To acknowledge Black History Month, SOCAN asked several of our Black members to write a story about a subject of their choice. Here, it’s written by Lionel Kizaba, a Québec singer-songwriter and drummer originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kizaba is nominated in the Global Music Album of the Year category at the 2024 JUNOs, and has been nominated three times at the Gala Dynastie in Montréal, in the categories of International Artist or Group of the Year, World Music Artist or Group of the Year, and Francophone Artist or Group of the Year.

I began my career in the Congo as a jazz artist alongside my uncle, Professor François Mantuila Nyomo. I’ve been lucky enough to accompany several Congolese artists and to launch my solo jazz fusion project in the Congo. When I immigrated to Québec, I enrolled in EURÊKA, a training course for professional artists arriving here. This training gave me the tools I needed to integrate into the Québec music industry. I considered practicing my art in Québec a golden opportunity.

I’ve been lucky enough to accompany exceptional Québec artists, including Manu Militari, Mario Saint-Amand, and Sébastien Lacombe, to name just a few. This allowed me to build strong professional bonds. When I arrived in Québec, I was dazzled by its cultural diversity and artistic richness. I was pleased to discover that Québec was very open-minded and, thanks to my perseverance and hard work, I was able to expand my network of contacts.

KizabaAfter several years as a freelancer, I decided it was time to have a go as a solo artist, in order to broaden my artistic scope. But despite my 12-year musical career in Québec, I have to admit that the recognition of my music here is still not quite up to my expectations. As it turns out, it’s still difficult for Afro-descendant artists to gain the recognition they deserve. Despite my achievements as an independent producer (Kizavibe, November 2022) and local as well as international performer (USA, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, China, Korea, England, Spain, Italy, etc.), I have to admit that my art is more appreciated outside of Québec. Yet, my Montréal-based fans gave a very warm welcome to my last album, Kizavibe.

I’ve had the chance to perform songs from my album at the Société des Arts technologiques de Montréal, the Nuit d’Afrique festival, the Festival Mode et Design, and the Festival AfroMonde. I have a unique artistic identity that’s worth getting to know. I’m blessed to have a team of extraordinary artists supporting me, such as my DJ and producer Pierre Béliveau, who produced my album, and my guitarist Maxime Archer Fortin, who is always with me on the road, including on the big stages of international festivals.

In any case, the Québec music industry has changed a great deal since I began my career. Inclusivity is increasingly present in variety shows such as Télé-Québec’s Belle et Bum and in music galas. However, for the industry to truly evolve, it would be essential for cultural and artistic institutions to actively recognize and integrate the work of Black artists. This means including artists from the Black community in festivals, and juries for music production grants.

Secondly, it’s important to continue to educate and raise awareness about the issues faced by some Black artists in our society. This advocacy can take the form of workshops, seminars, or programs on Afro-descendant art. I think it’s still difficult for Québec society to admit that Black people experience inequalities in their artistic practice. Acknowledging this issue would help advance the integration and recognition of Québec’s Black artists. Québec also needs to educate itself about the history of the various Afro-descendant communities. This would enable cultural institutions to better understand our history, our reality, and the philosophy behind our art.

I believe that Québec has an incredible artistic community and that we must continue to encourage and support Black artists so that they can be justly recognized. I’m optimistic that things will keep getting better and better.