The year 2019 will mark the 15th anniversary of Montréal’s “transmusical” rap group, Nomadic Massive. The event will be celebrated with the release of a new album of original material simultaneously in Québec and France, where the talent of the six founding members has found some footing. In the meantime, the band – impatient to showcase their new material – released an EP, Miwa, on Nov. 23, 2018. To mark the occasion, we had a chat with members Meryem Saci and Waahli.

Nomadic MassiveWithout the slightest need to confer with each other, Waahli and Saci concur on one thing: the cement that bonds the six members of Nomadic Massive is hip-hop. Waahli has just released his first solo album, Black Soap, replete with touches of Haitian Creole and Afrobeat and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.

“I grew up with ’90s American hip-hop,” says Waahli. “That’s the rap music that has shaped my appreciation of that culture and the way I express myself musically,” says the singer and rapper, who expresses himself in French, Creole and, mostly, English. “As a teen, I didn’t speak very good English,” he says, “but I chose to go to an Anglophone school so I could understand the language of rap, and become more familiar with hip-hop culture. As for Creole, it’s natural: I was born here, but my parents were born in Haiti.”

As for Meryem Saci, the only difference is that she emigrated to Montréal from Algeria, about 20 years ago. “I was already into rap before I got here,” she says, “but in Montréal it became serious. I was into R&B at first – I wasn’t sure rap was my cup of tea – but when you’re a fan of R&B, you’re in phase with hip-hop. Besides, my passion for rap music was crucial in my learning of the language (French and English), and that’s not counting the whole culture, the history of black people in America, and the way this music evolved around the world. And then, rap became a tool to protest, take a stand, and advocate. Rap is a space for free expression.”

Rap and multi-culturalism are, clearly, the two cornerstones of Nomadic Massive’s creative powerhouse, a bona fide melting pot of ideas and influences. Waahli raps in Creole, Meryem sings in English and Arabic, “then there’s Tali and his Jamaican Patois, and the Spanish influence of Lou [Piensa, rapper and composer],” as well as Ali Sepu, a multi-instrumentalist with Chilean roots, Rawgged MC, who also has Haitian origins, and producer/composer/studio rat Butta Beats. All of them form the core of the group, around which gravitate a number of regular collaborators, notably singer-songwriter Vox Sambou.

“That’s what’s so great about it,” says Saci, who launched her own solo album, On My Way, in the spring of 2017. “We agree on a set of fundamental values that inform our social and political stances. Some of the themes we talk about are closer to the heart of this or that member of the band, but in the end, we all share similar points of view. If there is a level of criticism or a debate among us, it shows up in the lyrics, but the message is unified.”

This is especially true for Miwa, a collection of new songs that sets the tone for the upcoming album. “We created this album differently than the previous ones,” says Saci. “This time around, we had the opportunity to really work, all of us at once, in the same place, in a context where we could create the music and the lyrics at the same time, at our own pace.”

This collective way of working – instead of each on their own with their own ideas, demos and backing tracks – was fostered during the band’s summer 2017 tour of France. “We wanted to start working on an album from scratch, all of us together,” says Saci. “We put everything on the table: our ideas, our instrumental tracks, our jams, and then we picked what inspired us. When we all agreed on an instrumental track, we’d work on it to come up with new arrangements as a group, and then we worked on the melody and the lyrics. It was mostly a chance to jam together, find sounds, re-arrange things, develop themes, and then move on to post-production and calibrate everything in the studio, tweaking drum sounds or song structures. The goal was to achieve a perfect harmony between recording organically and digital post-production.

“We don’t set out with a clear concept when we start working on an album. Take the new EP, we didn’t set out thinking it was going to be titled Miwa [which means “mirror” in Creole]. But once we decided that ‘Miwa’ was going to be a single, and that we were going to make an EP, we naturally started focusing on related themes: introspection, a reflection of the world around us. It came naturally. As for the upcoming album, we’re still working on the theme.”

That surprise will come next spring. In the meantime, Miwa is just out now.