As per his request, our interview appointment with David Campana takes place in a Saint-Henri neighbourhood dog park in Montréal. While keeping an eye on his dog Ti-Loup – who was excited to be allowed to run around with his pals on a sunny Friday afternoon – the singer/rapper waxed poetic about his adopted neighbourhood, made iconic by Gabrielle Roy’s novel Bonheur d’occasion (The Tin Flute) three-quarters-of-a-Century ago.

David Campana“These red brick houses you see behind [the park] used to belong to French-speaking workers,” says Campana. “Those guys from Westmount hired them because they were looking for the cheapest labour around. For a long time, the French and the English hated each other, but now they’re on speaking terms.”

The controversial bilingual “Bonjour, Hi” greeting, commonly used in the Montréal downtown shopping area, has now spread all the way to the Southwestern corner of the island. So much so that Campana, a 29 year-old Quebecer of French Haitian origin, has adopted it as his favourite expression, and even made it the title of his first solo album.

“I’m a waiter in one of the neighbourhood’s restaurants, and almost every time I greet people that way, I get strange reactions,” he says. “The Francophones call me to account, and the Anglophones do like I do. I like the slightly provocative aspect of that phrase. When I use it as I walk to a table, it shows both my political opinion, and the fact that I’m fluent in both languages. It’s symbolic.”

The “Bonjour, Hi” greeting also refers to the artist’s bilingual musical influences. After spending his childhood listening to Michael Jackson with his mom, and singing in church, Campana cut the cord of his family’s cultural heritage when he joined a film program in Québec City in 2009. “I loved auteur cinema, and its insights on society, which gradually drew me towards French conscious rap,” says Campana. “All of a sudden, I lost interest in American pop music. I was only listening to hardcore rap with a message, like Kery James, IAM, Médine, Soprano…”

A subsequent encounter with rapper Doni Na Ma was a game-changer for the young rapper and videographer. “He showed me that I didn’t have to be political all the time, and that rap could also be melodic. He taught me to build my harmonies before writing my texts. It really helped me find my style,” Campana recalls, naming additional influences such as Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak album, Drake’s Take Care album, and The Weeknd’s Trilogy mixtapes.

Along with LTK as producer, Campana took the pseudonym HDC – a contraction of the letters HD (symbolizing his passion for the camera) and DC (his initials). The partnership between the two artists was short-lived, but “Never Satisfyd” laid the foundation of his style in 2015. “I wrote that piece after listening to Loud’s verse on ‘XOXO,’” he says.  “The way he was humming while he was rapping in Frenglish, I realized at the time, was going to be Québec’s future. Yet, even knowing this, it still took me a while to venture into that genre.”

After a hiatus in English on MYNB, a two-volume diary that helped him “work on the musicality” of his flow, the singer-songwriter got back together again with his good friend Shotto Guapo on the trap soul mini-album CE7TE LIFE. “And that was when, after so many deviations, I came to the conclusion that I should perform under my real name,” says Campana. “This makes me laugh today!”

Completed by another Montréal artist, DJ/producer Major, the project did well at the 2019 Francouvertes music competition. “When we climbed onto the stage during the preliminaries, something really weird happened,” says Campana. “I understood that there could be a place in Québec for a project like ours.”

Released on May 1, Bonjour, Hi is a logical follow-up to that duo project, which doesn’t fit into any categories, but instead touches on several genres. “I enjoy the ambiguity of being not quite a singer, and not quite a rapper,” says Campana. “Moving forward, I want to get even more deeply into big rap sounds, and even more deeply into pop stuff. I feel I have a potential, but that I still have more to offer,” he sdays, referring to an album produced by the Franco-Québécois trio Novengitum.

However, is Québec ready for that hybrid genre that’s been a staple of French and American pop for a few years now? “If we embrace hip-hop the way we’re embracing it right now, we also must be open to related genres such as soul and R&B music,” he says. “You can hear a hint of an R&B vibe on [Loud’s radio hit] “Toutes les femmes savent danser,” so the door is open.” Campana believes in the potential success of his own explosive pop song “Rapide et amoureux”: “I can’t see why radio would refuse to play it. The vibe is good, and the topic is universal.”

Reflecting on his marked tendency to declare his love too early in real-life relationships, the lyrics of that song’s seem a fairly frank reflection of Campana’s emotional intensity. “I was never able to write about love before I met my current girlfriend,” he says. “Falling in love for real helped me to come to terms with myself, to understand who I was.”

An intense person in all aspects of his life, Campana is capable of making an honest assessment of his own musical journey. “The first time I heard Kery James, I was moved to tears,” he says. “That was what I wanted to do with my life. Same thing when I got introduced to The Weeknd: this is crazy, this is what I want to do! I’ve always had flashes like these… I’m a very sensitive person.”

Campana’s sensitivity, right now, is being tempered by persistence, ambition, and resilience – his album’s three major themes. “I slowly built up my style by hanging onto the positive sides of all of my experiences,” he says. “My career path is a series of small victories.”

“Technology may have taken on a lot of importance in the rapport between songwriters and their audience, but it would be nothing without that human relationship [between a publisher and a creator], and that’s something I truly believe,” says the French, now Montréal-based, publisher Chrisophe Piot, who heads the publishing company Write Here Music and All Right Music, a neighbouring rights management organization.

“Nowadays, artists and songwriters are more isolated than they used to be, hence the necessity to have a team of close-knit guardians that support them,” he says, not even referring to the period of self-isolation from which we’ve barely begun to emerge. The publisher is, rather, referring to the new challenges publishers must overcome because of the digitization of music.

To Piot, the idea of a team is equivalent to that of a family, “I think of the work of a publisher as a craft,” he says. “Some are comfortable working with catalogues of hundreds of thousands of titles – and I’ve worked for major publishing houses [like that]. But we’re a ‘chic boutique’ with very few creators. We kind of have a relationship with every single song, because we represent a lot less.”

Having spent most of his career in the music publishing world in France, this August Piot will celebrate the second anniversary of his move to Québec, mostly “because of my deep appreciation for Québec itself, but also its enthusiasm and open-mindedness,” he says. “There were also business incentives, since I’ve partnered with people in Montréal since 2004 in a company called Premier Muzik, which is also in the neighbouring rights business.”

Professionally, the publisher has had ties with the Québec music industry since the ’80s; before founding Write Here Music and All Right Music about 15 years ago, he worked in the Parisian offices of MCA Music Publishing, record label Tréma, and then at Warner Chappell. “I worked for the publishing house that represented Jean Leloup around the time of his Menteur album,” says Piot. “We had also signed Robert Charlebois and we were reissuing Félix Leclerc. Later, in the field of neighbouring rights, I signed Natasha St-Pierre, and worked with some of Céline Dion’s songs for publishing. I’ve had ties to local music all through my career.”

 “I must say that faithfulness and loyalty are very rare and precious.”

The notions of family and craft are even noticeable in Write Here Music’s repertoire, which represents major electronic artists, especially French ones, such as David Guetta, Agoria, and Air, to name but a few. “Totally, especially when it comes to David Guetta – who I’ve worked with for nearly 20 years. I must say that faithfulness and loyalty are very rare and precious. That’s when you can truly talk of human relationships. Being a publisher means being passionate, it’s a line of work you choose, and I was lucky to meet songwriters who trusted me and still trust me.”

Although Piot’s companies have offices in Europe and the U.S., it’s from Montréal that he oversees their growth, and he hopes adding a few new artists from Québec to his family. “I came here in stages, and full of humility while I discovered this country and its music scene. I already had solid ties with some Québec publishers, I knew a few SOCAN members, and I received a warm welcome. There’s a community of very interesting musicians, like Pierre-Luc Rioux – a guitarist that’s worked with David Guetta, as a matter of fact.

“The music scene is incredible,” Piot continues, “so if you ask me what the next step is, it’s obviously to sign a Québec songwriter. I listen to a lot of local music, like Éli Rose, who I’d really like to work with! There’s also this DJ named Domeno. His stuff is played by a ton of other DJs. The EDM scene seems under-represented in Québec.” It is a natural area of interest for the publisher, one in which he intends to dig a little deeper. Word to the wise…

Screen composing is both a deeply collaborative and solitary practice. Composers who score thrive on this ebb and flow, but when COVID-19 morphed from epidemic to pandemic, daily life and creativity transformed, too.

Lesley Barber

Lesley Barber

“Oddly, I found the forced isolation kind of freeing, as I’m a really social person,” says screen composer Lesley Barber, whose resumé includes movies like Late Night starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, the Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea, and You Can Count on Me, with Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. “It was great to be able to have this time [to] just focus on my writing and stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues, from this one location.”

Barber says the pandemic has affected her projects – one is on hiatus, another is moving forward – and changed in-person studio sessions to phone calls and online meetings involving collaborators from different time zones. All these adjustments have made her aware of how the pandemic affects her peers, on various levels. “Everyone has felt the impact of COVID – emotionally as well [as professionally] – and being attuned to where people’s heads are at, and sensitive to their lives, has been on my mind as I work with musicians,” she says.

Sensitivity to oneself and one’s community have also proven important to Amritha Vaz, who’s scored award-winning documentary features like Made In India (PBS), Little Stones, and Music for Mandela, as well as the Disney animated TV show Mira Royal Detective (2020), and apprenticed for five years with Oscar-winning screen composer Mychael Danna. Vaz confides that balancing career and family, “pulled the ground out from under my feet, and I feel like I’ve had to invent a new surface altogether.

Amritha Vaz

Amritha Vaz

“Prior to the pandemic,” she continues, “I was spending 12 to 15 hours a day working to meet timelines. Without that support from [baby]sitters and teachers, it became an intense juggling act. My partner is also a creative, with a nutty work schedule. Right now, it’s important for me to balance delivering the best music I can, in the time I’m given, while being compassionate to myself and my family.”

The world’s social and political unrest, in the wake of the police killings of unarmed African-Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, was another blow for the L.A.-based composer, reinforcing her need for community – even in a moment of social distancing.

“Initially it felt like a gut punch during an already dark time,” says Vaz. “But a strange thing happened: execs and colleagues started initiating genuine conversations about politics and social change. I started to see acts of solidarity from fellow artists and friends pop up everywhere. It created a sense of connection and belonging that I’ve been missing. It provided me with some hope and inspiration. These are just baby steps towards what will need to be a massive system re-set, but I was glad to see these little shifts.  I’m also leaning more heavily than usual on my composer community for support and camaraderie, especially the Composers Diversity Collective.”

For composing partners Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner – best known for their multiple-award-winning (including SOCAN Awards) work on such globally successful TV series as Flashpoint and X Company – camaraderie comes with the job. The pair recently won a second Canadian Screen Award for Anne with an E, but that momentum has been temporarily undercut by the pandemic.

Amin Bhatia, Ari Posner

Amin Bhatia & Ari Posner

“This would have been a perfect time for our agents to get out there to find us more work,” says Bhatia. “But no crew means no production means no post-production, so it’s going to be awhile. However, animation is alive and well. Ari and I are on schedule to work on the next season of Luna Let’s Go later this year, and we can’t wait.”

Some suggest that royalties from increased pandemic streaming might help offset losses from postponed projects, but Bhatia says perhaps not. “The current business structure of streaming services has been far more damaging to composers and songwriters than anything the pandemic could do,” he says. “Many composers and songwriters have seen a sharp drop in royalties, anywhere from 50% to 90% in the last two years. This is all being re-visited… so we’re hopeful a better situation can be made that will be a win-win-win for creators, distributors, and consumers. And we have a lot of time now for online meetings between SOCAN, The Screen Composers Guild of Canada, and industry partners to iron all this out as we wait for the cameras to start rolling.”

Posner says that while the cameras aren’t rolling, it’s also a good time for creative regeneration. “This is a forced slowdown, not just for the economy, but also for our nervous systems,” he reports. “If not for the concern of having to make a living and keep my family going, my body could get used to this pace. One big upside for me has been more time to sit and simply enjoy playing the piano. This has been really fun and challenging – actually practicing a whole piece of music until it’s under my fingers and I can play it with confidence, from start to finish.”

Jeff Danna

Jeff Danna

Jeff Danna – winner of three Canadian Screen Awards, 12 SOCAN Awards, and with credits ranging from Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, to Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, to Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus – has a California studio that faces a beautiful and bustling street in Old Town, Pasadena. But when the state’s regional lockdowns began, the foot traffic stopped, and once the protests began, stores were boarded up – poignant reminders of dual crises. Danna, however, has kept busy wrapping up projects like Guillermo Del Toro’s DreamWorks Animation series, Trollhunters.  “It was a lot of fun, really cool,” says Danna. “I was glad to have something to work on as things slowed down in our business.”

And now, as deadlines disappear for the moment, like Posner, Danna is embracing deadline-free creativity.

“The arts are a lifelong study,” he says. “I’ve got a Ravel orchestration book, maybe I can really do a deep dive on that and just keep trying to move my sense of craft and aesthetic outward. When you’re on deadline all the time, there’s a certain kind of exploratory creative process that doesn’t necessarily have a lot of room. I’m going to try and take this opportunity to go to those corners of my craft that I don’t usually go to, and see if I can push the boundaries a little bit.”