As per his request, our interview appointment with David Campana takes place in a Saint-Henri neighbourhood dog park in Montréal. While keeping an eye on his dog Ti-Loup – who was excited to be allowed to run around with his pals on a sunny Friday afternoon – the singer/rapper waxed poetic about his adopted neighbourhood, made iconic by Gabrielle Roy’s novel Bonheur d’occasion (The Tin Flute) three-quarters-of-a-Century ago.
“These red brick houses you see behind [the park] used to belong to French-speaking workers,” says Campana. “Those guys from Westmount hired them because they were looking for the cheapest labour around. For a long time, the French and the English hated each other, but now they’re on speaking terms.”
The controversial bilingual “Bonjour, Hi” greeting, commonly used in the Montréal downtown shopping area, has now spread all the way to the Southwestern corner of the island. So much so that Campana, a 29 year-old Quebecer of French Haitian origin, has adopted it as his favourite expression, and even made it the title of his first solo album.
“I’m a waiter in one of the neighbourhood’s restaurants, and almost every time I greet people that way, I get strange reactions,” he says. “The Francophones call me to account, and the Anglophones do like I do. I like the slightly provocative aspect of that phrase. When I use it as I walk to a table, it shows both my political opinion, and the fact that I’m fluent in both languages. It’s symbolic.”
The “Bonjour, Hi” greeting also refers to the artist’s bilingual musical influences. After spending his childhood listening to Michael Jackson with his mom, and singing in church, Campana cut the cord of his family’s cultural heritage when he joined a film program in Québec City in 2009. “I loved auteur cinema, and its insights on society, which gradually drew me towards French conscious rap,” says Campana. “All of a sudden, I lost interest in American pop music. I was only listening to hardcore rap with a message, like Kery James, IAM, Médine, Soprano…”
A subsequent encounter with rapper Doni Na Ma was a game-changer for the young rapper and videographer. “He showed me that I didn’t have to be political all the time, and that rap could also be melodic. He taught me to build my harmonies before writing my texts. It really helped me find my style,” Campana recalls, naming additional influences such as Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak album, Drake’s Take Care album, and The Weeknd’s Trilogy mixtapes.
Along with LTK as producer, Campana took the pseudonym HDC – a contraction of the letters HD (symbolizing his passion for the camera) and DC (his initials). The partnership between the two artists was short-lived, but “Never Satisfyd” laid the foundation of his style in 2015. “I wrote that piece after listening to Loud’s verse on ‘XOXO,’” he says. “The way he was humming while he was rapping in Frenglish, I realized at the time, was going to be Québec’s future. Yet, even knowing this, it still took me a while to venture into that genre.”
After a hiatus in English on MYNB, a two-volume diary that helped him “work on the musicality” of his flow, the singer-songwriter got back together again with his good friend Shotto Guapo on the trap soul mini-album CE7TE LIFE. “And that was when, after so many deviations, I came to the conclusion that I should perform under my real name,” says Campana. “This makes me laugh today!”
Completed by another Montréal artist, DJ/producer Major, the project did well at the 2019 Francouvertes music competition. “When we climbed onto the stage during the preliminaries, something really weird happened,” says Campana. “I understood that there could be a place in Québec for a project like ours.”
Released on May 1, Bonjour, Hi is a logical follow-up to that duo project, which doesn’t fit into any categories, but instead touches on several genres. “I enjoy the ambiguity of being not quite a singer, and not quite a rapper,” says Campana. “Moving forward, I want to get even more deeply into big rap sounds, and even more deeply into pop stuff. I feel I have a potential, but that I still have more to offer,” he sdays, referring to an album produced by the Franco-Québécois trio Novengitum.
However, is Québec ready for that hybrid genre that’s been a staple of French and American pop for a few years now? “If we embrace hip-hop the way we’re embracing it right now, we also must be open to related genres such as soul and R&B music,” he says. “You can hear a hint of an R&B vibe on [Loud’s radio hit] “Toutes les femmes savent danser,” so the door is open.” Campana believes in the potential success of his own explosive pop song “Rapide et amoureux”: “I can’t see why radio would refuse to play it. The vibe is good, and the topic is universal.”
Reflecting on his marked tendency to declare his love too early in real-life relationships, the lyrics of that song’s seem a fairly frank reflection of Campana’s emotional intensity. “I was never able to write about love before I met my current girlfriend,” he says. “Falling in love for real helped me to come to terms with myself, to understand who I was.”
An intense person in all aspects of his life, Campana is capable of making an honest assessment of his own musical journey. “The first time I heard Kery James, I was moved to tears,” he says. “That was what I wanted to do with my life. Same thing when I got introduced to The Weeknd: this is crazy, this is what I want to do! I’ve always had flashes like these… I’m a very sensitive person.”
Campana’s sensitivity, right now, is being tempered by persistence, ambition, and resilience – his album’s three major themes. “I slowly built up my style by hanging onto the positive sides of all of my experiences,” he says. “My career path is a series of small victories.”