Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

“Changing the game” and “takin’ it to the next level” are both well-worn clichés in hip-hop and R&B. Everyone in these competitive genres, it seems, feels like they’re bringing something new to the table. That’s another empty cliché. Since the ’90s, both forms of music have received some criticism for abandoning creativity and churning out the same old, same old.

Enter Toronto’s The Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye), one of a handful of artists who’s helping restore widespread faith and critical respect in both genres.

A prodigious talent, the 20-something artist has already done something unheard of in music: in the space of nine months last year, he released three albums, House Of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, and posted them online, where they could be downloaded for free, just as if they were mixtapes. House of Balloons reportedly racked up more than 200,000 downloads in the first three weeks, and Thursday caused website servers to intermittently crash – but not before a reported 180,000 downloads on the first day. Echoes of Silence also caused a server crash. And he’s hit these heights with a unique new sound unlike anything else on the scene, often with disturbing music and lyrics.

The Weeknd has also done it with almost no public appearances, not a single media interview, and no record label of any kind. He’s played exactly four live performances: two in Toronto, and one each in Guelph, Ont., and London, Ont. Although he is part of the Toronto-based production / management / musical / business collective known as OVO XO – the home of Drake – his meteoric rise has really been fuelled by his music.

That, and a perfect storm of events. Following the release of House of Balloons, The Weeknd received a well-timed tweet by his OVO XO colleague Drake. Then he was name-checked by Jay-Z and Adele, and the mainstream started to take notice. The Weeknd landed on the coveted Polaris Prize shortlist for 2011 – a first for a free download. (Though he declined to perform at the Polaris gala.) He received raves fThis,” was used in HBO’s ad campaign for Entourage. He’s since done remixes by request for Florence and the Machine and Lady Gaga, and guest vocals on Drake’s Take Care. The Weeknd will play a prime slot at the prestigious indie music festival Coachella in April, his first official U.S. appearance, alongside the likes of Radiohead, The Black Keys and Dr. Dre.

The New York Times even dispatched a reporter to cover The Weeknd’s concert in Guelph last October. “He sang outrageously well, over woozy, narcotized rock by his stellar band,” Jon Caramanica raved in his review. “On record his voice can be otherworldly, but he delivered it here with force… ‘The Birds Part One’ and ‘The Birds Part Two’ were gut punches, the Weeknd at his most bruising.”

The acclaim is rooted in the singular quality of The Weeknd’s words and music. Darkly sensual and cinematic, The Weeknd’s sound is one of the most hypnotic you’ll hear these days. His plaintive falsetto perfectly complements the lush, spacey atmospherics of his songs, featuring moody synth washes, crisp beats and eclectic samples. His frail voice is the perfect vehicle for self-examining lyrics that hint at what a vulnerable young man he might be. He’s certainly capable of writing introspective, confessional and self-pitying songs.

But, as with hip-hop/R&B artists Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean, of the U.S.-based Odd Futures collective, his work can also be intense and unsettling. The imagery is often debauched, nihilistic, narcotic, and darkly sexual. In the song “Initiation,” he uses drink and drugs to coerce an unwilling woman into group sex. Then there’s the lyrics to “Outside”: “Make yourself at home / Because baby when I’m finished with you / You won’t want to go outside.”

His twitter tweets speak for themselves. “I tapped into the darkest and the most shaded part of my mind for your entertainment,” he tweeted last Nov. 4. A few days earlier, he sent this out: “By simply surrounding yourself with ugliness, darkness and evil can you really understand and appreciate real beauty.” And there’s also this: “But my lung’s so muddy, i love the way it tastes… drink it til i’m ugly baby fuck me when i’m faded.”

There’s a lyric on record that captures The Weeknd’s essence and the idea that he’s the sort of game-changing jolt that hip-hop and R&B need: « I’m going to give you what you feign / I’m the drug in your veins / Just fight through your pain / He’s what you want / I’m what you need. »
But how long he can continue to inhabit the persona he’s created remains to be seen.


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Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

Acceptance into one’s local music community is an important component in the career of any singer-songwriter. To be equally embraced by two communities is a major bonus, one for which Rose Cousins is deeply grateful.

The P.E.I-raised, Halifax-based Cousins is a key member of the folk/roots scenes in both Halifax and Boston. Her American connection is vividly showcased on her compelling new album, We Have Made A Spark. Her third full-length CD, it was recorded at Boston studio Q Division, produced by Bostonian Zachariah Hickman, and features a large cast of area musicians and backing singers.
Cousins has set down roots within the Boston scene over the past decade. “The people there have really lit a spark with what they’ve taught me,” she says. She traces her interest in that scene back to the late ‘90s. “I was learning how to play guitar and I was really attracted to the singer-songwriter style. I was listening to people like Deb Talan, Kris Delmhorst and John Gorka, and it seemed like everyone was filtering through the Boston area. I was hungry to connect with the places and people I was listening to, and every summer I’d look for a folk festival there to go to as my vacation.”

“I don‘t think the details are important. I think the emotion in the song is important.”

A turning point came in 2002, when Cousins played an open mic night at legendary Boston folk haunt Club Passim. That led to an invitation to perform at the Cutting Edge of Campfire benefit festival, termed by Cousins “the beginning of my becoming part of that community.”

Fittingly, her Boston CD launch for We Have Made A Spark came via a performance at Club Passim in February. “Almost everybody who plays on the album was there, and it was just amazing,” recalls Cousins. The fact that she’s recently been playing U.S. dates opening for Gorka further indicates the peer respect she’s earned there.

The eloquence of her songwriting and purity of her voice have long made Cousins a favourite on the Maritime circuit. She’s won PEI Music and Music Nova Scotia Awards, a 2008 East Coast Music Award (ECMA) for Female Solo Recording of the Year (for her album If You Were For Me), and, in 2011, ECMAs for Female Solo Recording (The Send Off) and SOCAN-sponsored Songwriter of the Year.

Cousins has been delighted to witness the success of East Coast comrades like Jill Barber, Catherine MacLellan, David Myles, Meaghan Smith, and Old Man Luedecke. “All the Atlantic regions have such an amazing variety and high level of talent. I feel I’m part of this very cool graduating class,” she says. “We all started at similar times, plugging away and meeting each other. Now everyone is doing it full-time and finding success with it.”

A signature of Cousins’ style is the unflinching honesty of her lyrics. Emotion is the real spark behind her writing, she explains. “I’m spurred by an emotion I’m feeling, ” she says. “It may be a notion I haven’t quite figured out and the writing of the song may help me do that, or it may be a pure emotion that’s harder to talk about than write about. In order to write I need to feel the thing I’m writing.”

We Have Made A Spark has been termed a “breakup” album, but Cousins disputes that characterization. “It’s not a breakup record, in the standard sense of the fact that I may have been with one person and broken up with them, ” she says. “That’s just not the case. I’m into my ‘30s now and there are chunks of time when you’re wrestling with certain things. There comes a point where you assess patterns you have, and people in your life, and things you are telling yourself, and you have to check in on those things. See what serves you and what no longer serves you. I think the record has a lot of that. It’s not about one particular person. It’s about the part of me that has to let go. I don‘t think the details are important. I think the emotion in the song is important.”

She acknowledges that she’s drawn to darker themes in her writing. “I guess I look at sadness and introspection as a little more interesting, ” she says. “There are more unexplored caves, nooks and crannies, with things hiding in them. It feels more complicated when you feel sad than when you feel joyful, and that attracts me to it. That doesn’t mean I’m a miserable person.”

Carving out time for writing is an increasing challenge, given her hectic touring schedule. “There’s not a lot of uninterrupted down time when I’m on the road,” she says, and mentions an annual retreat she’ll be taking in June. “I’ve done it for the past two years, and I’m so excited for that. No phones, no computers, just a lake and woods. That is the best time to figure out what I’m actually thinking and feeling.”


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Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

Steve Thomson has done it all – musician, manager, promoter, producer, music publisher – in a career that stretches back to the 1970s. While still in high school, Thomson and his band, Fat Chance, landed a slot on the 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival at Mosport Park Raceway sandwiched between Sly and the Family Stone and Ten Years After. Not bad for a kid who was too young to drink legally.

Thomson played guitar in Fat Chance, but he also booked and managed the band. He was so good at it that pretty soon he was managing a stable of young acts, booking them across Ontario and beyond. When labels came calling, Thomson made the difficult decision to step off the stage and into a full-time role as a manager. He eventually got himself a distribution deal with Quality Records, which released some of his 25 acts.

Then, as now, Thomson was a promoter, a guy who knew how to create excitement and interest, and how to get songs played. Those innate talents certainly came in handy as Thomson segued into music publishing. « Today, » he says, « if you’re not a promoter, you may as well not be a publisher, because you’ve got to promote your catalogue. »

« Today, if you’re not a promoter, you may as well not be a publisher. »

Thomson is the sole owner of Backstage Music Publishing, which is a division of his main company, Trilogy Entertainment Group. Trilogy Records International and Star Satellite Music Publishing are also divisions within the group. Backstage sub-publishes a number of international catalogues, including Music & Media International, based in Los Angeles, as well as works controlled by independent French publisher Jean Davoust.

Thomson does a lot of business in France – he’s been attending the MIDEM music conference in Cannes since 1981 – and the relationships he’s forged there continue to nourish his business. Last year, he showcased one of his newer acts, Organic Funk, at Euro Disney. The show was videotaped and turned into a TV special that Thomson is now shopping to broadcasters around the world. If he can sell the show, he’ll reap significant performance royalties, and that’s a strategy he’s been using for years to keep his copyrights working.

Thomson managed Ronnie Hawkins for two decades, and in 1995 he staged a 60th birthday concert for « the Hawk » at Toronto’s Massey Hall, featuring guests Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, The Band and Jeff Healey. Backstage produced a DVD of the show, packaged alongside a documentary called At the Crossroads of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which used additional Backstage copyrights.

Music publishers have to be creative and aggressive when it comes to promoting their catalogues, and Steve Thomson is both those things. He’s also a heck of a nice guy, and that’s another reason he’s still doing deals after all these years.


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