They’re not the first to say so: music brings people together. Equipped with his electronic beats and his bass, Jean-François Lemieux was looking to forge links with music he didn’t yet know, and so Afrikana Soul Sister was born. A native of Mali, Djely Tapa sings atop the dancing rhythms, while Joannie Labelle and Fa Cissokho play percussion that “humanizes” the sometimes cold feeling of computer-based music. And then the magic happens…

“I’ve always been into World music in general,” says Lemieux, while he readily admits that Afrikana Soul Sister happened largely by chance. Electronic music allows him to escape his comfort zone the most easily. “What’s so simple about electro is that we do sampling, and are able to mix eras and places,” he says. “I went to Morocco and came back with many ideas.”

Once he was back home in Montréal, he wanted to visit Africa without leaving home. “Thank to a friend, I met African musicians, and that was it,” Lemieux remembers. And although he does consider music as a business, it was still important to him to absorb the meaning that rhythms carry in other places. “I’ve earned a living in this business for 35 years, to me it’s a source of revenue,” he says. “But in Africa, music plays a different role, it plays a social role first, and it’s even used to heal, or in certain rituals.”

It was therefore crucial to Lemieux that the African community approved of him; he wants to know the meaning of what they’re playing as a group. “It was important to me to have an exchange,” he says. “It had to be a meeting of their traditional rhythms and what I do. They don’t operate according to the same codes, that’s why I chose house music, because it’s the one music that’s closest to their sound.” As a matter of fact, that’s part of the way they work: Jean-François let’s things happen on their own, and it often ends up as a jam session, but he still wants to understand the message afterward.

To Lemieux, Djely Tapa and Fa Cissokho aren’t just musicians. “It’s important to go beyond creation,” he says, “because in Africa, people who are musically inclined are guardians of tradition, social mediators. It’s essential that you always understand the others’ codes when you’re playing music.”

True unifiers, Afrikana Soul Sister don’t make music for themselves, but to please people. ‘We play in summer festivals and clubs for people of all ages,” says Lemieux. “We’re trying to create a hybrid of world and electronic music, as if to transmit to the audience a bit of culture amid their dancing music.”

That’s how the band adapts to any crowd. “We can play a general-public gig in the afternoon, and play a club the same night,’ he says, explaining that one of the band members” common goals is to play at events like Piknic Électronik. “In DJ culture, there are no musicians or singers onstage, which is a disadvantage for us,” says Lemieux. “But we’d like to demonstrate that boundaries in music aren’t so sealed.”

The coming year should see the release of a new EP from the band, after releasing their eponymous debut album in 2017. “There’s a marked interest ingenres such as ours, anything to do with African electronic music, like Pierre Kwenders, for example,” says Lemieux. “but, humbly, I haven’t heard much that sounds like we do.”

Thanks to Instagram, the band is starting to make friends all over the place, and is considering the option to play abroad when the timing is right. “There’s a bona fide movement going on, thanks to Samito, Ngabo and others,” he says. “My goal is to promote the community aspect at the root of our sound.”

Afrikana Soul Sister’s stage shows are part improv and part calculated, with a very festive vibe, every time. “What we appreciate the most is when Africans come to our show and dance, and tell us they like what they’re hearing,” Lemieux admits. “The rest doesn’t matter!”