Ottawa: 10 emerging acts to watch

From Deen Squad to Trails to Seiiizmikk, we present a list of reasons to see some live music.
Lucila Al Mar poses by graffiti. (Angela Pack)

Written by Tahiat Mahboob and Holly Gordon

We've been giving a lot of love to specific regions and their emerging artists this month — Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and the North so far — but what better city to focus on before Canada Day than the country's capital?

Whether you're fully immersed in the Ottawa scene or are unconvinced it deserves a stop on your live-music tour, we've got you covered: from hip-hop to punk to franglais jazz, we've gathered 10 reasons to see live music in Ottawa (and Hull, because we cheated a little).

With special thanks to Travis Boisvenue (City Slang), Emmanuel Sayer (program director, CHUO FM), Elsa Mirzaei (Babely Shades), Rachel Weldon (creative director, Debaser) and Alanna Yaraskavitch and Sacha Kingston-Wayne (Casual Hex label) for all their suggestions and contacts.


The nearly unanimous suggestion in all of our Ottawa polling was for singer-songwriter — and Grade 12 student — Trails, who lives just outside Manotick. Full name Allie O'Manique, she makes "utopian flashback psyche" that has leanings of early Waxahatchee and Angel Olsen, though her influences include "the mystic side of human experience, dreams and mostly nature." O'Manique has been making music for most of her life, but says she's been "playing live and recording music 'seriously' for just over three years now." Keep an eye out for a full-length in Trails' future.

— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)

Deen Squad

Chances are you've heard "Muslim Man" — which has nearly six million views on YouTube — but did you know it's by a Muslim hip-hop duo from Ottawa? Karter Zaher and Jae Deen met in a Carleton University classroom and made a name for themselves with their "halal remixes," where they give a faith-based twist to popular songs like Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" (Deen Squad version: "Muslim Queen") and OMI's "Cheerleader" (Deen Squad version: "Believer") to make new songs that normalize their faith within these mega Western hits. This year marked Deen Squad's debut five-track EP, Fajr, which is Zaher and Deen's first release of original music, plus the single "Ramadan Kareem" from May 2017. — HG

New Swears

These Ottawa punks just released And the Magic of Horses, their first album with Dine Alone Records, and it seems inevitable for them to permanently fly the DIY party-house coop and make their name known across the country. All you have to do is listen to new single "Dance With the Devil" to know why: heavy-hitting party rock that's tight and refined, with a video set in an outdoor hockey rink hosting more fighting than playing (how raucous). This new full-length was produced by Paul "Yogi" Granger (the White Wires) and proves that band members Scru Bar, Sammy J. Scorpion, Beej Eh and Nick Nofun are in it to win it. — HG

Lucila Al Mar

Lucila Al Mar has the kind of voice that leaves behind a trail of goosebumps. Her debut album, Nada Es Para Siempre (Nothing is Forever), has an equally powerful effect. "[The album] has a lot of 'wake up' music. It's the story of my life in many pieces. It's me trying to find where I belong," said the California-born, Ottawa-based songwriter in an interview. The search for that answer took Al Mar from Canada to California to Mexico and finally to her homeland of El Salvador — a place she had wanted to experience since a young age. That journey comes across in her songwriting, a blend of English and Spanish, and leaves us in anticipation of what she'll do next.

— Tahiat Mahboob (@TahiatMahboob)


With seven members, a sound that fuses hip-hop, funk, rock and soul, and lyrics that range from identity issues to challenges of the daily grind, the only way to describe Blakdenim is to say it's infectiously bold. From the band's foot-tapping rhythms to its head-bopping melodies, Blakdenim has generated some major buzz at the Ottawa Bluesfest, Festival d'éte de Québec, Montreal International Jazz Festival and Indie Week Canada. After releasing its sophomore album, Complexus, in May 2016, the band has been busy playing at venues and events, big and small. Next up, Blakdenim be performing at the Ottawa Bluesfest in July and the National Arts Centre in October. — TM


We're cheating a bit here because Fet.Nat is actually from Hull, Que., but Debaser's Rachel Weldon marked it as one of the best "local" bands, so we're considering the territory expanded. Fet.Nat, a punk quartet that's been together for just under a decade, makes addictive franglais free jazz — and if you're not sure what that means, just hit play below (you can also grab the lyrics via Fet.Nat's Bandcamp). Made up of musicians Pierre-Luc Clément, Olivier Fairfield, JFNO and Linsey Wellman, Fet.Nat's 12" May release, Gaoler, is a good introduction — and check out their festival gigs in Quebec and Ontario if you can. This is a band you'll want to see live. — HG


While Boyhood might be her moniker, Caylie Runciman has developed a full-grown sound that combines heavy guitars with fuzzy vocals and percussion. Known to make up songs on the spur of the moment, Boyhood is currently working on Bad Mantras, her new album (no release date yet). This will be Boyhood's first full-length project since her 2012 album When I'm Hungry. "Drivin'," the single she has released so far, is a minimal, rhythmic soft-rock number with repetitive mantra-like vocals, leaving us wanting more. — TM

Cody Coyote

A blend of hip-hop and rap, Ojibwe artist Cody Purcell's music draws on the challenges he has faced in his own life and "issues found within First Nations communities." And his latest single, "Can You Hear Me Now?" encapsulates all these themes. The Searchlight regional top-10 contestant, who goes by Cody Coyote, likes to experiment with his sound, blending modern with traditional. Personal lyrics layered with catchy beats and a rich soundscape — Cody Coyote is definitely one to keep an eye on. — TM

King Kimbit

Thu Anh Nguyen, a.k.a. King Kimbit, is a spoken-word artist, poet, singer and guitar player. Her music blends her various talents to address issues such as racism, decolonization and gender inequality. The songwriting is personal, detailing "the realities of her upbringing as the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants; the truths of her social vantage point as a young woman of colour." In June 2016 she released Songs for a Boy (but none in particular), a mixtape that is spoken-word-meets-acoustic guitar with gritty, personal narratives. Nguyen is working on a new album, Life Lessons Poetically, with the three-piece band Black Wax. It's slated for release in August and promises to be another release driven by her experiences and observations of the lives of marginalized people. — TM



Seiiizmik's only been making music since 2016, and from what we've heard so far, her learning curve is lightning fast. "I am still working at improving my technical skill to make my creations more smooth, musically," she explains. "I also started to DJ around the same time, it's a different world but very similar. I enjoy re-working songs a bit with some vocal cue chops." Pulling from classic soul and reggae influences like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Jimmy Cliff — "music courtesy of my dad, who used to DJ for friends and private parties" — Seiiizmikk's Soundcloud tracks range from house to rap to R&B. Not making music full-time right now, Seiiizmikk says she hopes to do so in the near future. — HG


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