Not a single facet of music creation slips through musician Mélanie Venditti’s fingers. While her album Épitaphes (2019) unfolded like a long, calculated, and precise farewell, her self-produced and self-released EP Projections, released on April 30, 2021, offers six unique pieces that unfold like scattered slices of life, that can be understood together or separately.

Melanie Venditti“These songs came slowly, in no particular order, over the course of two years,” says Venditt. “My album was very cerebral, as if I was writing a book, but this time, I wrote what I was living, no matter what it meant.”

Epitaphs brought us to the heart of Venditti’s mourning of her mother, in a calculated, dutiful remembrance. “This time around, it’s the opposite,” she says. “I let the music come to me.”

Obviously, 2020 was the year of pandemic self-isolation, but the stormy return of the waves of #metoo, in July, is also part of the collective memory of the past year. Regardless of what this movement evokes as a memory, trauma, or vague feeling, we have all, in one way or another, experienced or witnessed significant discomfort. “When I read some of the testimonials, I realized that it stirred a lot of stuff that I had experienced,” says Venditti. “It’s at the very heart of this EP, it truly fed my creativity.”

The result is sensitive, and she delicately underlines important observations that bring us back to the basis of the movement: the incoherence of a victim’s speech is legitimate. “It’s normal for someone who’s been abused or harassed to be unclear,” she says. They’ve experienced a trauma.” There are undeniably things that someone can never explain, understand, or judge unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

In her ethereal interpretation, Venditti addresses our relationships with others through what we love and what we hate about them. “I think that what bothers us in ourselves, we perceive more in others, and it’s the same for the things we love,” says Melanie. “It’s basic human nature to reproduce what we’ve experienced, whether it is good or bad. I was greatly inspired by that creative vibe.”

Even if it’s mainly due to lack of budget, and to benefit from the solitary time offered by COVID, that she chose to self-release her EP, Venditti doesn’t deny that there’s a “this is what I’m capable of” aspect to her decision. Producing is a another task at which she’s very adept, and she hopes to be able to do it for others in the future. “I’m competent enough to do that,” she says. “Women have a hard time saying they’re competent. And as women, we’re not afforded the opportunities to do so very often. I’ve also realized, recently, that I lack role models. There are very few women who do what I love – producing, creating songs for their project, playing on other people’s projects, and arranging.”

Venditti considers herself a musician first, and feels most comfortable in that role; songwriting came later. For “Projections,” she chose a starting point that she considers more “academic”: the piano. “What’s fun about this process is that it’s not the vocal melody that dictates the chords,” she says. “Everything starts with the music. You can see your chords more clearly on a piano. In university classes, we use the piano to understand all kinds of music theory. But if I grab a guitar, it’s often a no-brainer. With the piano, music isn’t just wallpaper for the lyrics: it has its own language.”

And when it’s time to say things and name them with words, Venditti likes little phrases that say a lot. “I’m very inspired by Philémon Cimon, who has complex ideas supported with simple words,” she says. “That way of writing touches me, and that’s what I try to achieve with my writing.”

While all the strands in the complex arc of music-making appeal to her, Venditti believes that there’s still a lot of work to be done so that women have the same opportunities as men. The chance or audacity to try things, to make mistakes, and to change course, isn’t given to women,  and isn’t innate, either. “Early in their careers, guys are much more likely to say ‘yes’ when asked to work on a project, even if they don’t feel they have what it takes,” she says. “I hope that women, in the next few years, will have more confidence in themselves, and that they’ll be given the visibility they don’t have yet. And that’s the responsibility of radio stations, big productions, and festivals, among others, because a woman who dares and speaks loudly is usually perceived as hysterical.”

The leap into the creative zone must become automatic for women, and large projects must, according to Venditti, offer a certain number of opportunities. “We need to stop hiring women to copy notes that a man has recorded,” she says. “Women need to be involved in the creation from the start. The results will be different. The creation will be that much richer. It’s time.” Indeed, it’s time.

At 23, Jeune Rebeu displays stunning lucidity on Business et sentiments 3, the third instalment in a triptych of albums that saw him evolve both on a human and artistic level.

“I don’t see it as a duality, but rather as to things that complete each other,” says the Montréal-based rapper, when asked on the scope and meaning of the title of his trilogy — which started unfolding in 2018. “People tend to put business and feelings in opposition, especially in the rap world. Some will be more revealing of their feelings while the tougher ones will say they’re more business minded… And I’m not talking specifically about the macho rappers, but rather the ones who play a game and hide [a part of themselves]. More to the point, I’m talking to rappers whose masculinity is misplaced. I just try to be as authentic as I can. I’m a sensitive person and I try to rid myself of the shyness about my sensitive side, that others repress.”

Young Rebeu has long been a sensitive one. He remembers hearing two songs that left a lasting mark on him when he arrived in Québec in the early 2000s: “Parce qu’on vient de loin” and “Seul au monde,” by Corneille. “It was a tough period for me,” he says. “Not only was I coming from far away, but there was death in my family back in Tunisia,’ he confides. ‘There was a sensitive side to Corneille’s music that spoke to me. I didn’t speak French that well when I got here, but I felt a connection to his emotion.”

Twenty years later, the young rapper’s destiny intersects with that of Sonny Black, the multi-instrumentalist who composed, arranged, and co-produced Corneille’s brilliant first album, from which these two powerful pieces came. Like a little nudge from fate. “It’s crazy!” admits the young man, who benefited from Black’s expertise and rigour as artistic director and principal music composer of BS3. “I really dig the way he works. He made two of my songs way better than I could even imagine.”

With its warm sonic signature. where acoustic guitar, trap rhythms, and Latin influences reign supreme, Business et sentiments 3 marks a leap forward in Rebeu’s career. Ten years after his introduction to rap, which took place during a rap writing and interpretation workshop at a community centre in Côte-des-Neiges, the artist (based in the borough of Lasalle), has clearly evolved immensely, far beyond his collaboration with Sonny Black.

Somewhere between the spontaneous side of the first part of the trilogy, and the more melancholic one of the second, Business et sentiments 3 strikes a balance between the rapper’s strengths and emotions. The girl he’s been talking about for three years, this “Valentina” whose presence has coloured the writing of a sizable chunk of his trilogy, has now left his life.

The result: Rebeu sees more clearly now.

At least that’s what he shows us on “BS Story,” a striking, five-minute-plus conclusion that sums up the Business et sentiments era. Time to move on. “I was in a cabin to write, last August, and I’d just gotten out of that relationship,” says Rebeu. “I wanted to mark the occasion,” he adds, devoid of any hard feelings. “I had no regrets. I thought it was a shame [that everything ended], but I had no regrets. I just wanted to tell it the way it happened. Some people have a diary. My diary is my songs.”

He was lucky to benefit from another small gesture from the hand of fate: he met Dubmatique’s OTMC (aka Ousmane Traoré). “I met Ousmane at the moment I lost that relationship,” says Rebeu, still a bit shocked. “Life is balance. Everyone needs to find their balance.”

At the time, Traoré was putting together the basis of what would become Yokobok Records, his brand new record label.”‘I played him the demos of BS3, and he really liked them. He said: ‘Let’s go! You’ll be my label’s first contract!'” the young rapper remembers. “We’ve gotten to know each other better, since then. We’re friends, business partners. We’re constantly giggling.”

Now on a solid professional track alongside one of the best-selling rappers in Québec’s history (Dubmatique’s La force de comprendre has sold more than 100,000 copies), Rebeu has grand ambitions. “For the longest time I’ve had a ton of ideas, but no tools. Now, with Ousmane, I have the tools I needed to flesh out the ideas I dreamt of,” he says.

BS3’s opener, “J’suis pas désolé,” embodies the “business” side of the title-cum-mantra of his trilogy. “Je fais ça pour le butin/Pour marquer le but hein ?” (“I do this for the loot / To score the goal, y’know?”) he claims, evoking both his mission and his empathy, hidden somewhere in the cold .

“Money to me is a vector of ambition and dreams. It’s not an end in itself,” says Rebeu. “When I rap about money, it’s not with stars in my eyes. I’m not at all attached to brands or luxury. Unlike others, I understood early on during my childhood that money wasn’t going to save me. But I do know it can help me reach my goals. It’s all a question of knowing how to invest it wisely.”

Laura NiquayShe was born with a guitar in her hands, in a family of musicians that sang Hank Williams as much as it did Georges Moustaki. “I inherited my family’s talent,” says Laura Niquay who, on April 30, will release a new album of folk and rock songs titled Waska Matiwisin, which means “circle of life” in her native Atikamekw language. “I was born to be a messenger,” she says. “That’s my talent and it’s important to value the talent you have.”

But the most important thing, insists the singer-songwriter, is to enunciate clearly while singing. “Especially since I write more and more with disused Atikamekw words that were used before,” she says. “It’s good for the young people in our community, especially those who live in urban areas,” as she is now, having moved to Trois-Rivières, more than three hours away from her home village of Wemotaci, northwest of La Tuque, Québec.

One example of such disused words, which can be heard on “Moteskano,” a folk song propped up by electric guitars, and rock as well as traditional drumming: “Nikinako ketcikinako,” sung in the chorus. It means “taking our shoes off and putting our shoes back on.” “It’s something we express differently today,” the musician explains. “What’s more, our Nation has three distinct communities that all speak Atikamekw slightly differently. I have nephews and nieces who live in the city, and who are slowly losing the use of our language, and this affects me a lot. It’s important for me to sing properly in our language.”

Niquay’s creative process is meticulous: she consults elders and works with techno-linguists – “three Atikamekw women who specialize in the field” – to make sure she has the right words in her songs, and to try to rehabilitate some that time has almost erased from memory. “I actually learn new words that I’ve never heard before, and that’s why it’s important to work with a techno-linguist,” she says. That’s not to mention the new words that enrich the vocabulary of the ancestral language. “Like the word ‘computer,’” she says. “That one hasn’t existed for very long!” And if you’re curious, it’s translated as “Kanokepitcikan.” The word for “iInternet” is even more complex: Pamikicikowipitcikan.

You won’t, however, hear those words on Waska Matiwisin, because Laura Niquay prefers signing about the universal rather than the modern. The importance of family, respect for nature, the sacred, and the spiritual realm are the central themes. “But above all,” she says, “it’s an album about resilience,” a word whose meaning was already too well understood by First Nations peoples before it became a mantra for the rest of Canadians during the pandemic.

“There’s also a song about mourning, ‘Otakocik/Hier,’ because we go through a lot of it in our communities, that also touches me a lot,” she says. “Another song, ‘Nicim/Mon petit frère,’ is about suicide. They are, however, songs that aim to prevent these things; that’s why I consider myself a messenger. I certainly don’t want to be a downer, but I just want to share my perspective on this ‘circle of life’ we all find ourselves in,” she says, with its dramas and happy moments. “We all live with our problems no matter where we are in the world. We’re all human, and this album was made for everyone.”

Niquay spent three years working on the creation and recording of the dozen or so songs on Waska Matisiwin, at Sophronik Studio in Verdun, under the direction of producer Simon Wall. They range from the soft, slide guitar-driven folk ballad “Aski/Terre” – which she sings with a voice that she herself deems “gravelly” – to the powerful rock of the formidable “Eki Petaman/Ce que j’ai entendu, to the aforementioned “Nicim/Mon petit frère,” an astonishing collaboration with Shauit, on a vaguely reggae groove, sung in Atikamekw and Innu.

One of the most touching songs of the album is “Nicto Kicko,” where Niquay’s soothing voice is carried by the sound of an upright piano, before beckoning an orchestra. The title means “Three Days,” which refers to the amount of time during which the artist didn’t hear about her father. “I turned that story into a slow song, because three days without a word is a long time, especially since it was snowing,” she says. “One of my uncles had been found dead at home and we were hoping it wouldn’t be my dad’s case.” Three days later, he was seen coming out of the grocery store. “Il ne nous avait jamais entendus / Parce que pendant trois jours Il voulait être seul / Avec ses écouteurs aux oreilles,” Laura sings softly. (“He never heard us / Because during those three days / All he wanted was to be alone / With his headphones on”).

“Most of the time when I’m writing, I’ll look for a melody, and I record myself to make sure I don’t forget,” says Niquay. “If I happen to hear a melody while I’m dreaming, the first thing I do when I wake up is to play it on my guitar. Then I write the lyrics. Sometimes I use other people’s stories, because a lot of people write to me. They share their stories, they confide in me. I look for the right words in their stories, and I use them to write a song.”