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Ten Singers Who are Redefining Montreal’s R&B Scene

Ten Singers Who are Redefining Montreal’s R&B Scene

A Guide to the Best in Montreal R&B
Source: Evanka Williamson
A Guide to the Best in Montreal R&B
Graphic: Evanka Williamson

When it comes to R&B, Montreal offers tons to explore, and we’re here to help you get started. Here is a list of ten of the most noteworthy R&B acts to come out of the city.

Toronto has had enough shine. The dominance of Drake has done wonders for many Canadian artists, but the country has far more talent beyond The Six.

With cheap rent and a diverse musical community, Montreal has a reputation as a creative mecca for aspiring artists. It’s a small big city, one that is easily navigable via bike or transit, making it an ideal location for young people with a flair for adventure.

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The city is also one of the few major markets within the United States and Canada in which English isn’t the dominant language. This puts French-speaking artists in a position to flourish – many are able to tour year-round throughout the province of Quebec alone. The situation gives anglophone musicians a unique underdog stance, one they can often use in their advantage for engaging with the tightly-knit scene – not to mention the potential to gain government grant money for recording, due to their minority position.

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In the mid to late-2000s, the city broke indie rock favorites like Arcade Fire, Mac DeMarco, and Grimes. More recently, producers such as Kaytranada, Lunice, and High Klassified have made electronic-heads keep a close eye on the city, with bubblings of hip-hop poised as the next scene to blow in the imminent future.

But what about R&B? 

There isn’t a Drake or The Weeknd of Montreal. With no definite leader of the city’s R&B scene, experimentation runs freely. Artists tend to be more supportive of each other, adopting the mindset that they are stronger together than apart. Their hope is that if one act can achieve considerable notoriety, the world could start paying proper attention to the city’s musicians

When it comes to R&B, Montreal offers tons to explore, and we’re here to help you get started. Here is a list of ten of the most noteworthy R&B acts to come out of Montreal. 


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Shay Lia 

Remember the girl dancing uncontrollably throughout Kaytranada’s infamous Boiler Room set? Turns out she is also a talented vocalist, not to mention one of the producer’s most frequent collaborators. Born in Djibouti and raised in France, Lia moved to Montreal in 2012 for school, quickly creating connections with the right people to jump-start her career.

She first made waves for her feature on Kaytranada’s “Leave Me Alone,” the first single of off 2016’s 99.9%. Since then, Lia has kept a relatively low profile. Four out of the five singles she dropped since were produced by Celestin. (Her just-released new single, “The Cycle,” was produced by Sango.)

Lia’s soft-spoken voice works wonders over the beatmaker’s sultry soundscapes. It is rare to find such perfect pairing of singer and producer dynamic in this day and age. The early rumblings of Lia and Kaytra dance-daze can be likened to an energy found in the ‘80s via Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder.


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Zach Zoya

 Who would’ve thought that one of the city’s top talents would hail from a small town five hours away from Montreal?

Born in Rouyn-Noranda, Zach Zoya popped up on the scene late last year, seemingly out of nowhere. Since then, the crooner has been quick to dominate any tune he touches. Zoya takes a slow jam vocal approach over high octane beats, offering an exciting fusion of hip-hop and R&B.

For years, there hadn’t been a local track to ring off quite as poignantly throughout Montreal nightclubs and festivals as “1919.Produced by High Klassified (the crown prince of the Laval municipal and a Fool’s Gold Records signee), the sinister sounding song feels like the theme music for taking over the city. The two were quick with a follow-up, dropping a collab EP, Misstape, in August for late-summer satisfaction.


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Many of the Montreal music scene’s harshest critics are in fact the artists within it. The term “crab mentality” is often thrown around, others feeling as if they are big fish in a small pond. Looking to explore her full career potential, 21-year-old Zeina packed her bags to Los Angeles earlier this year and never looked back.

If her 2017 breakthrough EP, Odd One Out, is any indication Zeina has a fruitful future ahead of her. The singer is a master of vibes, with many of the project’s tracks feeling ready to shop around to pop princesses like Rihanna or Ciara. With the promise of new music and a tour coming shortly, be prepared to get well acquainted with Zeina in the coming years.


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Sara Diamond

What would you do if you were given a second chance? Sara Diamond began her professional career in 2009 under a brief tenure with the Clique Girlz, a girls group signed to Interscope. A half-decade later, she reemerged to sing the National Anthem at Montreal Canadiens games for a number of seasons.

At long last, Diamond released her debut album, Foreword, this year. After years of confining to molds and boxes, she finally comes into her own. It is evident that her time in these boot camp-like musical environments allowed her to study many facets of the art form, developing a strong sense of persona and songwriting ability along the way.


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Black Atlass 

 Out of all of the artists on this list, Black Atlass is the only one signed to a major label deal (with The Weeknd’s XO imprint, no less.) His music brings R&B back to the bedroom, with lush production soundscapes sure to set the mood.

Atlass (also known by his birth name: Alex Fleming) also holds many ambitions beyond music, with fashion also a top priority to him. The energy has been reciprocated by the industry; Fleming’s songs have been used in commercials for the likes of Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton, along with earning modeling gigs for Alexander Wang and Dior. With five eclectic acts signed to the XO label, none match head huncho Abel Tesfaye’s sound or aesthetic better than Black Atlass.


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Kallitechnis is good for the soul. Representing the Parc-Ex area to its fullest, the singer’s name is Greek for “master of his art.” Her sound is a throwback to the neo-soul era, as conscious as it endearing.

Kalli is a true “work smart” type of artist. Her three most recent accolades? A performance at Osheaga (often dubbed as the “Coachella of Canada”); a guest feature on Innanet James’Better Without You” alongside Pusha-T; and a week in Los Angeles being mentored by the legendary Babyface. With a new project set for release at the end of January, the possibilities are endless for the young talent’s future.


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Vulnerability is a gift when expressed appropriately. For Heartstreets, such a quality in their lyricism is one of the most compelling reasons to give them a listen. Relationships and heartbreak are a common theme for this duo, with select songs raw enough to feel like an open invitation to a couple’s therapy session. Backed by the sounds of some of the city’s most brilliant beatmakers – Kaytranada and Ryan Playground, to name a few – Gabrielle and Emma know the strings to strike listeners’ emotional cords.

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Kae Sun 

Many of Montreal’s finest R&B acts have their own histories before moving to the city. Born in Ghana, Kae Sun spent time exploring the world before finally settling in Montreal towards the end of 2016. The singer, born Kwaku Darko-Mensah Jr., takes his cross-cultural experiences as a large source of inspiration.

“In Ghana, creativity is something that you live and experience. In North America, you have to figure out how to live first before the creativity comes. There’s a clear separation,” he explained to Red Bull Music earlier this year.

After keeping things relatively quiet since 2013’s Afriyie, Darko-Mensah made a triumphant return to the scene this February with Whoever Comes Knocking, his third full-length release. On the project, Sun creates an interesting balance of introspective tunes and pure anthem music. With Montreal offering a plethora of collaborative opportunities, expect to hear more music from Kae Sun in the coming year.



With the ear for beats that CYBER possess, she could very well double as a vocalist and A&R. A church upbringing inspired much of this singer’s soulful aura, though her approach is far from traditional. CYBER can warble her way through a wide range of sounds, from lo-fi to cloud trap.

The Ghost Club Records signee drives her music in a thoughtful direction, preaching messages of self-love and being proud of who you are. Her debut album, Equilibrium, may have flown under the radar, but those who paid attention got a taste of what one of Montreal’s most promising emerging talents has to offer.


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In her career’s short span, Naadei has already managed to secure collaborations with A-Listers like 2 Chainz and Wyclef Jean. But don’t let her famous friends distort your perception, the songstress is a star in her own right. She cannot be defined by a single sound and is constantly dipping her feet into daring sonic explorations.

These days, Naadei can be found collaborating with fellow local talent Elle Ray, as part of the duo The Boys. The two have been getting busy on the festival circuit, with performances at SXSW, along with Canadian Music Week and Manifesto in Toronto She’s not prolific, and has maintained a particularly low profile these past couple of years, but when Naadei drops something new, it’s always worth a listen.


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R&B out on the town

While regularly occurring R&B events may be hard to find in Montreal (the city places higher priority on acoustic, hip-hop, and jazz soirees) the few that do frequently happen are special to the scene.

If you’re looking to hear the best of throwback sound, look no further than Groove Nation’s monthly Fly Ladies event. DJ duo Dr. MaD and Walla P (who double as the beloved Voyage Funktastique) take their crowd through the best of the 90s and 2000s, celebrating the souled out women who made these periods so special. Smiles are just as abundant as the amount of two-stepping at this event series.

As far as performing goes, Bar Bootlegger’s Le Cypher is the city’s most coveted urban jam session. Each week, performers come through for a round-robin dedicated to some of the greats, saluting everyone from Prince to .Paak. Though it bares a cult following, Le Cypher’s popularity has gained strong enough attention to have it including as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival – which holds the record for largest of its kind.


Mr. Wavvy was born and raised in Montreal. Legend has it that his ghost still haunts the city’s Olympic Stadium, waiting for the day that the Expos will return. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


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