“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…

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.”

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.”