanted my upcoming show to be like a freight train that runs over you and stops only two or three times for more introspective moments,” says Corriveau.

During the final shows of his latest tour, Corriveau performed a punk version of “Noyer le poisson” (Les ombres longues, 2014), and, later on, “La ville d’où on vient” was given the same makeover. The energy emanating from such a show proved to be a source of excitement, if not redemption, for Corriveau and his band. “I didn’t mind having sore arms at the end of the show because I’d played so hard,” he says. “I wanted a full album of that.”

Corriveau locked five drummers inside his Van Horne St. premises and let them improvise together. Only drums. “I ended up with three-and-a-half hours of drumbeats that I started listening to in my car,” he says. “Tracks of nine-to-14-minutes long. These sounds provided me with something solid right there,” he marvels today.

Corriveau’s honesty renews itself, and takes new forms, with each successive album. “I recently re-listened to Cette chose qui cognait au fond de sa poitrine sans vouloir s’arrêter (2016), and I realized that whatever I might do later on would sound very much like pop music to me, because that album was very dark,” he explains.

Corriveau admits that, as he was self-producing his album and dealing with the hazards and opportunities of lockdown, he allowed himself to explore some rather unusual areas of his repertoire. “I let it all happen because there weren’t too many witnesses,” he laughs. “I tried things. Being self-taught, I don’t understand 75 percent of what I do. I piled things up, played around, trusted myself.”

The new album revolves around the theme of the freedom that can be enjoyed by getting out in your car instead of sitting at home. But there’s also a “bandit” side, a rebellion, but mostly the point of no return in what we tolerate as musicians and as a society. “Writing, recording, performing shows, and starting all over again are clichés,” says Corriveau. “My original view of the industry was candid. Like everyone else, I believed that I was going to create a recording that would change everything. I don’t have that kind of career today, and that’s OK.”

When Québec Premier François Legault shut down concert venues for the second time, Corriveau felt that this was the most inconsistent thing he had ever done. “When he claimed that shows were places where people go to socialize, it made me mad, because the truth is that you’re supposed to shut up during a show,” he says. “Saying a thing like that is ignoring what’s happening onstage.”

While the Pissenlit album was designed to be experienced onstage, Corriveau can’t see the end of this very dark period for the performing arts. “I don’t think this crisis will ever end,” he laments.

Erika Angell combines her voice with Corriveau’s on Les sangs mélangés, a song that deals with First Nations issues. “In America, we all have Indian blood, either in our veins, or on our hands,” he sings, against a slow chord that takes time to insinuate the idea, the better to show the seriousness of the situation. Asked what else we should say, or understand, about that as a society, Corriveau seems unable to pinpoint anything.

“It’s in everything,” he says. “This summer, during the wave of sexual aggression denunciations, we suddenly realized that our teenagers are getting five hours of sex education during the school year. The same goes for history classes: 20 minutes on Indigenous peoples, and then, off to the battle of the Plains of Abraham for the rest of the year.”

In his view, they’ve got their priorities all wrong. “It makes no sense that, in a pandemic, our reaction should be to let our cultural institutions be the first ones to die,” he exclaims. “They erase what they’re uncomfortable with, they pull out the weeds. And, if you extrapolate, this idea of erasing what makes you uncomfortable, for some, including the First Nations, this adds up to a death sentence. I realize that the planet is heatng up, that we’re going through a worldwide pandemic, and that we’re all going to die, but it’s still possible for us to look around our own life environment, and make it less bad.”

Perhaps by letting the dandelions grow.

Ebony “WondaGurl” Oshunrinde may be the Queen of the Beats, working with everyone from Jay Z to Drake to Don Toliver to Killy, but don’t ask her where they originate. It’s a bit of a mystery, even to her.

“It can come in so many different ways,” says WondaGurl from Los Angeles, her home for just over a year. “It could be an idea that I had in my head the whole day; it could be something I voice-noted. Or maybe I’m just going through samples on the computer, and I start a beat from there. Or it could be that I’m sitting somewhere, out for dinner, and I hear some sample in a nightclub in the spot that I’m in, and I go home and make a beat out of it.


WondaGurl, receiving a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award in 2017, for co-writing Travi$ Scott’s “Antidote.”

“It can happen in so many different ways for me, and it’s not really one thing that I’m looking for. And I can’t really explain it – it’s hard for me to explain the technical side of that.”

Seriously though, WondaGurl isn’t in a position where she necessarily has to explain her magic: at only 23 years old, the native of Scarborough, Ontario, is still enjoying the momentum she’s generated since unexpectedly landing one of her beats on “Crown,” a last-minute addition to Jay-Z’s 2013 million-selling album Magna Carta Holy Grail.

With hip-hop visionaries Travi$ Scott and Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels in her corner as mentors (her “WondaGurl” moniker is a female twist on Boi-1da), Oshunrinde has apprenticed on the front lines, providing beats for rap elitists like Drake (“Used To” and “Company” on If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late), Travi$ Scott (“Antidote”), the late Pop Smoke (two songs on Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon), Quavo, Lil Yachty, Killy, and Big Sean. Most recently, she was responsible for half the tracks on Don Toliver’s Heaven or Hell, including the three-million-selling single  “No Idea.”

There’s also been some pop spillover, most notably as a co-writer and co-producer of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Mariah Carey’s “Caution,” and a remix of Maroon5’s “Girl Like You.”

It’s this enviable track record that drew Sony/ATV to WondaGurl, signing a global  co-publishing deal through Travi$ Scott’s Cactus Jack publishing, and allowing her to establish her own label imprint, WondaChild, to which she’s signed Toronto rapper Jugger.

“Still, to this day, I’ll learn about a placement literally the day it comes out”

WondaGurl, who prefers FL Studio software when composing her beats, probably figures the prestige would have earned her some breaks when dealing with the music business. But apparently, that’s not the case. “Still, to this day, I’ll learn about a placement literally the day it comes out, you know?” she laughs. “It really happens.”

Even interested artists sometimes keep her in the dark. “Usually, you don’t hear from them for awhile,” she explains. “If they listen to it right then and there, they’ll tell you which beats they like and what they want to hold. Usually, you don’t hear from them for awhile, though.”

Although WondaGurl obviously receives requests to supply beats, but she also still chases certain artists when she thinks she has a beat with a good fit for them. “Usually, I send out a whole [sample] pack of beats,” she says. “But if I have a beat where I hear this person on it, I’ll just send it straight to them, that one beat. It goes both ways – a lot of people approach me, and I still approach people the way I did years ago.

“When I start the beat, I may not have someone in mind, but after I make it, I can kind of hear who I want to send it to.”

Lockdown Slowdown

You’d think that enforced isolation might stir the creative juices, but even WondaGurl is feeling vulnerable while living in L.A. “COVID-19 has been better for my creativity, because it’s been a little nerve-wracking on a daily basis,” she says. “And then with everything that’s going on in the world today, it’s been a little hard to just focus on creating.”

As a woman who’s constantly experimenting behind the console, it would make sense that WondaGurl might be close to inventing her own software, or series of loops. But if that’s the case, she’s keeping it close to her vest. “There’s definitely a lot of different things – mainly technology stuff… I just don’t like talking about things,” she admits.  “Especially where it’s just an idea, and I’m trying to figure out how to do it. I want to get to a point where I’m an executive, and just a boss.”

One project that she’s willing to talk about is her own album, that she hopes will clarify and define her own sound for her peers. It’ll involve singers and rappers Savannah Ré, Baby Rose, and Yung Baby Tate, among others.

“It’s just something that I wanted to do for everybody, where it’s all produced by me, and you can just hear how something would sound as if it was completely released by me,” says WondaGurl. “I always wanted to really show people what my sound is, in my opinion, because I still feel like people don’t know. But I plan to have features on it and different producers.”

As for trade secrets, WondaGurl says there a number of things that ensure her creative and professional happiness. “Kind of keeping the right people around me and making sure that I’m in the space that I need to be in is the most important thing that I’ve learned recently,” she says. “Obviously, staying humble and just knowing how to act in the studio are other things I’ve learned. But probably the most important thing is just the people that you keep around you.”

According to the old adage, we’re never better served than by ourselves. Two years ago, Montréal singer-songwriter Just Woân (aka Justin Itoko) created his own Productions Miss Meuré label. “I felt that in Quebec, there weren’t enough record labels that were interested in taking artistic risks,” he says. “They prefer remaining in their comfort zones, and always producing the same kind of thing, whereas I wanted to release projects such as Bantü Salsa, to do crazy stuff, and to mix things that didn’t belong together at all!”

Such as bringing the kora and salsa music together, for instance. On paper, the link isn’t obvious. The kora is a classical instrument that’s been played by African griots for the past 800 years or so.  Salsa, on the other hand, is an energetic musical style that was born in New York City clubs in the ‘60s, and combines the fluidity of jazz with Afro-Cuban beats. Africa is the common denominator here, but as Woân points out, musically they have nothing to do with each other.

Until you listen to Kessaï, the band’s debut album, released on March 11, 2020. Luminous! Kora tones dancing with pulsating brass and percussion sounds, and, whattaya know, it works! “I thought that using the kora in salsa music was a completely crazy idea, and that’s exactly why I felt like doing it,” says Woân.

That fertile intuition is precisely what has helped him out of his comfort zone – for the umpteenth time. Originally from Cameroun, he’s been a professional stage and studio musician for the past 12-odd years , finding his calling (and stage name) thanks to his participation in a local “talent discovery program” – something like The Voice, et al.

“Cameroun and Canada are the only two English/French bilingual countries in the world,” says Woân. “The national broadcasting entity operates in English and French simultaneously. One day, I was on this program that was being produced by an English-speaking host, and, in the beginning, I used to style my name Just-1 [pronounced “Justin” in French] and the way he read it on air, it sounded like “Just One.” From that day on, everybody was calling me Just One on the street…”

Bantu SalsaWoân began his recording career in 2011 and, after being invited to perform as part of the Facncofolies festival, he decided to settle in Montréal. He ended up releasing three more albums featuring his rich Bafia (a major city located in the centre of Cameroun) culture, and kept singing in his Bantu language while exploring African and American rhythms.

“I’m a multi-instrumentalist, and also self-taught – I never took a music class in my entire life, so I play music by ear,” says Woân. “Bantü Salsa is the type of music I play: I’ve always loved Latin music, particularly when it’s played on the piano, because I play the piano a lot,” besides bass, an instrument with which the musician he often is associated. “I’ve always loved playing octaves with my right hand and slap counterpoints with my left hand, and many jazz musicians have done salsa music, two genres that are harmonic cousins.”

It was quite a natural thing, he says, for Central Africa’s Bantu music to find its way into New York’s salsa music. “There’s a narrative side, the thing that griots bring to their approach, in Bantü Salsa’s music,” he says. “I think that even in the Afro-Cuban culture, there is that kind of a storyline, and that’s how many stories and traditions are being passed on.”

He first decided to build a personal repertoire, which brought him to write all of the first album’s songs by himself – including lyrics, melodies, brass orchestrations, basslines, and percussion. “It’s a project where the fusion is primarily rhythmic; that is to say, what I wanted to show was the similarities between African and Latin beats. The music of Black slaves who were brought from Africa to America was made of rhythms that incorporated the harmonic traditions of Spanish and Portuguese settlers.

“What I wanted to show, on disc and onstage, was that very kinship, and this is the level on which all these talented musicians that surround me have been helping me – first of all, by joining the project from the word go,” he says.

Today, they would have been nine outstanding instrumentalists onstage – if COVID-19 hadn’t interfered with Bantü Salsa’s plans right after the release of the Kessaï album. The band will be performing on Oct. 22, 2020, from the Balattou, and their (virtual) concert will be streamed on Festival international des Nuits d’Afrique.