When I connect with the DJ, producer and visual artist Gayance over Zoom, she's still settling into her new life in Amsterdam. Having only moved to Europe from her home of Montreal earlier this year, she's still finding her footing within the city's music and artistic community. As an artist, she's struck by how obvious the spoils of nepotism and generational wealth are in the Netherlands. This creates, as she sees it, a self-fulfilling prophecy where success begets success.
This artistic vacuum is something she's spent most of her career rallying against from her homebase in Montreal, both in her work for the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the larger Montreal art world. She jokes that she's always thinking about money—and how to build a sustainable art practice—because she's a Capricorn, but more than an aside, this feels important. Reflecting back on her forthcoming visual and acoustic album, Mascarade, and her move to Europe, she tells me, "If I was able to do all of this—which is insane—it's only because I work in the industry. I knew people who could guide me."
This problem is endemic to the entire music landscape. It's harder and harder for people to find an entrance point into an industry that has only become more stratified and opaque. So when Gayance learned how to write a grant application, for example, her first thought was to bring that knowledge back. "As soon as I understood how to write and what to do," she explains. "I immediately gave that information to my community. Some people don't even know this money is there. Some people are not even aware of that or feel overwhelmed or not even worth it."
This is about building a reliable musical ecosystem that allows artists to thrive. It's an idea that hits very close to home for Gayance, as she sees the way that Black culture more generally is expropriated: "Everyone is gentrifying my culture and capitalizing on Black culture and we are getting crumbs. We are the ones—regardless of whether we get money or not—who will drive culture. Why don't we get money for this?"
It's an important point, and one that you can hear coursing throughout her mix, filled with a wide spectrum of Black music from the past and present. Across grooving bits of downtempo peppered with jazz and broken beat, she crafts a narrative that reclaims her culture and uplifts her fellow artists.
Describing Mascarade, Gayance tells me that it was inspired by her time working for the CBC where "there was not a lot of representation—on TV or radio—and I wanted to tell a story that was made up of violence, suffering, or struggle, but life and love and healing. A love letter to Black people to people in Quebec."
Her mix accomplishes this and expands its reach to include Black people across the diaspora more generally. And it's more than just track selection that captures this ethos. Her transitions are occasionally abrupt—opting for dramatic change in tone and texture rather than seamless movement—and elsewhere they're subtle and soft, with tracks occasionally playing out in their entirety. However she is treating these tracks, she lets them play them on their own terms, allowing us to see the vibrancy and vitality of Black culture outside of cultural gentrification and fetishization.
A blend of songs I had on loop while grieving and being in my creative process while producing my debut album "Mascarade". Including some unreleased original productions.
Break Your Down - Georgia Anne Muldrow
Fail - Jon Bap
God Said it's Okay to Fall - Matt Martians
Forbidden Forest - Gayance & Gene Tellem feat. Laroie, Edward Reilly (unreleased)
Lord Have Mercy - Gayance feat. Judith Little D & Raveen (unreleased)
That - Jerome Thomas
Duet - Gonjasufi
Gran Mèt - Manno Charlemagne
Don't Run Into The Dark so Quick - Jon Bap
Song 33 - Noname
Find You (New Jerusalem) - Peter CottonTale
Sirens - Gayance feat. KALLITECHNIS & Dapapa
Legba Mia Mia - Les Grandes Vissages de Cyvadier
Moon Rising (10 Years) - Gayance feat. Judith Little D (unreleased)
How Bad I Want Ya - Mr. Bobbyjazz, Soulement, Peven Everettt
Shore Apart - Gayance feat. Raveen (unreleased)
Do You Know ? - Donnie
Gayance (real name Aïsha Vertus) takes her alias from the Haitian creole word for joyfulness. She started as a DJ in 2013, collecting vinyl from afro-Latin jazz, vintage Caribbean sounds, West African, and black electronic music from both sides of the Atlantic. But her musical roots can be traced back even further. Her Grandfather, who was playing Haitian-influenced gospels in church, showed her how music can be used to touch and uplift people. A gift she’s taken with her wherever she goes.
Born and raised in Montreal-Nord, Gayance has been tearing down venues in Paris, Amsterdam, Brooklyn, Marrakech, Berlin, São Paulo, and more. Her own production is influenced by UK Garage and broken beat, and the Detroit and New York house scene, with nods to the vivid, sun-soaked colors of Latin America.
Aïsha’s first project came in 2021, an entirely independent release that features Montreal native, KAYTA. ‘Kinda Strange’ is an ode to underground UK Garage with soulful melodies from KAYTA, accompanied by gospel-style backing vocals as Gayance reaches back to her Grandfather’s roots.
This was quickly followed up by the EP, ‘No Toning Down’, where Aïsha explores her global influences. She cites artists like Betty Davis, Andre 3000, Caetano Veloso, and Timbaland as well as her contemporaries, Liv.e, Nick Hakim, Viktor Duplaix, Solange, IG Culture, and Little Dragon. The track ‘Meu Sol’ takes the listener to Brazil, where she teams up with Maleika Tidjani and Dapapa on this Dilla-inspired instrumental, full of summery chords and intricate melodies. By the end of the project, ‘All My Friends Are Triggered’, we hear Gayance in a darker cadence. Burial-esque, glitchy drums skip along below a solemn chord progression and robotic vocal chops.
Following her impressive catalog of self-releases, Gayance will be putting out her first full-length album on Rhythm Section in 2023. ‘Mascarade’ is a collection of dancey rhythms with melodies that appear in the form of hauntingly soulful hooks, or bright outpours of joy and celebration. Her list of collaborators will also feature some of her friends from underground Montreal. This record gives light to Aïsha’s talents, not only as a producer but as a vocalist and lyricist who shows us a great capacity for different emotions, styles, and languages to arise in her songs.