The sound of Toronto right now: this music is setting the tone in 2020

From globe-trotting hip-hop to future dancehall, here are the artists to watch this year


As Toronto grows and gets more expensive, there’s angst about displacement of DIY communities and spaces for creativity to flourish. But we’re still thriving. Globe-trotting sounds are meeting on the dance floor, toxicity is being worked out through rockstar swagger, disco is returning to its radical roots.

Here are eight snapshots of artists pushing the scene forward and more to watch in 2020. The music they’re making is strong, vibrant and diverse – the whole world in one city’s music scene.

Bambii

The sound: Dance music for rule-breakers

Bambii is part of the lifeblood of Toronto’s dance music scene. She’s a leader in the collective of cool, queer and diasporic DJs who are working to make the city’s dance music culture reflective of their realities.

Committed to Black women and queer folk from the very beginning, she’s turned her biannual party, JERK, into an institution. Known internationally for genre-defying sets, she’s left a string of sweaty dance floors from Berlin to Ho Chi Minh City. But in 2020, she’s stepping away from touring as a DJ to focus on releasing her own music.

Bambii calls her recently released debut single, Nitevision, a “future dancehall” track, which is interesting – considering she was adamant at the outset of her career about not being labelled a dancehall DJ. Being Caribbean, she was concerned she would be pigeonholed by narrow-minded categorization. 

“I’m at a place now where I understand Caribbean music and diasporic music to be so vast in terms of something to reference or to be inspired by,” she says. “It’s just so rich. I no longer feel like I’m being put in a box.”

As a song and as a music video, Nitevision is an ode to Black women – to people Bambii admires, to her friends, to her community. It’s an ode to the dance floor as a conduit for powerful feminine energy. 

“It just felt like it was the most sincere point I could make, coming out as a producer.” 

And it’s just the beginning. She plans on dropping several singles this year. She says the songs will sound like her DJ sets. So expect more future dancehall, but also high tempo house, ballroom, Jersey club and reggaeton. She even hints at some songs using her own vocals. 

Like the city she’s from, Bambii is perpetually evolving – she’s never settled on just one thing. 

“The real Toronto, to me, just sounds like everything – which is what’s cool about it.”

Bambii has been in the party scene for years and the idea to produce came to her four years ago, but it took some time to conquer the intimidation of producing and get comfortable putting out her own music. But she also felt DJing no longer allowed her to express everything she needed to say and represent everyone she needed to represent. Her work has an overarching intention to reclaim Black women’s stories, and to counteract the narratives that are imposed on them. 

“When I think about what inspires me or encourages me, it’s people suspended in joy and dance,” she says. “It’s what spaces feel like when there’s a majority of women in them, a majority of Black women.” KELSEY ADAMS

More Artists To Watch

Demiyah Pérez 

A student of Intersessions DJ workshops led by Chippy Nonstop, Demiyah Pérez spent 2019 pivoting from being every Toronto DJ’s favourite dancer to a purveyor of sounds in her own right. Her sets, a high-energy mix of dancehall, reggae, house and hip-hop, cater to dancers who aren’t ashamed to leave it all on the floor. Last May, she helped launched Ahlie, a party series designed to create common ground between queer and straight people who love dancehall and bashment culture. 

Kuruza

The brainchild of DJs Hangaëlle, Minzi Roberta and Kiga, Kuruza is a collective and a monthly party. Already the go-to Afro dance music party in the city, Kuruza settled into its new home at the Drake Underground late last year. Think African pop music, gqom, baile funk, Afrohouse, soca and dancehall. You can also catch them on underground radio station ISO Radio, where they spotlight different DJs and provide a glimpse into their events.

Sofia Fly 

DJ/producer/rapper Sofia Fly‘s 2019 EP, Rosé, is a reflection of her trans Latina identity set to nebulous house and ballroom beats. Her inspired downtempo remixes of pop faves like Kehlani and Shakira to indie rap darlings like Princess Nokia prove she knows how to parse a song down to its core. Her live sets are opulently layered, genre-jumping feats, from hip-hop to disco to deep house.

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Samuel Engelking

Shan Vincent de Paul

The sound: Grimy flows and globetrotting beats

Shan Vincent de Paul’s ruthless collaborations with fellow Tamil musician Yanchan on Mrithangam Raps scored more than half a million views last summer. Fans ate up the video series in which Vincent de Paul’s staccato rhymes chase the percussion from Yanchan’s mrithangam (or mridangam), an Indian drum commonly used at Hindu weddings and Carnatic ensembles.

“It was an authentic bridge between the classic South Asian sound and modern rap,” says Vincent de Paul about the genre fusion that brought him back around to his Tamil roots.

Outkast, Hieroglyphics, Pharoahe Monch and their contemporaries are primary influences on the Sri Lankan-born, Brampton-raised refugee artist who has been grinding out music since 2005, first with Soliva Spit Society, then as half of experimental duo Magnolius and finally alongside the collective sideways.

“I never want to classify myself as a Tamil rapper,” says Vincent de Paul, about why he didn’t tap into his heritage until recently. “I want to compete with the best of them. [And] I always had this fear that if I was going to be speaking about our story, it’s going to be falling on deaf ears.”

His first two solo albums, Saviours (2016) and Trigger Happy Heartbreak (2017), scored with U.S.-based music blogs like Okayplayer and Afropunk. But as Tory Lanez, Drake or the Weeknd will tell you, homegrown love is hard to find.

He went beast mode on tracks like Die Iconic, unleashed bangers like Bitch Go and Warning Shot and lifted spirits with the refugee anthem Out Alive. But for years, Canada slept on him.

“The art I’m making is undeniable,” says Vincent de Paul, letting out his frustration about being ignored by the industry he once catered to. “I can out-rap 99 per cent of the people in this country. I’ll put that on my life. Canada has some of the best artists in the world, but our industry is a high school shitshow.”

Vincent de Paul eventually found support within the South Asian community, who were thrilled to find a brown rapper whose rhymes are tight. And then he hooked up with Yanchan. Their Mrithangam Raps paved the way for an upcoming tour through India in February and a collab LP called IYAAA dropping March 27. And in early summer Vincent de Paul will release his third solo album, Made In Jaffna.

“Now I don’t give a fuck about the Canadian industry,” he says. “Because I have all these other people that are legit supporting me and uplifting me.

“Now the Canadian industry is outnumbered.” RADHEYAN SIMONPILLAI

More Artists To Watch

Fuctape

If you’ve seen their name in red stencil all over the streets of Toronto and wondered what the fuc Fuctape might mean, it’s an anonymous Toronto collective with over 30 members. None of them are identified, but listen to their album and scattered singles – all up on YouTube – and there are a few you might recognize. It’s somewhere between the give-no-fucks energy of early Brockhampton and Odd Future with the way-too-online pranksterism of Death Grips, with some other electronic and indie rock pastiche in the mix. 

Swagger Rite

The first song on Swagger Rite’s The Swagged Out Pedestrian, released late last year on Sony, is called Mosh Pit – and that’s the vibe throughout the spare and bone-rattling trap of the five-song EP. The Jane and Weston rapper’s single In Love With The K was a viral hit on WorldStarHipHop and attracted Drake collaborator BlocBoy JB for a new version. His energy is infectious, and you can already see it starting to spread beyond Toronto. 

Jon Vinyl

Jon Vinyl has a pretty good friend in his corner: pop sensation Shawn Mendes. The young R&B singer/songwriter got a shout-out from his old Pickering high school pal on Instagram last year for his Nostalgia EP, and the music stood up to the sudden influx of rabid Mendies (is that what his stans are called?). His upcoming single Moments (out January 31), produced by fellow Torontonian GOVI, shows his star potential – timeless smooth soul meets 2020 pop hooks. 

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Samuel Engelking

Nyssa

The sound: Rock and roll turned inside out

Nyssa calls her music “repurposed rock.” 

With her bleached-blond hair, intense eyes and undeniable swagger, she’s seven decades of rock star energy channelled into one person. You can hear it all in her electro-glam pop songs: outlaw country, 60s Motown, singer/songwriter folk, pulsing 80s pop and plenty of old rock and roll. 

But there’s one thing missing: guitars. 

“I’m not saying I’ll never use guitars. I mean, I love guitars,” says Nyssa. “But I want to challenge myself, and this kind of music is usually so guitar-driven, part of the challenge is to find that energy somewhere else. I want to take all the things I love and then break all the moulds so you hear them in a different way.” 

As a solo artist, Nyssa has an EP, Champion Of Love, and a handful of singles to her name. But she’s a long-time veteran of the local rock scene. She fronted the girl group/rockabilly-indebted band the Superstitions (later Modern Superstitions) starting when she was 15 years old. 

She’s been through the record-label wringer and is now purposefully independent and self-sufficient. She produces all her music herself, and even her powerful and intense live shows are 100 per cent solo – though she cherishes the visceral communal experience of live music. 

One collaboration Nyssa does have on the way is with Meg Remy of U.S. Girls, who co-produced her cover of Ann-Margret’s psychedelic Lee Hazlewood collaboration It’s A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In). That will appear on an upcoming vinyl box set from local label Fuzzed and Buzzed and also on Nyssa’s otherwise self-produced debut album, Girls Like Me, which she plans to release sometime this year. The songs, all primarily beat- and lyric-driven, tell the stories of female outcasts at odds with the modern world. 

Nyssa is long-time regular and now co-organizer at Dan Burke’s annual Death To T.O. Halloween shows, where local musicians dress up and play full sets as other bands. She’s channelled Rod Stewart, INXS, Robert Palmer, Mick Jagger and Elvis. This year, for a special Valentine’s Day edition, she’ll perform as Meatloaf. She always chooses artists she wants to “become a little bit,” and it’s inspired her own music, but she won’t forget the baggage that comes with it. 

“In rock and roll we still have all these very out-of-date male archetypes of excess. Just pure appetite,” she says. “And there are obviously a lot of troubling stories.”

“So I would like to take the good and the fun and the no-holds-barred sexuality and take away all of the uh…” she pauses for a second, searching for the right word and then lets out a bemused laugh, “…horrible bullshit.” RICHARD TRAPUNSKI

Nyssa plays (as Meatloaf) at Death To T.O. On Valentine’s Day on February 14 at Lee’s Palace. 

More Artists To Watch

Praises

Jesse Crowe launched Praises to focus on more personal inner questions about gender expression and health than they could tackle in their main project, Beliefs. But with the recent Hand Drawn Dracula release of the addictive three-song EP Three – co-produced by their Beliefs collaborator Josh Korody – it’s overtaken that shoegaze band as the project to watch. The songs are stark and dramatic, minimalist and heavy, with a voice that makes you stop dead in your tracks. After recuperating from cancer surgery, Crowe will return to the stage this year and finish the follow-up to their 2018 debut album In This Year: Ten Of Swords.

Praises plays the Monarch Tavern on March 27. 

Cindy Lee

Patrick Flegel, formerly of the short-lived but influential Calgary post-punk band Women, calls Cindy Lee the culmination of a lifelong exploration of guitar, queer identity and gender expression. The songs on the upcoming album What’s Tonight To Eternity (out February 14) are ethereal in the literal sense, exorcising ghostly echoes of the Supremes, Patsy Cline and Karen Carpenter – pop’s uncanny valley. 

Scott Hardware

After a stint in Berlin, electronic art-pop artist Scot Hardware has spent the last few years back in Toronto making his new sophomore album Engel (Telephone Explosion), and he’ll release it on April 3 before another extended jaunt in Europe. Inspired by Wim Wenders’s film Wings Of Desire, it’s an eclectic and uncategorizable piano-and-strings-speckled meditation on queerness, shame, death and the afterlife. 

Scott Hardware plays at the Boat on January 30. 

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Samuel Engelking

Ziibiwan

The sound: Soft sounds for the comedown

Ziibiwan is an electronic musician, but they don’t make music for the club.

“[Musician/artist] Melody McKiver explained it nicely: [my music] is what you play after the club when you’re like, ‘I’ve had too many gin and tonics and I need to chill out,’” Ziibiwan says with a smile. 

While living in foster care, music was a release for Ziibiwan. They played piano and guitar, and later experimented with electronic music through a digital audio work station. They covered Radiohead and Foo Fighters songs, and were enamoured with whatever was playing on BET. But it wasn’t until they moved to Jane and Finch that Ziibiwan made their own music. 

“I was working at Loblaws on St. Clair West, doing the graveyard shift, and I would commute from Jane and Finch. I was on my laptop most of the time and I would record everything,” Ziibiwan says about the making of their 2016 debut EP Time Limits, a collection of beat-centric songs that evoke textured imagery.

“There were a lot of problems going on in my life then, and I felt like the land was giving me something. Not just the land but the cultures around me at Jane and Finch,” continues the musician, who’s currently living in Hamilton to care for their family. “It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had in my life.”

Following the EP’s release, Ziibiwan, who also performs as DJ Nimkiiwitch, opened for acts like A Tribe Called Red, played at Venus Fest and composed scores for two short animated films by Amanda Strong. Next month, Ziibiwan and McKiver will perform their original score for the play God’s Lake as it tours throughout British Columbia. This week at the Music Gallery, Ziibiwan will celebrate the release of their new album, Giizis

Ziibiwan describes Giizis as more soft and introspective than their previous music, and it will feature their voice for the first time. For Ziibiwan, Giizis – an Anishinaabemowin word they define as, “the moon, the sun and the eastern direction, which is all kind of a new beginning” – is the start of a new and more intimate creative chapter. 

“I want to introduce this version of who I am to people because people don’t really know me beyond making beats,” they explain. 

“My friend once said that we don’t have to always be performative with [our] Indigeneity and we also don’t always have to protest in our music. That’s what most Native rap is. It’s always they, they, they and us. It’s always plural and not really introspective at all. 

“We deserve our own music.” LAURA STANLEY

Ziibiwan plays an album release show on Saturday (January 25) at the Music Gallery at 918 Bathurst with Phèdre and Melody McKiver.

More Artists To Watch

Xuan Ye

Interdisciplinary artist Xuan Ye approaches sound manipulation with boundless curiosity. The improvised electronic pieces on her debut LP xi xi 息息 (out now via Halocline Trance) shudder, whine, whisper and shout. The detailed sonic layers force you to drop everything, breathe and listen. 

Xuan Ye performs as part of Convergence Theory on Saturday (January 25) at the Victory Social Club.

Astro Mega

Listening to Astro Mega’s (aka Jermaine Clarke) extensive catalogue of songs feels like slipping into a warm bath while a party happens on the other side of the door. His 80s- and 90s-hip-hop-inspired beats are muted and chill, often with a collage of sampled voices. Listen to 97’ Kobe from his recent LP GodBodyDevine if you want a vivid memory of playing NBA Live 97 in somebody’s basement.

BisonBison

BisonBison is a new multi-genre collaborative project between electronic producers Dani Ramez (Spookyfish) and Chad Skinner (Snowday) with producer and drummer Brad Weber (Caribou), multi-instrumentalist Sinéad Bermingham and vocalist Sophia Alexandra. On their upcoming debut album Hover (due out February 7), they meld the gentle sensibilities of folk with disquieted electronics in hypnotic convergence.

BisonBison play a release party on February 1 at the Garrison with ANZOLA and Kira May.

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Samuel Engelking

Luna Li

The sound: The all-ages scene grows up

As a teenager, Hannah Bussiere Kim straddled two worlds. Her mother ran a music school in Roncesvalles, and she trained in classical piano and violin, taking Royal Conservatory exams and performing at recitals. On weekends, though, she was at DIY shows at now-shuttered all-ages venues like D-Beatstro and the Central. 

She left Toronto to study violin at McGill, but dropped out after one semester. She wanted to start her own band. 

In 2015, she started a garage rock group, Veins, which morphed into her solo project Luna Li two years later. 

“When I was first starting out, I thought, ‘Rock and roll is cool, the violin is not,’” says the 23-year-old. “It took me a long time to figure out how to incorporate my classical background into Luna Li.” 

On her debut full-length, to be self-released this spring, she combines swelling psychedelic guitar and chiming keys with soulful orchestral arrangements of violin, harp and cello. She enlisted her brother, Lucas Kim, to play the cello and her producer, Braden Sauder, for drums. Everything else she plays herself. And she’s putting new parts of herself into the songs, too. 

“Many of my older songs were crafted out of poems or were vague in meaning,” says Bussiere Kim. “A lot of [the new ones] deal with mental health, loneliness and friendship. They’re more direct and clear, and vulnerable.”

She’s also inspired by a new wave of Asian American female musicians like Japanese Breakfast, Jay Som and Mitski. “I’m half-Korean and that kind of representation – of actually going to shows and seeing people who look like me – was key,” she says. “When I was in high school, I never saw a band fronted by an Asian person.”

Last fall, Luna Li played festivals almost every weekend with her live band – Sauder, Hallie Switzer, Charise Aragoza and Sabrina Carrizo Sztainbok – and landed big opening slots for bands like Hollerado. 

She’s still involved in the tight-knit all-ages scene from her high school days. It’s just all grown up now. 

In addition to Luna Li, she plays guitar in the psych band Mother Tongues (also with Aragoza) and drums in the art pop group Tange, which is made up of ex-Pins & Needles members Deanna Petcoff and her Luna Li bandmate, Carrizo Sztainbok. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Jacob Switzer plays in indie rock group Goodbye Honolulu. 

In 2020, she plans to focus on Luna Li and tour in the spring when the album is out. And hopefully, many of those shows can be all-ages. 

“It’s hard to do all-ages shows because so many DIY spaces have shut down,” says Bussiere Kim. “But it’s really important that everyone feels welcome at my shows, and that includes young people.”  SAMANTHA EDWARDS

More Artists To Watch

Goodbye Honolulu

While they were still in high school, Jacob Switzer, Emmett S. Webb, Max Bornstein and Fox Martindale started Goodbye Honolulu and the label Fried Records as a home for their music and their friends in the all-ages scene. The garage rock band has a penchant for punchy riffs and gang vocals, and it’s taking them beyond the city. Next month, they’re supporting the Beaches on their cross-country tour and then heading down south to play SXSW.

Goodbye Honolulu opens for the Beaches at Danforth Music Hall on February 28 and February 29.  

Pony

This year brings good news for longtime fans of Sam Bielanski’s grunge-pop project. After two EPs, countless Toronto shows and playing in Pretty Matty’s live band, Pony’s finally releasing their debut full-length this year. On the woozy first single Limerence, Bielanksi sings about the crushing feeling of unrequited love. Fittingly, this February she’s playing the emo-themed tribute night Taking Back Valentine’s Day (February 14 at Junction City Music Hall) in a Paramore cover band.

Moscow Apartment

In the three years since Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla formed their indie folk-rock band Moscow Apartment, they’ve released their debut self-titled EP, won a Canadian Folk Music Award and toured across the country – all before they graduated high school. This spring, the teenagers are releasing their sophomore EP and playing shows during March Break (they’re still in high school, after all), while being outspoken advocates for the all-ages scene and climate justice.

Moscow Apartment plays the Paradise Theatre on January 30.

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Samuel Engelking

Tush

The sound: Disco reconnected to its roots

A half century after the heyday of disco, Tush is helping the genre stay alive. 

The project, which started as a seven-piece live disco band called Mainline in 2015, now consists of just two core members: vocalist Kamilah Apong and bassist Jamie Kidd. 

While their music draws from funk and soul and follows the four-to-the-floor beat typified by disco, they’re more than a vintage throwback.

“Disco is such a loaded term,” says Apong, who previously played in the band Unbuttoned. “For us, it means thinking about how music was made in the origins of [the genre] and keeping to those practices, which was experimentation and [that it was] so much of a social, cultural music.

“Black women were such a huge cultural connection, and disco is deeply ingrained in Black and queer communities.”

Naming Universal Togetherness Band and the Brothers Johnson as some early influences, Tush released an EP, Do You Feel Excited?, in 2018. Their latest single, Don’t Be Afraid, is an atmospheric slow burn propelled by Apong’s gospel-style vocals exhorting us to love defiantly. This summer, they’re planning on releasing their first full-length album.

“What we strive for is depth in the music, lyrics and themes that you don’t find in what most people think of as disco – like more of the later, whitewashed, commercial stuff,” Kidd explains. “We’re making lyric-based dance music that incorporates live instrumentation and more contemporary electronic techniques.”

Tush are a versatile band, and they’ve performed in grand ballrooms like the Palais Royale, rock clubs like the Baby G and underground warehouse parties. Recently, in order to tour more freely and take on gigs at intimate clubs, they’ve distilled their seven-piece live band into a live PA trio that includes Alexa Belgrave on keys. 

Kidd, a veteran of Toronto’s electronic scene who co-founded long-running event promoters Box of Kittens and puts on their popular Sunday Afternoon Social parties, has witnessed the gradual loss of the city’s live music venues, especially those accommodating of dance music.  But his genuine love for the local scene and all the talent in it encourages him to continue on. 

“Something I’ve always strived for is authenticity and doing it for the right reasons,” he says. “With Tush, we’re just doing what we feel most connected to.”

Apong agrees, adding that there’s strong support for contemporary disco in the city. “Everyone dances, no one’s trying to flex or look cool,” she says. “When we throw our own shows, our people show up.” MICHELLE DA SILVA

More Artists To Watch

R. Flex

Born Ryan Anthony Robinson, R. Flex is a queer Black singer, electronic producer and cabaret performer blending R&B and dance music. A backing vocalist in Tush’s seven-piece live band, R. Flex released their own EP, In & Out, in 2018, and since performed in Glad Day’s Black Power Cabaret and at Queer Pop: LGBTQ+ Music & Arts Festival. 

Catch R. Flex singing covers as part of Just Like A Pill on January 31.

Hemingway

The DJ, producer, composer and keyboardist born James Harris has been releasing music spanning disco, funk, deep house, dub and jazz since his 2017 debut EP, Memoirs. When he’s not performing or creating visuals for the electronic monthly Astral Projections, he’s co-running Cosmic Resonance, Toronto’s most exciting progressive jazz-fusion electronic label.

Babygirl 

One of Toronto’s hardest-working DJs, Katie Lavoie has been a long-time supporter of queer parties. Catch her spinning everything from hardcore, club and ballroom to techno at her monthly residency Freak Like Me at the Black Eagle, and on her ISO Radio show Therapeutic Hotness. Babygirl is also part of the team at Intersessions, which teaches women and LGBTQ-identifying folks how to DJ.

Babygirl plays Freak Like Me with Chippy Nonstop and Karim Olen Ash this Friday (January 24) at the Black Eagle.

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Samuel Engelking

Han Han

The sound: Exploding the “Canadian sound”

Haniely Pableo is a cardiac nurse by day, rapper by night. As Han Han, she sings and raps in Tagalog and Cebuano, challenging notions of what makes music “sound” Canadian. 

Hip-hop once seemed like an unlikely career for Pableo, but she’s driven by a desire to overthrow patriarchal-racist-exploitative systems. She enjoys creating positive change through challenging conversations, like one she recently had with a man in Tanzania. 

“He said that his daughter could go to school and get educated all she wants but when she’s home, she needs to respect and serve her husband,” she recalls. “I argued with him – wouldn’t he want his daughter to be treated like an equal by the husband, [not] a servant? We went on and on.

“I [have] a lot of conversations like this when I travel or go home to the Philippines.”

Her passion for changing the narrative first collided with Toronto’s arts and music scene in 2006, when she immigrated to Canada and took a poetry workshop. After years of performing around the city as part of the collectives Santa Guerrilla and PSL (Poetry is our Second Language), she released her self-titled debut album in 2014. On her upcoming second album, URDUJA, she delves even deeper. 

“Each song is different, but [it’s] mostly about the complexities of being a woman,” she explains. “How to be strong. How to be vulnerable. That you can’t always be fierce.” 

Inspired by her late grandmother, she named the album after the folkloric Filipino warrior princess revered for power and leadership.

“She’s the opposite of the stereotype that we have today – that Filipina women have to be submissive and happy. That’s what I want to manifest on the album, that we’re more complex. We can be angry, sad, happy, confident and all those emotions exist on an equal spectrum.” 

Pableo, who will play a Venus Fest-presented release show with fellow Filipina-Canadian acts Charise Aragoza and sketch comedy troupe Tita Collective, hopes it also challenges the idea that there’s such a thing as a unified Canadian sound. 

“We’re missing out on a lot of talent and creativity [when] we stick to a narrow-minded view on what Canadian music is and is not. It’s not progressive or empowering to those communities who are always neglected and ignored,” she argues. “Canada always prides itself [on] diversity and multiculturalism, so it should follow naturally that the music scene reflects those values.”

Pableo acknowledges a growing celebration of diverse Canadian music and cites acts like Maylee Todd as important trailblazers. But she’s committed to making her music until she’s just one of many. 

“My hope is that Filipino-Canadian music and talent [become] appreciated, recognized and respected. That’s my personal goal. That’s why I’m still here.”  CHAKA V. GRIER

Han Han plays an URDUJA release show at Lula Lounge on January 30. 

More Artists To Watch

LU KALA

Honest, empowering lyrics. Self-love and body positivity. A voice that blows the roof off. No, it’s not Lizzo. It’s LU KALA. The Congolese-Canadian singer is known for her flaming orange hair and songs like DCMO (Don’t Count Me Out) that you want to cry and dance to. She’s worked behind the scenes as a songwriter, and now she’s preparing to release her debut album. Its first single, Body Knew, will be out next month.

OKAN

Duo Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne released their lush debut, Sombras, in 2019. OKAN‘s vocal- and percussion-driven tracks evoke their homeland yet also reflect the vibrant Cuban-Canadian community. On their album artwork they’re in full Latin garb, perched regally against a snow-covered landscape – the perfect illustration of their sound. This summer they’ll release their sophomore album, Espiral, and tour through North America and India.

Amaka Queenette

In the summer of 2018, Amaka Queenette quietly released her astute and far-too-brief Vacant EP. At just 19, the Nigerian-born singer’s lyrics and voice hold the composure of someone twice her age. Soulful and elegant, she moves between jazz, R&B and gospel with ease while singing about isolation and soul-searching. This spring she’ll release a visual EP, Fleeting, Inconsequential.

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Samuel Engelking

Häxan

The sound: Heavy psych from the depths

Paul Ciuk laments the lack of meaningful connections in Toronto’s music scene. 

“The sense of community we have here is totally broken,” explains the drummer for proto-metal quartet Häxan

In the band’s experience, power dynamics are often unbalanced and musicians are reluctant to help others unless it helps themselves. But Häxan has seen that there’s an alternative – they’re proof of how supportive a small but dedicated community can be, especially if they have a space to congregate. 

Though some of the friendships in Häxan span decades, the real genesis of the band happened at now shuttered Kensington Market metal venue Coalition. In 2015, with only a theatre degree in her performance arsenal, vocalist Kayley Bomben (also one of Coalition’s founding bartenders/promoters/managers) made the leap to front a Germs cover band with guitarist Paul Colosimo and bassist Eric Brauer for a one-off covers night. 

“Coalition acted like a big tent because you could see all different kinds of metal there,” Brauer explains. “It was a pivotal venue for us to be able to work out the band dynamic,” Bomben agrees. 

Häxan matured from punk cover band to Stooges-inspired grunge act and slowly conjured the fiery intensity of the psychedelic metal they play now. After finalizing their lineup with Ciuk, they quickly slipped into a heavy vintage groove. 

A fascination with the occult didn’t hurt, either. Their name is a reference to a 1922 silent film that explores how superstition wrongly linked mental illness to witchcraft. “When we think of people as evil because they’re different, that leads to a lot of horrible things,” Bomben says. 

Their debut album, set to be released this spring, furthers the fascination. It’s named Aradia, after a tome of Italian folklore that positions witchcraft against hierarchy and oppression. (The first single, Baba Yaga, just dropped on Bandcamp.)

The album was produced by Alia O’Brien of Badge Époque Ensemble and Blood Ceremony, who knows a thing or two about how pagan rituals and witchy vibes should sound. Häxan credit that connection to Fuzzed and Buzzed. The local label took a chance on them early, putting them on last year’s half-cover/half-original Altar Box 7″ compilation where the band first collaborated with O’Brien. 

“Nobody has ever done anything like this for any of our other bands before,” Colosimo says. Bomben agrees, pinpointing the key to thriving in the city’s metal scene. “You really have to find the people who are willing to help each other out.” MICHAEL RANCIC

More Artists To Watch

ROY

Look out for this mysterious project to make waves later this year. More within the psychedelic camp than metal, ROY still bring plenty of heaviness – biting, raw guitar lines rendered through a thick cloud of analog tape haze. But they temper that weight with dreamy keyboard-conjured paisley sublimities. Think the schoolhouse rock of Darlene Shrugg, or the dense psychedelic tapestries of Tony Price.

Rough Spells

Häxan’s Fuzzed and Buzzed labelmates occupy similar psychedelic and doomy territory and also have a full-length ready. They match Häxan’s occult metal intensity with stellar vocal harmonies and incisive lyrics. Their most recent single, Grise Fiord, is named for Canada’s most northerly community and a site of forced Inuit relocation in the 50s. All proceeds from the track go to It Starts With Us, an organization that honours the memory of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Two-Spirit and Trans people.

Erythrite Throne

Mysterious figure Wyrm has completely thrown themselves into the dark and dank atmospherics of dungeon synth, a black-metal-adjacent style that emerged in the 80s. They’ve released a ridiculously prolific amount of music in little over a year under the Erythrite Throne moniker: 18 albums on Bandcamp starting in 2018, including one on January 1 of this year. Don’t be overwhelmed: their mostly instrumental music is moody and wholly engrossing. Start with The Blind Hag’s Lair

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