At this point in his life, Pierre Kwenders has spent as much time in Kinshasa, Congo, where he was born, than in his adopted home city, Montréal. “It’s difficult to detach myself from the city that saw me grow up, and even more difficult to ignore the fact that it’s the city that made me the man that I am,” muses the musician. As a matter of fact, he promises – in large part through his second album, MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time, launched earlier this month – that he’s never far from either Kinshasa or Montréal. “I pay tribute to the former and actively participate in the culture of the latter,” says Kwenders.
Four languages and multiple musical styles converge in the music of Pierre Kwenders, née José Louis Modabi’saka. No recipe, no ingredient list and no mould. He’s a noble representative of music that can’t be pigeonholed, and carries one very broad message: “love, sharing and happiness,” he says. “Because one needs to be able to love in order to share, and in sharing there is happiness. That happiness is what gets us through life.”
MAKANDA was produced in Seattle alongside Tendai Maraire, one half of hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces. For Kwenders, therein lies the project’s distinctive character: the producer allowed him to further embrace his disregard for convention. “He’s the genius behind the project’s music,” says Kwenders. “While in the studio, we all wanted this album to be better than our expectations. The various musical layers are a way to travel to different worlds while orbiting a single sun.”
Those travels can be heard in the multi-layered music, where different styles exist in a symbiotic and harmonious way. Even those who were introduced to Kwenders as a member of the hip-hop community will be compelled by his work in what he calls “moderate hip-hop.” “As far as I’m concerned, I do pseudo-rap on songs like ‘Rendezvous’ and ‘Woods of Solitude.’”
As far as the electro rhythms are concerned, they’re reminiscent of the Moonshine experiment, a Montréal club night co-created by Kwenders that occurs on the first Saturday after a full moon. “Moonshine’s identity is very much based on fraternity, community, perseverance and sharing happiness,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to convey with MAKANDA.”
Although the artist is at war with categories, and abhors the “world music” moniker, people still try to pigeonhole him. To him, what makes music special is that it serves the same purpose in all cultures: it comforts. “It’s with us through joy and pain,” he says. “The context may vary when one looks more closely to the geography, or ethno-musicology, but what it makes us feel remains the same in any context. I think all barriers fall, naturally, once we understand that.”
MAKANDA is what allows Kwenders to say more about it. As a matter of fact, he’s now all-in with his passion for music, having ditched his parallel career as an accountant. Through its rhythms, languages and themes, MAKANDA obviously talks about the Congo, but also about identity. And although Québec is increasingly confronted with questions about immigration, and the arrival of new cultures, Kwenders believes that music will always be the most personal expression of self. “Some will say fear of foreigners is a human trait, but I prefer to believe in the saying that goes ‘Alone we run faster, but together we travel further.’ Let’s come together and make Québec a nation proud of its diversity, rather than the opposite.”
MAKANDA, it would seem, has liberated the human being behind the artist. Kwenders has given us an album voluntarily void of musical categories, and whose complexity belies the simple message of sharing the joy. “I feel like a young boy or girl who reaches adulthood, leaves the family home and decides to tackle life head-first,” says Kwenders. “I think MAKANDA means I’m ready.”