Alexandre Bernhari’s day job is as a pianist for a modern dance troupe. The rehearsal just ended and the pianist is once again free to become a drummer and a singer, to transform back into Bernhari, although that’s not quite his real identity. A journalist published his real name and he feels unmasked – and a little irritated. “Even when I was in my previous bands, L’Étranger and L’Ours, I used a pseudonym,” he says. “I’ve always loved keeping things a little mysterious, I don’t like things to be set in stone.”

“Let me be somebody else,” he sings in his song “Au nord de Maria.” “Certain lyrics on the album are about identity,” he explains. “Not only do I say it, but I become it when I sing. Right from the get-go, when I started working on this project, Emmanuel Éthier, the producer, and I agreed that my voice would serve the music.”

“All these people shouting slogans at night… it definitely had an impact on me and my songs.”

Speaking of his voice… The first time one hears it, it’s rather stunning. It’s pitched very high and sculpted by tons of reverb  – not unlike that of Claude Léveillée, Christophe or even Malajube’s Julien Mineau –  but with a sophistication that’s more akin to the European rock tradition of Indochine or The Cure. “A nervous breakdown voice,” as music critic Sylvain Cormier wrote, and “the result of a lengthy trial and error process,” as the key player puts it. “Ultimately, I’m satisfied with the result, because it’s not a flat album. It’s all over the place and my voice is but one of the elements. There’s also a story, a narrative with a beginning and an end.”

There is indeed the story of an encounter that happens right in the middle of a street action during the 2012 Montreal student protests. The keyword here is “engagement,” whether emotional or social, because Bernhari’s first album was born and shaped by those protests and their unique energy. “True, it’s the swing of things,” he says. “I was there, I marched, I was part of the movement. All these people shouting slogans at night, and the strange echo of their voices on the surrounding buildings, it definitely had an impact on me and my songs. But obviously, it goes deeper than that.”

There’s something epic, frenetic and even chivalrous in Bernhari, whether from his German and Russian war-inspired allusions, or the images he uses, such as Bartabas galloping backwards. The protagonist is a deserter, and his muse is a queen named Kryuchkova. “Yeah, I’m that type of person,” he admits. “That intensity feeds me, especially on stage. ‘’m seeking verticality, I try to elevate myself, only to come back down on piano and voice songs like ‘Je n’oublierai jamais’ or ‘Matapédia.’ More often than not, that’s my favourite part of a concert, when a connection with the audience is made and we all come back down together.”

Many discovered Bernhari during last summer’s Francofolies when he opened for Fontarabie at Théâtre Maisonneuve. Onstage, the musician sits at his drum kit installed right up to the edge of the stage and it’s quite a sight to behold when he plays his drums with one hand, keyboard with the other and sings all at once, transfixed by “Kryuchkova,” the album’s magnificent climax. The song is driven by its rhythms, as a march, a protest, a budding love story. The drums are the song’s undeniable dynamo. “When you have complete control of the rhythm, it allows for something symbiotic to occur with the voice and something gets anchored down,” says Bernhari

After honing his skills in his previous two bands, L’Étranger and L’Ours, Bernhari is now regaling us with his ethereal rock, and lyrics that so aptly serve the music. And there, once again, is his voice, close and distant all at once, just like those dancers packing up their stuff and chit-chatting while they take their legwarmers off next to the pianist with multiple personalities.

Turning the Page
Before flying solo, Alexandre Bernhari was the cornerstone of two bands. “I started L’Étranger as a solo project, but as time went by, nearly a dozen musician gravitated to the project. It was a live experience, I remember I would go on stage with my face covered in gold… What fond memories! Some of the members of L’Étranger left and what remained became L’Ours… Until everyone went their own way.” That’s when Alexandre turned the page, and Bernhari was born. “There was a click. It was more fragile before. But I got my act together and I felt that some things were falling into place. That feeling became very real when [record label] Audiogram expressed their interest.”

For the last 20 years, PhemPhat Entertainment Group’s Ebonnie Rowe has channeled her time, energy and (when necessary) money into Honey Jam, an annual, multicultural, genre-straddling music showcase designed to nurture and promote female talent. But Rowe, who calls herself Honey Jam’s “queen bee,” admits that when she held her first event in 1995, she thought it would be a one-off.

“It really started by accident,” she says, thinking back to the origins of an event that has kick-started the careers of hundreds of women, including Nelly Furtado, Jully Black, Divine Brown and Kellylee Evans. At the time, Rowe was running a mentoring program for at-risk youth in Toronto. She was troubled by some of the language and misogynistic attitudes her young charges were picking up in the mainstream rap and hip-hop music at the time. “There were no ‘clean’ versions of the songs – so these kids were hearing this stuff and repeating it,” she recalls.

“People really seemed to like it. They kept saying ‘When is the next one?’”

Frustrated, Rowe took her concerns to a local DJ, who in turn invited her to produce a radio special exploring the portrayal of women in hip-hop music. A magazine editor who heard the special, then invited Rowe to edit an all-female edition of a now defunct hip-hop magazine called Mic Check. The party held to celebrate the magazine’s release was called ‘Honey Jam.’ It featured female DJs and MCs, among other performers.

Though Rowe was content to return to her day job after the event’s success, it was clear she’d struck a chord. “I had just opened my mouth because I had seen something I didn’t like,” she says, “but people really seemed to like it. They kept saying ‘when is the next one?’  Though she had no training or experience in the music industry, Rowe decided it was an opportunity worth pursuing.

At least 100 women performing everything from jazz to gospel to rock to pop now audition to be part of the annual Honey Jam showcase each year, with 15 or 20 ultimately selected. Rowe stresses that once the young women (generally ranging in age from 17-24) have made the cut, the competition aspect is over. They then take part in a series of industry workshops and other development initiatives as they work towards a summer concert. “The girls all bond together,” she says. “It warms my heart.”

With Honey Jam’s 20th anniversary on the horizon, Rowe admits that finances are still the biggest challenge as she works to keep the event afloat – no matter how much the showcase has become a destination for talent seekers looking for the next big thing. But looking back, Rowe says that it has been the successes of her alumni that have made it all the work worthwhile. “I’ve burned the candle at both ends for a long time, but I do feel a huge sense of accomplishment and fulfillment,” she says. “It’s really the reason I keep going.”

Mediate, don’t litigate

David Basskin has been a lawyer long enough to know that a courtroom is the last place you want to find yourself, no matter how egregiously you may feel you’ve been treated in a civil matter.

“The cost of litigation is sort of like opening a vein, it’s horrible,” says Basskin. “And the outcome, in a smaller market like Canada, is often not significant enough to justify the expense.”

“‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ’ is one of the oldest phrases in the recording business.”

Basskin took a few months off after “retiring” as President and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd. (CMRRA) in 2013, but he has no intention of walking away from his life’s work in music and copyright.

“I’m simply not interested in retirement,” says the man who recently established DBCI (David Basskin Consulting Inc.) to mediate, and in some cases, arbitrate disputes on behalf private clients.

Fortunately, copyright and music-related court actions aren’t commonplace in Canada, and many jurisdictions require a mediation process before civil actions will be heard by a judge.

“Mandatory mediation has been imposed by the courts as part of an effort to clear backlogs, which are endemic to the system,” notes Basskin. “A full-tilt civil litigation process can take upwards of five years or longer. Life’s too short.”

Some common music-related legal grievances relate to songwriting share splits, income participation and merchandise rights.

“‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ’ is one of the oldest phrases in the recording business,” observes Basskin. ‘If a song makes no money, nothing’s going to get litigated or mediated.

“Mediation or arbitration likely won’t yield what you consider to be the perfect answer,” he concedes, “but believe me, if it goes to court you won’t be getting a perfect result either. And another benefit is that the thing will be done and you can move on with your life.

“Parties who have mediated their way to the resolution of a dispute frequently remain on speaking terms,” he adds, “whereas it’s very difficult to find people who’ve been involved in a fight to the death in court who want to do anything further with each other in the future. And this is a business of collaboration, after all.”

Basskin’s years as a copyright specialist, not to mention additional mediation training, makes him uniquely qualified to help bring warring parties together.

“At the CMRRA, I had to be Switzerland,” he says. “I never took anybody’s side. The idea here is to arrive at a solution faster, cheaper and without the downside of negative publicity. The mediator’s only stake in the process is to make sure that everybody gets heard and that they make an honest effort to deal with the issues. Not every mediation leads to a complete resolution, but it can help clear away some disagreements and leave the parties to focus on the real problem.”