Like a rabbit from a hat, MAGIC! appeared out of nowhere, a mysterious band whose first single, “Rude,” shot to No. 1 and sold double-platinum in Canada, and got played everywhere across the country – on the radio, in retail outlets, restaurants, bars, and so on.  MAGIC! turned out to be a band of songwriting Canadians based in Los Angeles.

Frontman Nasri Atweh is one-half of the songwriting/producing duo The Messengers (with Adam Messinger), whose credits include Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Christina Aguilera, and most recently Shakira, whose current album includes the song “Cut Me Deep,” co-written by and featuring MAGIC!.

Messinger co-produced the band’s debut album with them, and co-writes songs, alongside Atweh, guitarist Mark Pelli, drummer Alex Tanas, and bassist Ben Spivak.

“Every song is different,” says main songwriter/lyricist Atweh. “Sometimes I’ll write with Mark; sometimes I’ll write by myself; sometimes I’ll write with Adam, but it stays within the five of us.”

“I knew people would like ‘Rude,’ I just didn’t know it would change our lives.” – Nasri Atweh of MAGIC!

Atweh moved to L.A. with Messinger in 2007 to write songs professionally and produce. The duo welcomed fellow Torontonians relocating for the same reasons, and Atweh even let Pelli stay at his apartment, where they immediately began co-writing. “He was playing this reggae groove one day,” says Atweh, “and I said, ‘Dude, I’ve always had this idea of starting a band that was almost like a modern-day Police. I think me and you can do it.’ That was the start.”

That riff became “Stupid Me,” which is on the album. “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool,” another older, Police-inspired song, also made the cut. Now it’s much more than an idea. MAGIC! is signed to Latium Entertainment/Sony International, and has blown up in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all on the strength of “Rude.”

“The MAGIC! album is an introduction to our sound, but also to the way I’ve conducted my love life and the way that I view the world,” says Atweh of the difference between MAGIC! songs and the ones he writes for others. Musically, 70 percent is reggae, another 30 percent is rock-soul, “but with reggae in it.”

Atweh says “Rude” was originally a darker song about an ex- girlfriend, before it turned into a dig at a fictional future father-in-law. “Little Girl” and “Paradise” he calls “quirky,” while “How Do You Want To Be Remembered?” and “Let Your Hair Down” have a deeper Bob Marley & The Wailers influence.

To have a No. 1 hit with a first single has been a crazy experience. “Now, as a professional songwriter, I know the value of a song,” he says. “I know it’s super-catchy, but I didn’t expect [to reach] so many different age groups… I knew people would like it, I just didn’t know it would make us any money or change our lives the way it has.”

Discography: Album title/date TBA
Publisher:  Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada
SOCAN members since 2011(Tanas), 2004 (Spivak), 2001 (Atweh), 1998 (Messinger, Pelli)

Track Record

  • At press time, the “Rude” video had reached  8 million YouTube views
  • “Rude” has charted at No. 2 in Australia and sold more than 200,000 copies
  • MAGIC! wrote a song for the FIFA 2014 World Cup compilation called “This is Our Time (Agora e’ a nossa hora)”

After 10 years in business, it comes as no surprise that L’Assommoir (a.k.a. “the Dram”) is considered to be one of Montreal’s most popular late night hot-spots.

L’Assommoir opened its doors in early 2004, and added one more location in 2009. With two outlets in the bustling city, the restaurant-bar’s warm and friendly atmosphere continues to please  both after-work and late-night crowds by enlisting the city’s most celebrated DJs to perform almost every night of the week.

“Here, music is not background noise, it’s part of L’Assommoir’s global experience,” says co-owner, Victor Charlebois. “Music is integral to our business and we’ve been playing music in our restaurant ever since we opened.”

No stranger to the music business, Charlebois’ commitment to honouring music creators comes from his relation to one of Montreal’s most talented and iconic musicians ever: his father, the legendary, award-winning singer-songwriter, Robert Charlebois.

“For us, music is as important as food, cocktails and our staff.”

One of 30,000 dedicated SOCAN licensed bars and restaurants across Canada to receive a window sticker as part of SOCAN’s Licensed to Play (L2P) campaign, L’Assommoir proudly displays it on their front door to show support for those who create the music that their customers love hearing.

“This sticker is a source of pride for the regulars who’ve noticed it,” says Victor Charlebois.  “Our customers know it means that we provide creative entertainment, and promote Montreal’s homegrown talent, as well as international emerging artists.”

Taking it a step further, Charlebois says, “We support our Montreal emerging artists every Thursday with our Sounds of Montreal, a musical event that is frequently shared on social and other media. It’s an event that amplifies our featured artists’ visibility.”

There’s no doubt L’Assommoir has gained competitive advantage by way of music. ”We may be a little louder than in other restaurants, but for us, music is as important as food, cocktails and our staff.” says Charlebois. “All these things bring us closer to our patrons and keep them coming back.”

The co-owners credit music for greatly enhancing L’Assommoir’s overall customer experience, saying it “creates a contagious energy and plays a significant role in broadening our customer base.”

Says the younger Charlebois: “Our slogan is A universe to drink, eat and see, and we might add and to listen to!”

To learn more and become Licensed to Play, click here.

A seasoned pianist, refined melodist and composer open to creative exchanges, Yves Léveillé has just released an album he called Essences des bois (Essences of the Woods) and which, as the title suggests, puts woodwind instruments front and centre. This seventh Léveillé release is inhabited by a spacey sonic landscape where the listener may slow down to admire specific contrapuntal elements or gently follow the melodic line around clusters of saxophones, flutes, oboes, English horns or clarinets, backed by a rhythm section of drums, double bass and piano.

Forest soundscape

Linking his decision to work with an instrument family to a painter’s palette choice, Léveillé explains that he “wanted to create an album with a different overall colour. By staying away from the brass instruments that are prominent in jazz music, I was able to produce a more muffled, pastel-tone coloration. This may be what provides listeners with the feeling of easy breathing and airiness that they experience hearing this piece.”

Léveillé, who was given the honour of being the first musician to play the new Casavant organ of the Palais Montcalm’s Raoul Jobin Hall in Quebec City a few months ago, feels a close connection with his audience, and claims that this contact can be established from the very moment a composer chooses a title for a piece of music. “In a concert setting, I’ve noticed that titles predispose listeners and bring them to a particular listening state,” says Léveillé. “Titles make it possible to involve listeners by holding them accountable for their own interpretation of the music they are about to hear. A case in point is Perceptible, the opening piece of Essences des bois, which I intended as an invitation to the listener to get ready for the journey. That’s why I placed it there.”

Is the choice of themes or sources of inspiration as important for a jazz composer as it is for a folk or pop songwriter? “Jazz composers find inspiration in their own past experiences, too,” says Léveillé. “What changes over time is the level of subtlety in the piano technique, enabling a more precise expression of specific ideas or feelings. It boils down to cutting out verbiage and concentrating on what’s essential… I couldn’t describe to you the roundabout way I took to achieve this!”

In the composer’s own words, Léveillé’s jazz writing is a quest for truth: “Whenever I listen to music, any music, whether it be contemporary, sophisticated or way out there, it’s got to be something that touches me. I must feel something moving at the solar plexus level. And I have to be in that exact same state to be able to write music. Only when the time comes to polish it up and put the finishing touches do I ever bring the toolbox out.”

Connecting with others

Far from being a solitary pursuit, however, Léveillé’s quest has been marked by significant collaborations along the way. “At one time, I was working on a project with the New York pianist Eri Yamamoto, and I got the idea of inviting the prominent multi-instrumentalist and Oregon member Paul McCandless to join us. We formed a trio, and the experience helped me get an even deeper insight into the sophistication of woodwind instruments.”

Following his successful partnership with Yamamoto and the release of Pianos (2010), Léveillé is now considering a new project: “While I was in the Big Apple recently, we started exploring the idea of creating, along with Ikuo Takeuchi, a series of compositions inspired by traditional Japanese music. We will be approaching the Japanese folklore from a contemporary and a modern vantage point to see where that will lead us. This project will keep us busy for part of 2014, as will the En trois couleurs concerts with percussionist Marie-Josée Simard and pianist François Bourassa.”

A recent winner of the Quebec Music Council’s Opus Award for jazz concert of the year, that trio performed the opening concert of the Jazz en rafale festival at L’Astral concert hall in Montreal last March. “I’m working on a number of projects simultaneously,” the musician explains, “including a presentation of the Essence des bois music in a septet setting, a performance with Marie-Josée [Simard] and François [Bourassa], the collaborative project with my New York City Japanese colleagues, my regular quartet…”

Léveillé does not share the view that jazz music is king of the Montreal summer music programming, but remains forgotten for the rest of the year. “You have to stay on course,” he says. “The work always goes on. You have to approach presenters, create events and so on.” As founder and artistic director of Productions Yves Léveillé, an organization working in the area of modern jazz concert production and presentation since 2002, the musician can “confirm that this kind of work isn’t easy, but that many opportunities open up if you are proactive – which I am!”