The TD Musiparc tour where artists such as France d’Amour, 2Frères, Marc Hervieux, and Laurence Jalbert have sung in front of a limited number of people in their cars, has been a resounding success.

Guylaine Tanguay “I’ve never enjoyed being honked at so much,”, Guylaine Tanguay recently joked about her shows in Gatineau, Bromont, Mercier, and the bay of Beauport. Chances are high that such will be the case again on July 19, during the latest iteration of this exceptional series, in Mirabel. “And from now on, if I get honked at when I’m driving, I’ll blow them kisses!”

Whatever the case may be, it’s not a straightforward experience for all musicians. “We were worried, I was afraid it would be over-regulated and procedural – so much so that the whole fun side of music would be lost,” says Tanguay. “Normally, we adapt to our audience and find our energy in there. If the audience members step out of their car, they won’t hear a thing. There’s no amplification onstage, you have to tune in a radio frequency to hear the music, so you have to stay in your car. It’s the whole point of the exercise. The musicians hear themselves through their in-ear monitors; otherwise it’s completely silent onstage.”

Tanguay, whose new album is simply titled Country, has returned to the top of the charts with a cover of Zachary Richard’s “L’arbre est dans ses feuilles” (“The Tree is in Its Leaves”), as well as several lyrics of her own – a first for her – and she’s adamant about the importance of her shows. “There are no down times,” she says. “There are even songs that we play only partially, we play medleys that last up to 12 minutes, and I try to talk as little as possible. I’m not comfortable with lengthy song introductions, I’m more of a show-off, even when I’m singing a ballad.”

“I’m an intense one”

That’s something Tanguay does with a lot of assurance on Country. If you need some convincing, just listen to “Je m’envolerai” or “L’incontournable,” which talks about mourning, and was mostly written by Tanguay. She’s slowly developing a strong repertoire of softer songs that create a nice counterbalance to her Dolly Parton-esque “working nine to five” brand of energy. “I’m an intense one,” says the 48-yeal-old musician.

Made in Québec but completed in Nashville, Country reveals the strength of a songwriter who’s worked with Jonathan Godin, himself no stranger to country music. “Initially, I asked him to write a country line-dance song, but not specifically with me in mind,” says Tanguay. “I told him to write for a guy, because I have a more masculine attitude onstage in the way I sing and act. I’m in heels and wearing makeup, but I’ll tell you for sure: I forget I’m a woman when I’m onstage. I’m one of the boys, and I stomp my feet hard enough to break my ankles!”

“On “Allez venez danser” (“Come Dancing”), I wanted a Lac St-Jean family party vibe, the kind of party where you expect to be 15 people but you end up with 75 guests.” On “La chasse” (“The Hunt,” a recurring theme for male country singers), she expresses a completely different opinion. “I hate hunting!” she says. “I was born in September and my village [Girardville, Lac St-Jean] would be empty for my birthday! I’ve wanted to write my own songs all my life, but I was afraid they would be too sad or first-degree. I like songs that are easily understandable.”

Tanguay forged a creative partnership with her guitarist, Sébastien Dufour. “He knows what I want and how things work in my mind,” she says. “I wanted more refined country, with several nuances in the textures that would remain the same onstage. I want to ‘de-tacky-fy’ country music.”

Dufour is far from a one-armed guitarist. His solo on “Mon Yodeling” is in a category of its own, and has the twang and the panache of a Junior Brown or a Bobby Hachey! The man could work in Nashville tomorrow morning.

Is Tanguay comfortable with her moniker as Québec’s Queen of Country? Knowing that Renée Martel is the Queen ex officio, have the two queens met? “I’m not the Queen, I’m not comfortable with that moniker,” she says. “I’ve told her, as a joke, that the crown is hers and I’m not interested in the throne!”

The past few months have left many feeling helpless. During the first half of 2020 it was the Coronavirus, COVID-19, dominating news coverage, as it kept various parts of the world’s population in some state of sheltering-in-place. Then came the U.S Memorial Day murder of African American George Floyd, who suffocated under the knee of a white police officer. By the next morning, the U.S. had erupted in Black Lives Matter protests, a sustained effort that’s now affecting everything from laws to media, sports, and controversial monuments.

To the amazement of many, the protests spread beyond America’s borders around the world, creating a fast-moving reckoning that’s still in its infancy. That reckoning is also affecting Canada, where we, too, are looking at how everything from racialized policing to non-diverse media rooms reflect our own inequality. Producer/Songwriters Nahum, Waves, ILLNGHT, Kory Adams, Jacob Wilkinson-Smith (aka mybestfriendJACOB), and Teddi Jones knew right away that they had to contribute to this movement by doing what they do best: music.

The sextet formed the core of music-makers that created the Stronger Together Sample Pack. (A sample pack is a set of original music files, or “stems,” that are purchased by beat-makers and producers, who then use them to create their own music. Like a miniature music-library package.) And 100% of the proceeds are going to 70-plus community bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizers.



“It was a team effort,” explains mybestfriendJACOB. “I initially put the idea out to the group, but several of the members were feeling the same way. I think as a community, we were wondering how we could all contribute, how we could all participate in the protests from abroad. We are spread across the world [ILLNGHT: Paris, France. Teddi Jones: Vancouver. Nahum: Markham, ON. Waves and Kory Adams: Toronto. mybestfriendJACOB: Nova Scotia.]. The sample pack felt natural. Something we all knew how to get done, and if we just switched our energies slightly, we could have a real impact.”

The process varied from producer to producer, but all felt an emotional investment in bringing their best work to the table. “What I really love most about the pack is that it gave us a chance to express our emotions in a positive, and musical, way,” says mybestfriendJACOB. “We were able to take those emotions out in the songwriting process. We all felt frustrated and angry, and the music created reflects those feelings. For me personally the image of George Floyd with a knee on his neck is burned into my memory. It’s an image that makes me feel extremely angry and sad. So, my writing process was therapeutic, and allowed me to express those emotions while also helping in the fight for equality.”

The team got to work immediately, says Teddi Jones, producing and compiling music samples for the pack – the proceeds from which go directly to organizations fighting for justice and equality.  Aside from making the music, the process included researching which “causes would benefit best from these donations,” says Jones. It also meant engaging visual designer Dave Phenix, who created the powerful cover art.  Adams shares that they later learned Phenix had drawn the image in mere hours. It was a cathartic experience, allowing him to release his own grief.

Teddi Jones

Teddi Jones

The group chose the U.S. organization, Secure ActBlue, to dispense earnings from the sample pack. “We felt that the secure ActBlue would help split the donations among 70 different organizations,” says Adams. “It gave us a way to spread the money around to multiple organizations that need the funds. We didn’t want to play favourites. We weren’t looking for any sort of thank you. Just doing our small part. So we didn’t feel the need to reach out to any organizations in advance of the donations.”

As of late June, the sample pack sales have exceeded the team’s expectations. “It’s honestly been amazing,” says mybestfriendJACOB. “In my mind, we were going to make maybe $1,000. To do over 18 times that amount, and still counting, is just an amazing feeling. Coming together allowed us to share this sample pack around the world. People from all over purchased the sample pack – some who purchased weren’t even producers. They had no way of using the samples, so they donated them to their friends who were musicians. It was a really amazing feeling,”

ILLNGHT is just as surprised at the pack’s current success: “It was amazing to see, and such a great feeling. I think that having producers from different countries in the pack helped us to reach more people. I hope that this will inspire our peers to do the same. Using our art to do some good in the world is a blessing. I believe that we can change things little by little.”

mybestfriendJACOB agrees: “The idea of using my art to help fight for causes I believe in is exciting. Eventually, I would like to see my art become a part of my philanthropic work. This small project really opened my mind to the ways I can continue to give back for years to come.

Stronger Together

Stronger Together Cover Art

“It was an incredible experience seeing so many individuals buying the sample pack with their main intention to give back to the organizations we listed,” says Jones. “At the end of the day, it took us doing what we love and our like-minded goals to make a difference – I’m really honored to be a part of such a great project.”

Nahum is deeply inspired by how collaboration and community can contribute to change, in the smallest to biggest ways. “I hope that this shows most creatives the power they have when simply utilizing the people around them,” he says. “I feel like people at times can underestimate the resources they have, and the synergy that [that] can create. What was a simple thought [and] question one day turned into tangible results in a super-short time, because of a group chat of like-minded people – results that benefit the creatives, the consumers, and most importantly, the task at hand that inspired the project.”

Deploying their art as advocacy has energized all the members, and this initiative is just the beginning. “As people of colour and allies, we’re engaged in anti-racist activities every day in our daily lives,” says Waves. “We will continue to stay vigilant, mobilize quickly and use our art to combat any injustice that we can.”

Shotto Guapo suddenly gets very emotional. We’ve just asked who for whom his song “Rose is written. It’s a very vulnerable piano-voice ballad that closes Âme, the first part of his first solo album, Âme Nesia. Imagine Alexandra Streliski or Cœur de pirate as an accompanist to a grief-stricken rapper.

Shotto Guapo“Who am I talking to in ‘Rose’?” Guapo repeats, as if to allow a moment to compose himself. “I’m talking to my maternal grandmother. She’s the one who raised me when I lived in France. It’s thanks to her that I’m the arts now. I wasn’t that good a student when it came to regular subjects, but she saw my creative side and encouraged me. [Sigh] Our last goodbye was not a goodbye. I thought life would go on and I’d see her again, but that’s not how it happened.”

Born in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, in 2002 Guapo fled the violent conflicts that ravaged his country, to stay with his grandmother Rose in Normandy. Reggae, up until then, had always been his favourite genre. He was even, for a while, the singer in a reggae band before being thunderstruck by the powerful flow of Tupac Shakur, and shortly after, by the whole consciousness-raising rap movement in France.

Such is the rich baggage that Shotto Guapo brings to his first album: African instruments (such as the kora on “Cendres”) and sung verses, but also afro-trap rhythms and sometimes oppressive moods. Which is why the MC wanted to make this project a double-album (whatever that means in the era of streaming): eight sun-filled songs heavily influenced by reggae’s quest for universal love (Âme), followed by eight rougher tracks about his views on existence, and his hope to one day be free of all servitude (Nesia).

In 2010, faced with the limited possibilities of social mobility in France, Guapo decided to come to Montréal. In 2019, he reached the semi-finals of Francouvertes alongside his acolytes David Campana and Major, with whom he released an album, CE7TE LIFE, shortly thereafter. It would be the cornerstone of his return to music, which he’d temporarily left behind to pursue a diploma from the Trebas Institute, studies which now enable him to be in charge of the visual aspects of all his projects.

“Our struggle in this world is to do everything we can to reach a level of freedom that allows you to live your life however you want”

A dream life, in other words? “Je suis déjà condamné,” (“I’m already condemned”), whispers Shotto, 29, on “Condamné,” one of the more pessimistic songs on Âme Nesia. “It’s not pessimistic, it’s a revolutionary song,” says the man who won the Best Artist of the Diaspora during the most recent edition of the Abidjan Hip Hop Awards.

“When I say I’m condemned, I don’t mean myself, I mean the whole human race. We come into this world and we are thrown into capitalism. Capitalism decides your degree of freedom and what you can and can’t have. If you don’t have money, you can’t live how you’d like to, and when you can’t live your life how you’d like to, you have no freedom. Our struggle in this world is to do everything we can to reach a level of freedom that allows you to live your life however you want, regardless of the social inequalities we have to endure.”

It becomes clear that music, for Shotto Guapo, is a tool that will get him closer to freedom. And it also becomes clear that said freedom requires deep introspection into what he wishes to leave behind, and the message he wants to convey. Even lighter songs that celebrate the beauty of the female form on a dancefloor include a discourse on how he doesn’t want to feed objectification.

“I have a kid sister, I just cannot denigrate women in any way, it’s that simple,” he says. “It’s not my thing, in any case. I don’t need to paint women in a certain light to feel important… It’s crucial for me to say things with my music, because music is a powerful tool. I’m not in it for the fame. The influence I might have on future generations is very important to me. Even when I do funny trap, and I’m not trying to make people have deep thoughts, I still maintain a modicum of consciousness in my lyrics.”