written by Le Pressoir
Gatineau singer-songwriter Sofia Duhaime is a rising star of the Quebec music scene who seems to be a linchpin for good news lately. Last March she signed to Montreal-based record label La Maison Mère, home to (pardon the pun) other artists such as Sarahmée and Léonie Gray, fast-tracking her career to levels beyond her 20 years of age. Following a nomination as Best New Artist at the 2023 Capital Music Awards, she’s recently been announced as a semi-finalist at the Grand Concours Hydro-Québec du Festival international de la chanson de Granby, where she’ll be battling out on stage against 23 other emerging artists next August. Finally, she’ll be opening up the show for the Fête nationale du Québec in Gatineau alongside 2022’s ADISQ Revelation of the Year Ariane Roy and Quebec musical icon Paul Piché.
All this not even a year after launching her debut EP L’enfant, released in October last year, as well as her commanding performance during the 29th edition of the famed music contest Ma première place des Arts in Montreal. Sharing her time between Montreal, where she’s currently completing her studies in cinema at Concordia University, and her hometown of Gatineau, the artists seems to be navigating her career and newfound fame with the ease of an industry veteran. We recently chatted with her in order to discuss the importance of her home region, the impact of her studies on her musical career, and how the cultural ecosystem of the Outaouais can continue to evolve.
What importance would you say the Outaouais has on your creative process?
Growing up in Gatineau has definitely impacted the direction in which I take my music. Being surrounded by the natural elements, like the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Park, has deeply inspired me. It’s where I spend a lot of time, especially when I need to disconnect and take a break from the stresses of daily life. You can even hear some slight references, like in “Nature’s Daughter”, whose inspiration struck me while swimming in the river in Wakefield. Also, given that the Outaouais is very bilingual, my inspiration comes to me in both languages. Our proximity to Ottawa helps as well, offering up a whole new audience. I’ve been lucky to be as well received in Quebec as in Ontario.
As you mentioned, you write in both English and French. How do you decide which language to choose?
Honestly it’s often not my choice! While I’m proud of being a francophone artist, inspiration isn’t something you can control and as such sometimes my lyrics come to me in French and sometimes in English. My English has greatly improved and because I live my life in both languages, it also means it’s natural my songs should be in both languages as well. I believe it has enriched my writing and widened my scope of inspiration. Basically I never really decide a head of time and just accept the language in which the lyrics come to me. I have yet to write a bilingual song though, but I’m open to it!
How have your cinema studies impacted your musical output?
I’ve always touched many different artistic mediums, often simultaneously. For me, music and film make for a perfect duo. When I write a song, I’m often imagining a visual narrative and so I usually already have ideas for music videos or photoshoots. Studying cinema has opened me up to so many different stories, emotions and visual imagery that often feeds my lyrical inspiration. I see them as a whole, two mediums that come together to tell a story. I would love to create music videos that will come support and complete the storytelling of my lyrics.
How significant is it for you to be playing the Fête nationale in Gatineau, and what are some of your fondest memories of this celebration?
Very!!! It’s an immense honour and an amazing opportunity for me to play in my hometown for such an important event. I honestly couldn’t believe it when I received the offer to play with Ariane Roy and Paul Piché, two artists I deeply admire. As a spectator, I’ve always loved going to see the St-Jean Baptiste shows. The atmosphere is electric! I remember playing a tiny stage in Aylmer for the St-Jean Baptiste celebrations 5 years ago, Sofia that was in secondary 4 would be freaking out right now if I told her where we’ve landed. It’s great to be recognised by your home region and I’m excited to represent for the francophonie and for Quebec artists.
You’ve recently been announced as a semi-finalist at the Grand Concours Hydro-Québec at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby (FICG), how does it feel?
I’m absolutely chuffed to be doing the FICG this year. I’d auditioned for the first time last year and didn’t make it, but I’d received amazing feedback. Since then I did a dozen shows, released by EP and gained a lot of confidence and experience. So I was both very happy and a little surprised when I learned I’d made it this year. It was like a confirmation that all my efforts had been worth it. We spend an amazing first week in Granby to meet with all other other semi-finalists and it was a beautiful experience. Everyone is so talented, generous and kind. I can’t wait to share this experience with them, to participate in precious workshops that will help with my career and obviously, to perform on the stunning stage at the Granby Palace alongside such incredible talents.
Are there any advantages to sharing your time between Montreal and the Outaouais?
I can definitely be a lot, especially this last year, but I couldn’t ask for a better scenario. In Montreal I get to be surrounded by a bunch of musical friends and take advantage of the opportunities that only come when you’re in the heart of the action. However, I’m often in Gatineau to see friends, family and the artistic community that are still there for me. In Gatineau, I get to perform in venues that I’m deeply attached to and where I got to see many of my idols perform. The mix between home and the city keep me motivated. I get to explore the complexity of the industry with the knowledge that I’m always welcomed back home.
How would you describe the impact on your career by signing with La Maison Mère?
I’m honestly too excited about what we’re working together at La Maison Mère. I hadn’t planned on signing with a record label so soon. But their advice and their experience really gelled with my own goals. It means far fewer false-stars and a lot less guesswork. Also, having to organise my emails, booking my own shows and dealing with all the bureaucracy was starting to really impact the time I had to work on my craft and concentrate on what I love. Thanks to their support, I can now concentrate on creating and reaching my goals. We’re working on my debut album, more shows and a bunch of other exciting projects I could have never accomplished this quickly without a team.
Are there any elements to the musical ecosystem in the Outaouais that you feel are missing our could be improved upon?
The Outaouais is really a region that’s full of support and hope for new artists. I really felt that quickly thanks to events like Secondaire en Spectacle and Cégeps en Spectacle. I’ve always felt very encouraged. However, I think it could grow even more! I’ve seen many initiatives that I hope will continue, such as the street festivals in Aylmer and in Hull. We have a wealth of artists and audiences in the Outaouais! We just need to keep investing in our communities, working together, supporting artists and making sure they’re well paid so that they don’t feel the need to leave.
What can audiences expect from you at the Fête nationale du Québec à Gatineau?
I can’t wait to perform! I’ll be performing exclusively in French, with many of my known songs but also a few new ones. I’ll obviously be accompanied by my trusty guitar and dear autoharp and hope to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. I may even pay hommage to one of our favourite Quebec artists…
Sofia Duhaime will be performing at the free concert celebrating the Fête nationale du Québec à Gatineau Friday June 23rd in the downtown core on Laval Street with Paul Piché and Ariane Roy. Read all the details in our events calendar.