Story by Samantha Edwards | Monday July 27th, 2020
R&B singer LOONY grew up in Scarborough, in the Northeast end of Toronto, where she taught herself how to sing as a kid, attended rock music summer camp, and released her first mixtape in high school.
“In Scarborough, people feel a little distant from the [downtown] core,” says LOONY, 26. “There’s not much to do here but create – and get in trouble.” Before she left to study English Literature at McGill University in Montréal, LOONY says she was “acting in a careless, reckless kind of way.” When she moved home, she found herself returning to her old ways.
On her sophomore EP JOYRiDE, released in April 2020, she explores her relationship with her old neighbourhood, while reckoning with past experiences and bad relationships. “Going for a joyride is a crime, but I also thought of it as a vehicle to turn these feelings into something else that I can control,” she says.
The EP mixes neo-soul and R&B, with LOONY’s intimate, emotional voice anchoring each song. She worked closely with producers Akeel Henry – a former apprentice of Drake producer Noah “40” Shebib – and Adam Ponang, to develop her experimental, genre-blurring sound.
LOONY started writing lyrics when she was back in Scarborough, but her time in Montréal greatly impacted her songwriting. At McGill, she fell in love with James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and T.S. Eliot. “I would skip a lot of classes, but I remember going one day when we were talking about the poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot,” she says. “It blew my mind. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I’m missing out on? Because this is fire.’”
With her upcoming concerts postponed, LOONY’s spending her days hanging out in nature and writing new songs. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are so many amazing artists in the East end,” she says. “There’s more green space, and more room to figure out what you want to do.”
Photo by Mechant Vaporwave
Backxwash: breaking with the past
Story by Olivier Boisvert-Magnen | Tuesday July 28th, 2020
When we join Ashanti Mutinta (a.k.a. Backxwash) by phone, she’s still in disbelief.
Two weeks ago, her second album God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave HimOut of It was short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, which annually celebrates the best Canadian album, regardless of genre or sales. “I didn’t expect this album to go this far,” says the rapper/producer, who’s also the first female hip-hop artist from Québec to ever earn such a nomination. “I’m truly honoured!”
Apart from a few media outlets that have highlighted this accomplishment, the Zambia-born Montréaler hasn’t received many kudos from the Québec hip-hop community. “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been included [in that scene] at all. I feel quite isolated,” she says.”The first Spotify playlist to include one of my songs was Northern Bars, and it’s from Toronto. Maybe my style doesn’t speak [to people in Québec] as much?” she wonders, sincerely.
It’s true that her music has little in common with the legacy of Sans Pression, Muzion, and other pioneers of Québec rap. Inspired by Black Sabbath and Nine Inch Nails, both of whom she’s sampled on her sophomore album, the Anglophone rapper also has a penchant for the biting hip-hop of American rappers such as Danny Brown and JPEGMafia, as well as for the audacity of Moodie Black — a band that pioneered the noise-rap movement that culminated with Death Grips in the past decade.
Even more intense than Deviancy, her first album — which is filled with tinges of nu-metal, trap, and horrorcore — GHNTDWTLHOOI adds touches of industrial and doom metal. “Deviancy was a good headbanging album, but with this one, I was looking to express my emotions through my music,” she says. “I think I’ve finally found a sound I’m comfortable with.”
Backxwash had to revisit her past to get to this point. “This album is a turning point in my life,” says the artist, who left Zambia over a decade ago. “I wanted to speak to that child who cried every night because of their extreme vulnerability. The lyrics just flowed out of me like never before in my life.”
“I told my mama that the devil got a place for me” she sings on “Spells,” a song about her Christian upbringing. “The person I am now is the opposite of that hyper-Christian child,” says the transgender artist, who still believes in God, “but not in a traditional way. That song is part of my healing process.”
Religion is indeed a central theme in jher songs. She’s sampled many Christian metal songs for her next EP, Stigmata, slated for late July, just as she’s sampled a dance ceremony from her homeland on “Black Sheep,” one of the most personal songs on GHNTDWTLHOOI. In the Nyau community, a secret society that is part of her Chewa ethnic group, this dance names Gule Wamkulu is the final stage of a ritual initiation that welcomes young men into adulthood. That dance is on the UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and it symbolizes a lot for a woman who left her country of origin for good. “That song is part of my healing process, and it talks about my family and what I went through over there. Now I can finally heal,” she says, adding that it wouldn’t be safe for her to go back to Zambia.
Yet, the sum total of growing up in Africa also has a positive side. That’s where, after all, she fell in love with American hip-hop, thanks to Notorious B.I.G.’s video for “Mo Money Mo Problems.” “I was nine or 10 when I saw it for the first time, and it completely rocked my world,” she says. “Notorious looked so cool! I started trying to rap like him by transcribing his words,” explains the artist, who also started making beats in her early teens.
That’s also when she started thinking about her identity. “I was asking myself a lot of questions over there, but I only felt the freedom to assume myself [as I am] when I arrived in Montréal,” in 2017, after spending eight years in British Columbia. The song “Adolescence” is dedicated to her younger brother, who still lives out West. “I don’t know if he’s heard that song… We don’t really speak to each other in my family,” she says.
“I guess maybe I should go to therapy / Cause keeping it inside is something that is eating me alive,” she sings, with disarming calm, on the painfully sincere song. On a more abrasive tip, “Black Magic” talks about the anxiety of an artist who prefers to continue her habits ”instead of getting help,” as she says herself on the Rap Genius platform.
Backxwash assures us that there’s still hope, pointing out “Redemption,” the closing song on GHNTDWTLHOOI. “I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s a transition towards light, but it does represent the hope [for such transition] in a certain way,” she says. “There still remains a part of uncertainty, however. I still need to ask myself a lot of questions and to change a lot of things in my life.”
Photo by couresty of/courtoisie de Poirier
Poirier: Local and universal, like convenience store fireworks
Story by Dominic Tardif | Thursday July 23rd, 2020
On a summer night in Cleveland (the one in Québec’s Eastern Townships), a bunch of friends light up a few fireworks – the kind you find in roadside stores. Among them is Poirier, the veteran Montréal-based electronic music producer. While watching the ignition process with his daughter, the man, whose first name is Ghislain, has an epiphany: what he’s looking at is the cover of his eleventh album, Soft Power.
“The image was shot with an iPhone!” says the musician, with the same enthusiasm that he felt that night. “I didn’t have my phone on me, so I told Mani [Soleymanlou, a theatre actor and Poirier’s friend]: ‘Take a picture of this. I think it’s my album cover!’ I like the slightly random aspect of the photo, and yet you can give it meaning. A flame in the middle of the night fits with Soft Power. It also fits with my work: fireworks that you buy and light yourself, you can find that everywhere. That image has an extremely local aspect, but there’s also something universal about it. [He pauses and starts laughing] I never thought I’d say something so deep about fireworks!”
Local and universal: those adjectives also happen to best describe the man and the music he’s been creating for more than 20 years, a mix of influences from all over the world – Brazilian, African, Caribbean – that have ultimately become typical of the diversity of his hometown of Montréal.
Generally motivated by his desire to set the dancefloor on fire, this is Poirier’s first album where he’s creating songs in the more traditional sense, with verses, choruses, and heady melodies to boot. His list of guest singers reads like a playlist for the most suave of happy hours: Flavia Coelho, Flavia Nascimento, Boogat, Samito, and Mélissa Laveaux. “I do consider it a song-based album,” he says. “I wanted young children to be able to hum along. I would even say it’s an album of chanson Québécoise!”|
Be that as it may, it’s still light-years away from the likes of Paul Piché, or Vincent Vallières. “Sure, but for me this album is a point of view,” says Poirier. “I’ve always seen myself as a bridge between communities, cultures, and types of music. So my point of view is that even though there are no songs in French on the album, it’s an album of Québécois songs. My world view is typically Québécois. And the hub at the centre of it all is Montréal.”
At a time where we grow increasingly aware of cultural appropriation, such hybridization demands respect for other cultures, and awareness of the limitations and pitfalls of such a position, when the person behind it is a white, Francophone man.
“I’ve been aware of this for 15 years, but Québec has only become aware of it in the last two years,” says Poirier. “When I released soca songs in 2009, and I was interviewed by Trinidadians from Toronto, do you not think they questioned me about it?”
And what did he tell them? “I told them I’d done my homework,” he says. “[Playwright] Robert Lepage didn’t do his homework. And he didn’t take notes when he did his remedial class. You have to listen. If we go back to my analogy to a bridge, you need to know where the banks of the river are to build a bridge. You must be genuinely interested! But that doesn’t mean you have to walk around in a boubou…”
“When I’m working on a song, I often find it hard to listen to it with fresh ears. What I like to do is crank up the volume to 11 and go into the next room over in the house. I look out the window while I listen to it. When you do that, whatever’s wrong with the song becomes instantly obvious.”
In titling his album Soft Power, Poirier also refers to his new rapport with his work, which has been obviously, transformed by the fact that he’s now the father of a three-year-old daughter. “I’ve understood that work is not the only thing that defines us,” admits the self-confessed recovering workaholic. He wants us to re-acquaint ourselves with the old-fashioned value that is ennui.
Isn’t it a little strange that a musician wants his audience to feel ennui? “What I mean is that there’s power in restraint,” says Poirier. “We live in an era where people have become unable to be bored or contemplative. I don’t mean my album is incomplete, but I want it to have space for people to inhabit it. Good stories aren’t the ones where everything is said.”