“An appetite for change and adventure has always been our motivation.” Reached in Kinshasa, where he spent part of the pandemic with some friends of the Moonshine collective, Pierre Kwenders sums up the crazy journey of these dance parties, born in Montréal seven years ago, which have since become a worldwide phenomenon.
Initially, the goal of Moonshine, the brainchild of Kwenders and his friend Hervé Kalongo, was to fill a gap in Montréal’s nightlife. Every 28 days, on the full moon, the merry band organized dance parties where funky electronic rhythms mixed with music from Africa, of course, but also from South America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
“Initially,” says San Farafina, one of the collective’s DJs, “it was an insiders’ event. Moonshine became a really important scene for club kids of colour who finally felt represented. Gradually, we attracted diaspora people from all over Montréal, and who weren’t at all used to the club scene. Everybody identified with the open and welcoming spirit of the event.”
Despite their growing popularity (and an expansion that took them from Paris to Santiago, to Kinshasa, to Lisbon), the Moonshine parties have remained true to the same concept: a different location each time, revealed to the partygoers via text message, hence the name of the mixtape series, SMS for Location – the fourth volume of which has just been released. Once again, the core group, including Kwenders, opens up to collaborators from Africa (Congolese electro is the dominant genre), France (Bamao Yendé of Boukan Records), the U.S.(with the incredible Georgia Anne Muldrow), and elsewhere. Despite the eclectic nature of the collaborations, a true artistic cohesiveness is achieved from the first to the last track.
“With SMS for Location, we always strive to tell a story,” says Kwenders. “We want people who listen to these mixtapes to feel like they’re at a Moonshine event: Volume 4 starts with rhythm, but very slowly, on ‘Bamao,’ then there’s a big moment where African music dominates, then a little bit of experimentation, because that, too, is the Moonshine style. Then the evening winds down with ‘ZutZut’… We’re still dancing, but more slowly.”
Unable to throw their parties during the pandemic, the Moonshine crew focused on other facets of their “brand,” working on the mixtape, the documentary, and on the fashion aspect, managed by Hervé – who’s trying to globalize the very Congolese concept of “sape,” the art of flamboyant elegance. “The party only happens once a month, so it’s a chance to look good! Our clothing line is an opportunity to express the Moonshine philosophy through other forms of expression,” explains Kalongo.
After fashion and music, the collective has thrown itself into making a documentary. “When the pandemic hit, we wondered about the future of Moonshine, and that’s when we had the idea of a film. Pierre and I travel to Congo quite often – it’s where we’re from, after all. We landed in Kinshasa to make a documentary on the local nightlife, and the creation of SMS for Location Vol. 4. Our doc, Zaïre Space Program, will come out in 2022.”
That’s why the group is now in the Congo – the two founding members have returned to their roots. “When I started making music in Canada, it was my Congolese culture that I wanted to share with my host country,” says Kwenders. “It was obvious that we were going to come back, to export what we do in Montréal, but also to feed off what’s done there, and develop new collaborations.”