What are the odds that a fusion of African and Country music gives birth to an intense friendship between a Senegal-born Canadian and a Scotsman? Well, that’s what happened to Élage Diouf and Johnny Reid, two musicians seemingly worlds apart, after playing together.
Flashback to March 26, 2011. It’s JUNO Awards night in Toronto. Élage Diouf is in the banquet hall, mingling with the fellow revellers at his table, when he suddenly stops talking. Among the song excerpts announcing the nominees in the Country Album of the Year category, he hears a magnificent voice. It’s Johnny Reid’s. “When I heard his voice, I knew there was something special about it, I was convinced he would win,” says the Dakar-born musician, now living in Montréal. And it turned out he was right. Five minutes later, it was Diouf’s turn to step onstage to accept the JUNO for World Music Album of the Year, for his first solo album, Aksil. Later in the evening, they met and had a chance to get to know each other.
“We met through melody, because of a shared music trip, and then we became friends.” – Élage Diouf
Flash forward to June 2011. Diouf is named 2011-2012 “Révélation Radio-Canada – World Music.” Among his rewards, he’s asked to pick one Anglophone artist with whom he’d like to collaborate. He chose Johnny Reid. The Scottish musician is quite busy, however, having just released three back-to-back double-platinum albums and a DVD, but he agrees to spend a few days in Montréal to collaborate with Diouf.
Flash forward again, to April 2012. Diouf and Reid meet again in Studio 12 at the CBC in Montréal. The two musicians immediately bond. “We met through melody, because of a shared music trip, and then we became friends,” says Diouf. “Élage is amazing! This guy is like sunshine! What a wonderful spirit. I walked into this room, and we connected musically, personally, emotionally… Man, I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” reminisces Johnny in his thick Scottish brogue (still present, even though he left Lanarkshire almost 30 years ago). “It’s really special… Who would have guessed it, right? That this black guy with dreadlocks from Senegal and an average white guy from Scotland would bond so strongly… It just shows how music is more powerful than race: music doesn’t discriminate, it unites people!” he adds with an intense mix of excitement and emotion.
The song they created together, “Just One Day,” is a truly universal ballad. It’s a song that channels an incredible energy through these two artists’ amazing voices. A concert-goer captured this clip of a concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall where the joy of these two men of working together is obvious. It’s passionate, magical.
Canada, a haven for all musicians
Élage and his brother Karim arrived in Canada in 1996 after being hired by Diamono Ballet for a series of concerts in Québec. They loved it so much that they decided to stay. The two brothers would then meet Dédé Fortin and his Colocs and collaborate on their final opus, Dehors Novembre. Élage is credited with some of the lyrics of the incredibly famous reggae song “Tassez vous de d’là,” on which he also sang the Wolof sections with Dédé. Later, they would tour North America, South America and Europe with Cirque du Soleil, as musicians in the Delirium show. Back in Montréal, Élage launched his first solo album in 2011 and, very recently, his second, entitled Melokáane.
As for Johnny Reid, he arrived in Canada at age 13, brought here by his father, a mechanic, who wanted a better life for his family. Reid would live in Québec for four-and-a-half years, while studying at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, which is where he met his wife and the mother of his children. His musical career started modestly around 1997 when he had a few hits on the Canadian country charts. In 2009, however, things took off for him: five songs in the Top 20, then Dance With Me, which hit the top of the country charts and third on the Canadian album chart when it came out. Two more albums for EMI, as well as two Christmas albums, helped him break the American market. He sold more than a million copies and toured extensively to sold-out arenas throughout North America. Johnny Reid now lives in Nashville.
A bond beyond music
Nowadays, Diouf and Reid share much more than a passion for music. They’re dyed-in-the-wool friends that talk about English League football, joke around and have a natural complicity. “I love people,” says Diouf. “When I play music with people, talent is important. But when there’s a connection, it’s so much better: you can communicate better, know that person’s likes and dislikes better, create better and the possibilities are multiplied,” says the percussionist and singer.
“I feel so blessed to have the chance to do music, meet wonderful people like Élage,” says Reid. “Music is a powerful medium, a wonderful platform to speak about love, about positive things in the world. I am a very fortunate man to live this life,” adds the very likable singer and father of four.
The journey isn’t over for the two compadres. Johnny Reid is preparing a Canadian tour of 50-plus dates that will take place during the winter of 2016. He’s invited Diouf to be a part of his band, offering him a chance to make his talent shine in front of a whole new audience. One more example of Johnny Reid’s authentic generosity. What another one? Last August, as reported by CBC News, he gave up part of his fee to allow promoters in Kuujjuaq to book him for a concert in the Great White North. Turned out to be a magical show as much for the artist as it was for his fans. Goes to prove there’s more to life than money.
Johnny Reid launches a new album titled What Love Is All About on Nov. 13, 2015. More than ever, his humanist values and love shine through on this album, whether it’s the love of a couple, for a friend, a parent, a child…
As for Diouf, once the tour with Reid is done, he’ll go back to his projects, chief among them being an idea to create an orchestral piece written for instruments one never hears together. “We must dare, innovate, try stuff no one’s tried before,” says Diouf. He also needs to learn to do deal with his newfound star status in Senegal. “People recognize me in the street and call me by my name… It’s weird, I need to get used to it,” he says with a big smile in his voice.
The future looks bright for these two men, with hearts of gold that are all about positivity and humanist values.