Alongside his producer and loyal “wizard” Vincent Letelier (a.k.a. Freeworm) – who gave a uniform sound to his rich alloy of hip-hop, electro, kompa, rara, and various other influences, such as Malian and Middle-Eastern music – the Montréal-based artist offers an idealistic brew that celebrates the power of social diversity.
“When I started working on this EP,” says Fwonte, “there was this massive influx of migrants in Europe and North America, and I heard many people wonder if this wave of new people would create societal unrest. My answer was to integrate musical styles from all continents in my music. I wanted to show that if such heterogenous genres could live together in a single song, humans were also able to do so.”
Optimistic, but not naive, the creole singer doesn’t shy away from more overt criticism. On “Ansamn,” co-written with renowned Haitian DJ and producer Gardy Girault, Fwonte sings about the lack of solidarity he felt during a recent trip to his native Haiti. “I saw how people were living each for themselves, as if they were trying to get by focusing only on their own issues, not caring for their community,” he says. “I believe the only way to take the country out of the chaos it’s in is by all working together to move things forward.”
But Fwonte mainly insists on the value of hard work, perseverance and dedication. The “No Wanga” is imbued with those values. “In vaudou, the wanga is a sacrifice carried out by the priest in order to allow you to reach a specific goal,” Fwonte explains. “For example, it can be a prayer of a special fragrance that puts people around you in a trance. The message I want to give to young people is that what matters most isn’t the wanga, but work. God helps those that help themselves… Don’t go to wanga thinking it’s your path to success.”
Introduced to vaudou music by his mother’s family, Fwonte was raised by his paternal grandmother after suddenly losing his parents when he was merely three. “She’s the one who introduced me to kompa and evangelical songs,” he says. “All that music was still very much in me when I started listening to hip-hop in my teens. I was drawn to art early on in life, and that worried my aunts and uncles who lived in Florida and were paying for my education. They wanted me to quit all that and pick a different professional path, but my granny told me to ignore them and to do what I like.”
“In Montréal, the culture was inclusive.”
It was while working as a graphic designer at the turn of the last decade that the artist decided to go all-in with music. To this end, he moved to Montréal, where his girlfriend’s family lived. “I wanted to kick-start my career, and I was torn between moving here or to Florida,” says Fwonte. “After comparing them, I preferred Montréal’s vibe. In Haitian music events in Florida, the only community present was mine, just as in Port-au-Prince. In Montréal, the culture was much more inclusive, and I already knew and enjoyed a few of the local artists like Luck Mervil and Muzion.”
A mere month after arriving in Montréal, Fwonte participated in a benefit show for Haiti after it was hit with a major earthquake. That night, at the now defunct Club Lambi, he met his musical partner, Vincent Letelier, with whom he would go on to record the majority if his first EP, Men Mwen. Known back then as Mr. OK, the rapper quickly became a new breakthrough artist on Montréal’s World 2.0 scene, growing alongside two of its main representatives: Boogat and Poirier.
Seven years after his near-instantaneous integration, Fwonte couldn’t be more satisfied with his musical evolution in Québec. “If I’ve done one good thing in my life, it’s coming here,” he says adamantly.
That doesn’t mean he’s immune to feeling homesick now and again, as one can hear on “Chagren” and the very touching “Grann,” a very personal homage to his grandmother that still stirs him emotionally. “The first time I sang that one on stage, I started to cry,” says Fwonte. “That had never happened to me before; the emotion choked me up. When I was a kid, my granny was always a little worried about my future, and I just wanted her to know that she doesn’t have to worry anymore, that I’ve got a career going, a family. And that, in the end, all that I was missing was her…”