Music

7 exciting Canadian artists who broke out in 2019

Expect big things from these up-and-comers.

Expect big things from these up-and-comers

From left: Ebhoni, Evangeline Gentle, Jon Vinyl. (Ebhoni/Facebook, Samantha Moss, Jon Vinyl/Facebook)

Every year, CBC Music searches far and wide for the best in music, but especially for bright new talent. We love seeing emerging artists rise up, make noise and release a commanding debut. In fact, a number of impressive debuts even made CBC Music's best albums of 2019 list (Orville Peck, Sorrey, Riit). 

Take a look below at some of the other incredible new Canadian artists we discovered in 2019, and share your favourite new artists with us at @CBCMusic.


Nêhiyawak

This trio from amiskwaciy (Edmonton) on Treaty 6 territory released one of the best rock albums of the year, and it also happened to be their debut. Nipiy, which means water, crushes and drones, with layers of guitars, drums and synths laying a sonic foundation for songs rooted to the land. Throughout nipiy, nêhiyawak takes its inspiration from everything from Idle No More to the Sixties Scoop to the kisiskâciwanisîpiy (North Saskatchewan River). It's a record that pulls the listener in and invites us to reconsider and reprioritize, all while blissing out and rising up in a low-key blaze of psychedelic-rock.

— Andrea Warner

nêhiyawak perform 'ôtênaw' for CBC Music's First Play Live. 4:21

Maddee

When we first heard Maddee's soulful single "Weight" in early 2018, we were entranced by her ability to spin a "hypnotic spiral into the depths" of her psyche. Ever since then, we've been clamouring for a proper release and this year, she finally delivered on her Red Mind EP. Over six new tracks, the Toronto musician stretches her phenomenal voice out like taffy, drawing out emotions that range from hopeful to heartbroken with every word — oftentimes with every syllable — that soars out of her mouth. Her hunger to explore the knotty realities of relationships puts her in a growing elite class of fellow Toronto artists who are ruminating over similar topics to the tune of some of the most gorgeously hypnotic R&B melodies: Charlotte Day Wilson, Amaal, Allie and Daniel Caesar. 

— Melody Lau 

Jon Vinyl

"I will never forget 2019," tweeted Jon Vinyl in November, getting a head start on some fully justified year-end nostalgia. Since January, the 22-year-old soul/R&B artist has released eight new songs, including the three-song EP Dangerous, building an avid fanbase and racking up streaming numbers well into the millions. Despite his EP's title, Vinyl's sound is anything but dangerous. His vocals are gentle and inviting, he favours a pleasing mix of acoustic and electronic production, and his material is totally approachable, focusing primarily on the ups and downs of romantic relationships ("Work," "Addicted") and the challenges of daily life ("Sundays").

"One day I'll be famous, baby/ haven't hit that day yet/ but it's coming soon," he sings prophetically in "Carousel," a tune with irresistible flow. And as memorable as 2019 has been for Vinyl, we know it's just the beginning.

— Robert Rowat

Ada Lea

There are no EPs or one-off singles that preceded the release of Montreal artist Ada Lea's debut album, What We Say in Private. This record was her opening statement, and we were hooked immediately. These songs, and perhaps the artist herself (whose real name is Alexandra Levy), may not have come to life had she not gone through certain life-altering events. As the story goes, a break-up sparked a 180-day journaling quest that led to a rediscovery of self and an outpouring of her inner most private feelings splattered across the very public art form of music. The results were guitar-driven, indie-rock melodies that carefully tried to parse through heartbreak, pain and anxiety. It's chaotic at times, cathartic in others; a compelling first of likely many self-portraits she will paint. — ML 

Ebhoni 

Ebhoni has been bouncing around the Toronto scene for a few years now, but hot off the success of her 2018 single, "Opps," this year found the singer's musical identity truly coming into sharp focus. Whether she's steeping her vocals inside a smooth R&B soundscape or showing off her West Indian roots on an island-inspired track, Ebhoni's range has proven limitless so far, and a new dimension is revealed with each new track she drops. It's been a thrilling series of discoveries, and it's not over yet. Hopefully in the new year, Ebhoni will continue to surprise and delight us with new songs and perhaps a full-length, too. — ML

Evangeline Gentle 

Evangeline Gentle's voice communicates an aching warmth that comes with knowing hardness and choosing softness instead. I didn't know anything about them before this self-titled debut, produced by the great Jim Bryson, and every time I listen to the record, I'm blown away anew by their songwriting and the space they're carving out across multiple genres — indie pop, alt-folk, singer-songwriter — in a way that feels effortless. Gentle and Bryson finding their way into each other's orbits makes sense, as Gentle's incredible talent recalls the great Kathleen Edwards, a frequent collaborator of Bryson's. — AW

Gong Gong Gong 

For all the multiculturalism Canada boasts, I've never found music that fully represented who I am. Gong Gong Gong is perhaps the first time I've ever heard my mother tongue, Cantonese, fused with the guitar and bass sounds that my ears have grown to love in Western culture. The duo consists of Hong Kong-born Tom Ng and Montreal native Joshua Frank, and they formed in Beijing, where Mandarin is actually the dominant dialect. Their debut album, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム), is a post-punk rhythmic clash of riffs and basslines that's paired with Ng's often monotone-sounding delivery.

Ng's performance may come off as dry to those who aren't familiar with the language but, to me, it's incredibly moving even if its most exciting tonal moments come when Ng's voice trails off like a puff of smoke to punctuate each lyric or phrase. It's music that many have noted as "borderless," making it either an easy entryway or perhaps tough to categorize properly. For me, it perfectly encapsulates the struggle to fit in between two worlds, eventually learning to just smash it together and embrace the cacophony. — ML 

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