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Gayance - Mascarade (Interview Feature)

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Gayance releases her debut album 'Mascarade' on 3 March 2023 on Rhythm Section International - a gorgeous flow of dancefloor groovers full of joyous, infectious broken beat rhythms.


An abstract painting with yellow, oranage and black colours. A black woman drinks from a bottle and holds food in the bath. The words 'Gayance - Mascarade' are in the top middle of the image.
Artwork by Bahati Simoens

The Haitian-Canadian artist - also known as Aïsha Vertus - has been DJing and producing since 2013, spending a lot of time in Montreal as well as venturing to Latin America and Europe. Receiving inspiration from Betty Davis, Bob Marley, Caetano Veloso, Timbaland as well as contemporaries, Liv.e, Nick Hakim, Viktor Duplaix, Solange, IG Culture and Little Dragon, the album follows her releases from the last couple of years.


This includes her debut EP 'No Toning Down', and 'Sirens' feat. KALLITECHNIS on Sherelle’s label Beautiful. Full of heartfelt stories that move between poetic, soulful odes to the past, accounts of the Afro-diasporic, and feminine experience, Gayance tells the story of her 20's on 'Mascarade':

"I pay homage to this kid everybody knew, but not deeply. It's about retrieving a power that has always been mine, making peace with the past and moving forward.”

The singles feed into a house music aesthetic that takes inspiration from her years of collecting afro-Latin jazz, Caribbean, West-African, and electronic vinyl.


'Nunca Mais' feat. LAZA gushes with a hypnotic vocal line (that means 'never again') paying homage to the time she spent living in Brazil, featuring acid-chugging basslines cutting through the synths and beats - "this song was made at a moment when I was starting to set my boundaries in regard to how I was being treated by people who had patriarchal values."


Gayance smiles at the camera wearing a pink jumper and patterned trousers with a big blue hat in front of a painting of a tree and water
Photo by Floor Verhulst

The intricate percussion offers a sharpness to the gentle and mesmerising vocals on 'Clout Chaser’s Anthem' feat. Janette King & Hua Li, which ventures into an R&B energy. The femininity of the song offers an emotional critique of romance, and for Gayance it helped her reflect on "a moment in my life where I thought I was at service to people and I shouldn’t receive love and affection in return.”


"Having all our vocals on it was something I wanted to experiment with. It’s like a sisterhood-powerhouse meeting. We put a feeling into sound." Adopting Detroit house chops on 'Moonrising (10 Years)' feat. Judith Little D, the church organ is a nod to the influence her late grandfather had.


Celebrating life and joy whilst grieving for her grandfather, the song emanates a spiritual feeling evoked from music, dance, and partying - "it’s a song for rebirth and dancing through your transformation.”


Other standouts include 'Lord Have Mercy' feat. Judith Little D & Raveen, a slick broke beat accompanied by the oozing, soft touches of the R&B vocals; the dreamy house of 'Dead End' feat. Janette King with some neo-soul vocals caressing the rhythm; and 'Shore Apart' feat. Raveen has laser-like synths popping out with the phat snares, offering a dystopian futuristic vibe.


Gayance is riding a game usually found in a child's play area, wearing pink and green colours.
Photo by Floor Verhulst

With a love for storytelling, Gayance has had a vast career as a creative, being involved as a host for VICE Canada, a writer for Red Bull Music Academy and The Fader, a music programme consultant at POP, Montreal, and a curator for the exhibition Visions Hip Hop QC at PHI Center.


She regularly steps out from behind the decks to teach DJ masterclasses (currently at DeSchool, Amsterdam) and delivers talks to empower youth and bring knowledge to the people. Gayance also directed the acclaimed 'Piu Piu, a film about Montreal beat scene', and will release 'Mascarade' the movie later this year.


Ben chats with Gayance about her journey over the last 10 years, her family influences, and celebrating Black culture in her music.

 

How would you describe yourself and your music to someone not listened to it before?


These days, I've been presenting myself as a pirate because I often have to tell the story of how I got where I am. I feel like my music takes references from all those adventures across the globe and from within my own creole roots.


What does your album ‘Mascarade’ mean to you and what’s it been like getting to make a movie alongside it?


The music was more some kind of spiritual experiment that resulted in a carnival of emotions ... a Mascarade. The movie is a love letter to Black people, I wanted to showcase Black talent behind the camera, and have solid intersectional feminist ground values. The movie is directed by Maïlis Roy-Lessard, and in front of the camera, we showcased joy and beauty. The storyline is about girlhood to womanhood, spirituality, connections between the afro-diaspora, and love.


What attracts you to creating visuals for your music and why is it important?


It was a miraculous accident. I was always a film nerd. I studied film in college then dropped out to make a very low budget documentary called 'Piu Piu, a film about Montreal beat scene'. Making this one really came from watching Jenn Nkiru's entire filmography, 'Black Mother' by Khalil Allah, and Terrance Nance's 'Random Acts of Flyness'.


Obviously, 'When I Get Home' by Solange to me was important because I grew up in a place where the mainstream media never showcased Blackness without suffering or graphic violence. I wanted to show something soft, empowering, and raw.


Gayance is upside down holding onto some bars, wearing pink and green colours.
Photo by Floor Verhulst


How does curating DJ sets influence how you have made this album, is there a particular journey you wanted to take everyone on for it?


Of course! I think of myself as more of a selector than anything else. Collecting records, listening to music online, and DJing really influenced me to create a moodboard of what I wanted to express. I'm not a trained musician, producer, or songwriter. This really helped me build direction. I really wanted the music to be soulful first and foremost.

What’s excited you about collaborating with Janette King, Hua Li, LAZA, Raven, Judith Little D on the album?


I approached them to work with me and I've known all these people for 10 years +. They knew me outside of music as well, especially Hua Li, Judith, and Janette.


You’ve been making music and DJing for 10 years now, alongside being involved creatively in so many ways such as a documentary maker, music programmer, writer and A&R - what drives you in your quest to live as a creative?


I like telling stories and those are all vessels through which I can tell a story of any kind. Whether it's to report the news, educate or deploy some intentions and feelings.

Who did you grow up listening to, and what excites you about digging for records?


When I was a kid at the end of elementary school, my best friend Olivier and I were in charge of the radio and our educator would buy all the CDs we would suggest - it was THE BEST FEELING.


Afterward, as a teen, I was listening to Bob Marley, Lil Wayne, Project Pat, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Outkast, Aaliyah, and all the R&B from the 90s and early 00s. I had a real obsession with Bob Marley and The Doors, reading books about them and getting to know more about music history.


I have phases of music I'm obsessed with when I dig. I started a record collection when I was 16, it's very eclectic. There's always the story of "what was I doing in my life" and "who I had a crush on" while I was digging those records. A lot of travel memories too. I think I'm constantly looking for feelings.


Gayance smiles with her hands touching her face. She wears a pink jumper and patterned trousers with a big blue hat sat in front of a painting of a tree and water
Photo by Floor Verhulst


You speak about your late grandfather influencing you through playing Haitian-Cuban influenced gospels in church - has music always been in your family, and what drew you to it?


I was raised by music lovers. From my mother who danced contemporary and had some Art of Noise cassettes, to my dad who likes blues, 90s dancehall, and Jimi Hendrix, to my uncles who were electronic music club promoters, and my aunties bumping R&B while cleaning on weekends.

My grandfather was using music as a spiritual vessel. The most interesting and cross-genre thing he did was bringing some congas to church. In the catholic church, you can't really play drums. It's more of a protestant and baptist church thing they say. Music was always the thing that brought everybody together. It's a spiritual force, beyond institutions and the ministry.

You’ve lived in so many culturally diverse and expressive places - Montreal, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Brazil - can you tell us a bit about how you found your communities in each place and what influence they have had on you in your personal life and music career?


The internet and 'People to People' were always great tools to meet new communities that have similar values to us and definitely had an influence on my personal life and my music career.

I saw Martine Chartrand is a big influence on you - outside of music, who and what else influences you?


Yes, she's my auntie - an amazing human and animated filmmaker. I've seen her work on pieces with dedication and patience. My close friends know I really love art deco, it really inspires me in a way I cannot describe. The documentary "Betty - They Say I'm Different" really influenced in making the song 'Mascarade'. I follow a lot of painters from the Afro-diaspora and really love their work - especially Bahati Simoens, Sinalo Ngcaba, Obi Agwam, and Kevin Hopkins II.


If you could make another documentary on a music scene like Piu Piu, which one would you choose?


I don't know, I would like to retrace the beat scene all over the world and make a big documentary series signed with 3 seasons + with mega budgets!!!


Where and when do you most feel yourself, relaxed and happy?


I'd say when I dance, whether it's alone in my apartment, dancing on my chair at the restaurant because the food is good, or on the dancefloor while laughing with friends.


What’s been the best moment in your career so far?


I really love giving workshops to the youth or marginalised people. I really feel like I'm spreading something and those are always the best things. Also, when we finished 'Moon Rising (10 Years)' with Judith in the studio it was emotional! A great moment.


Anything in St-Henri, a neighbourhood in Montreal, from 2014 to 2017 was iconic as I met many great friends there.

What’s coming up in 2023 for you?


I've planned seeds all in 2022 and I'm still planting seeds right now. I'm going to perform with a trio of musicians and I hope it goes well. I would love to start writing a fictional movie.



 

You can pre-order 'Mascarade' here


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