Is it an over-simplification to associate Marième with the sun? The zingy songs on her new solo album, Petit Tonnerre, reveal her affinity with nature, and echo the sounds of summer. “I even made a vow to bring out an album every summer,” she says. The singer-songwriter also has a knack of attracting artists to her. She’s held onto these loyal partners, and to her desire to be part of a band from her time with the hip-hop combo CEA. Bob Bouchard and Lou Bélanger, both founding members of CEA, did the musical production on Petit Tonnerre, and the musical arrangement was done by Claude Bégin, who also worked on her previous, self-titled album. Karim Ouellet, formerly from the Quebec City group Accrophone, and with whom Marième has performed, also played guitar on a few tracks. “We’ve been working together and performing on stage for years… It really means something to me to make music with all these people. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. And I’ve built this reggae-pop world with them.”

“I first held a microphone at a fairly young age. And because of the colour of my skin, it was much more significant than I wanted it to be.”

Marième sees this second album as a fresh start. She switched to a new record label, from Tandem to Coyote Records. Musically, she goes for pop with a hint of reggae, the music her father listened to while she was growing up. And this time around she’s concentrating more on her songwriting. “There were a lot of cover versions on my first album: “Laisse- tomber les filles” by France Gall and “Une africaine à Québec,” inspired by both Tiken Jah Fakoly and Sting. For this second album, I was pregnant and I wanted to make it more personal. Anyway, there’s a stripping-away process involved with writing. Also questioning. I wanted to be relevant and understood. Personal and universal. A huge challenge…”

The topics resonate with her true self. Marième brings up love, family, and revolution with a healthy dose of the positive. On Petit Tonnerre, she addresses issues about identity, her own questions. An interesting choice for a woman brought up in Quebec in the working-class Limoilou district, and daughter of a French-Canadian mother and Senegalese father. At one poiont, she sings: I never wanted to represent my people, never wished for that/singing loudly what others quietly muttered/ Telling their story while telling mine/ Never forgetting the blood that runs through my veins. Marième expands on her lyric: “I first held a microphone at a fairly young age,” she says. “And because of my skin colour it was much more significant than I really wanted it to be. My rapper brother Webster and I genuinely represented something. We were the only two black people in Quebec City. It can be hard to be black in Quebec, or white in Senegal. I soon found myself championing a community, as a role model who had to get in touch with her history and roots. Now I feel more ready to take on that role.”

Marième’s roots and her desire to be loyal are so strong, and run so deep, that she made a conscious decision to go and live in Stoneham, the mountain located near Quebec City. She belongs there. She knows the scene and she understands its ways. The different hip-hop clans of Quebec’s north and south shores built bridges over time and are now collaborating onstage. This current solidarity, enjoyed by everyone in Québec City, goes unnoticed in Montreal. “I lived in Montreal for a year,” she says. “I often go back there for my job as a host. And I tell myself it’s important to have some local heroes, people who decided to stay in Quebec City, people who are making a difference.  We can’t all leave.”

Marième is now all about creativity. “I love writing so much that I’m already working on some new songs,” she says. And although she’s the mother of twins, her life revolves around music. In Stoneham, she lives opposite the recording studio she goes to every day, pushing her double stroller there. It’s a convenient schedule that gives her time to create. “Women are often worried that children will slow them down,” she says. “It’s the opposite with me. It makes me want to take on more and makes me better organized. I can’t put everything else on hold for three months to make an album. I just can’t do that anymore.” After securing several high-profile shows opening for Snoop Dogg and Sean Paul last summer, Marième is getting ready to hit the road again in Quebec this spring, to spread some more of her good musical vibrations. And to announce the return of her favourite season.

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“Something inside me shifted when I performed with Jean-Pierre Ferland in 2011. I sang ‘Le soleil emmène au soleil’ reggae-style on my first record. I was standing there with Ferland in front of 80,000 people with their Quebec Summer Festival badges twinkling on the Plains of Abraham. By myself on the stage with Ferland and his band, my inner doubts melted away. I felt able to continue on this musical solo path, I felt I had the strength to take responsibility for my choice, alone.”

James O’Callaghan came to music rather late in life, especially for someone who has already, at age 26, achieved some major milestones. Those include sharing the John Weinzweig Grand Prize in the 2014 edition of the SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers and a nomination, also last year, for a JUNO Award in the Best Classical Composition category. Both were for his orchestral work Isomorphia.

“I have no family background in music and I never studied an instrument as a kid,” he reveals, looking back on his childhood in Currie, BC. “I started making electronica in my basement just before university, and the inter-disciplinary degree I got from Simon Fraser University was my ‘in’ to music. I was beginning to experiment with manipulating sounds, really working with the timbres of sound, and thought at first that I should go into production. But I then learned there is actually a type of music that was about that!”

“I have no family background in music and I never studied an instrument as a kid.”

At Simon Fraser, O’Callaghan studied electroacoustic music with Barry Truax and took classes in instrumental composition with David MacIntyre and Rodney Sharman. “I might not have found an entry-point into composition without such a unique and open-minded program,” he notes. “Studying afterward at McGill was certainly a change of pace, but one that offered many opportunities while working with Philippe Leroux.”

Isomorphia, his first orchestral commission, evolved from his 2013 stint as composer-in-residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and the JUNO-nominated recording features that orchestra under conductor Alain Trudel. “The NYOC players are exceptional musicians,” says O’Callaghan. “It was a fantastic experience and I was really pleased with the performances they gave during their national tour.”

O’Callaghan completed his Master of Music degree from McGill just last year (Isomorphia served as his thesis) and plans to enter a PhD program at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, he’s pleased that “a large influx of opportunities have come along. I’m now having to say ‘No,’ or postpone some requests for new works.”

First up is his completion of a commission from the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA-GRM), in a co-production with Montreal’s Le Vivier. This work will be completed as part of a residency at the GRM studios in Paris, where it will have had its world premiere on Jan. 24, 2015. A second performance, coordinated by Le Vivier, is scheduled for June 11 back in Montreal, where O’Callaghan continues to live.

Also on the horizon is a new commission from Montreal’s Ensemble Paramirabo, set for a premiere on June 4. And in a different vein, O’Callaghan is one of 12 composers working jointly on an opera based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a production of Montreal’s Bradyworks, which hosts the premiere on May 6.

“Each composer is contributing a scene to the opera,” says O’Callaghan, “akin to the way the various body parts of the monster were assembled. The composers are all, more or less, working independently, so it will be interesting to see how these different styles come together.”

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.”