Pierre KwendersPierre Kwenders couldn’t be any prouder when we reached him on the phone. “I was really anxious for this album to finally come out,” he says, almost relieved, as he discusses Jose Louis and the Paradox of Love.

Released in April 2022, Kwenders’ third solo album (sung in Lingala, French, English, Tshiluba, and Kikongo) arrives five years after his Félix-winning and Polaris short-listed predecessor, MAKANDA at The End of Space, the Beginning of Time. “I started working on the third one immediately after the second,” he says. “My goal, initially, was to release something in 2020, but we all know what happened… It gave me a lot of time, and I’m very grateful that I had that time. It allowed me to fine-tune my work, to re-write some of the lyrics, and to end up with something near-perfect.”

This time also allowed the Québécois artist to bring together an impressive lineup of collaborators from around the world, including Parisian producer, DJ, and singer Sônge, French-Senegalese artist anaiis, Chilean producers Esqo and Carlomarco, as well as Portuguese DJ and producer João Branko Barbosa, of Buraka som Sistema fame. Through it all, Kwenders acts as a conductor.

“I’m comfortable in that role. My main goal is to give my collaborators space to express themselves, even though they’re in Pierre Kwenders’ realm,” he explains. “We artists generally have big egos. I even have a song titled “Ego” [a 2020 duet with Clément Bazin]. But it’s important to set that aside to give way to a healthy collaboration.”

The song “L.E.S.” (which stands for “Liberté, Égalité, Sagacité”) is a perfect example of this “healthy collaboration” philosophy. Zimbabwean-American producer Tendai Baba Maraire – ex-member of the experimental rap duo Shabaaz Palaces, and Kwenders’s loyal collaborator – initiated the composition, before re-working it with producer and DJ King Britt at his home in Philadelphia.

“It was going well, but I still had no words, something was missing,” says the Montréal-based Kwenders. “And at some point in 2019, I was in New Orleans, and Tendai was there, too. I called Win Butler and Régine Chassagne [the two members of Arcade Fire who live there], and we just started jamming. The energy was unbelievable. I grabbed a mic and we started recording. My voice as you hear it on that track is the actual recording from that jam session. I kept it as is. The problem was that the song was now 35 minutes long!” he laughs. “I came back to it with a clear head, and we boiled it down to a nine-minute version.”

As the album’s opener, the song sends a clear message: “It says, ‘I’m inviting you, welcome to my idyll.’ It’s a journey, a call that begins with the sound of percussion and guitars that build gradually,” says Kwenders. “The energy level slow grows and grows.” Step by step, we enter the realm of this sonically rich and diversified album, which goes through ambient and dance-ier phases, peppered with electro, pop, R&B, Congolese rhumba, and coupé-décalé, Côte d’Ivoire genre that’s conquering the world, thanks to its percussion, African music samples, and penetrating bass.

Jose Louis and the Paradox of Love bears the traces of Kwenders’ travels over the past four years, notably in Santiago, Lisbon, Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia – all of them cities where the album was recorded. “Travelling opens your mind,” says the man who’s travelled the world with his Moonshine events, an evening of music that’s become emblematic of Montréal’s nightlife. “That’s how you come in contact with other cultures, and see how other people live. Each time I leave to go somewhere, I want to discover new artists.”

It would be a misnomer to say Kwenders’ third album is a collaboration album, if only because, in the words of its creator, it’s his “most personal to date.

“These last few years, I was involved in romantic relationships that made me think a lot. Thinking about myself, my sexuality. I felt like recounting my experiences, the man I’ve become,” he confides. “I limited my self-expression for a long time. I’ve learned to be a better version of me while I was working on this album.”

“Your Dream,” a duet with Québécois singer-songwriter Ngabo, is an affirmation of Kwenders as an artist. The song is especially dedicated to his mother, whose voice – on a grainy voicemail recording – can be heard at the beginning and end of the song.

“That song is a love letter,” says Kwenders. “It’s my way of thanking my mom, despite her doubts about my intentions when I quit accounting to dive into music. I came up with this song to reassure her, to tell her that deep down, it’s thanks to the education she gave me that I’m the artist I am today. Our parents have wonderful dreams for us, but sometimes we have different dreams, and we shouldn’t stop ourselves from living them. We must embrace them and live them fully.”


Most people are said to be either right-brained or left-brained, but 21-year-old Moroccan-born Canadian Faouzia is both: artistic and academic.

The exceptional singer, who just released the eight-song Citizens, her second collection of Middle Eastern-imbued dance-pop and ballads, is also a songwriter, producer, guitarist, pianist, violinist; fluent in three languages – English, French, and Arabic; and apparently pens short stories, creates her own movies, and sketches fashion designs. She’s also majoring in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba.

“Yeah,” she laughs. “I’ve always loved both worlds. I’m making it harder on myself, for sure. But I’ve always loved being a bookworm and learning, and then, obviously, being creative is really big to me, too. I’m trying to do both and, hopefully, I can get there.”

She does plan on finishing her degree, but “trying” to do music is already long out of her hands. She’s tried and succeeded, releasing her first song, “Knock On My Door,” in 2015 at the age of 15, which racked up over a million streams on Spotify. In 2017, when she was 16, Faouzia and Matt Epp became the first Canadians to win the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition (ISC), the world’s largest contest for songwriting. The winning song, “The Sound,” by Matt Epp featuring Faouzia, scaled the peak of the then CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart, earning them a SOCAN No.1 Song Award. In 2018, she was featured on “Battle,” a cut on David Guetta’s album 7; in 2019, on Ninho’s single “Money”; and in 2020, on Kelly Clarkson’s Moroccan Arabic version of “I Dare You” (which she translated from English) and on Galantis’ “I Fly.”

And then there’s her own material. The mononymous Faouzia — her last name is Ouihya — has more than two million subscribers on YouTube, and numbers on some of her music videos are in the tens of millions: 2019’s anthemic “Tears of Gold” is at 30 million; 2020’s “Minefields,” with John Legend, at 81 million; “You Don’t Even Know Me,” at 22 million; and the lyric video for “RIP, Love,” at 21 million. That’s just for YouTube alone; Faouzia enjoys a grand total of more than 570 million total cumulative streams on YT, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, TikTok, and other streaming services. She released an “extended EP” in August of 2020, Stripped.

Faouzia, who comes across as confident, friendly, and humble, writes on her own — the big, uber-dramatic ballad “I Know” and unique lyric “Don’t Tell Me I’m Pretty” are solo credits on Citizens, the latter a song she produced — but she also co-writes. Johnny Goldstein, and brothers Andre and Sean Davidson, all appear multiple times in the songwriting credits. Faouzia says her ideas are never dismissed because of her age, or because she’s a young woman, and calls the experience of writing this latest batch of songs “lovely.”

“That’s another thing my team is really amazing at, putting me in sessions with people that they know are very respectful,” she says. “I would say that they even go above and beyond. They look forward to hearing my ideas and my input, and they really show that they care, and that they understand where I’m coming from, and what my vision is.

“I think that those are the people that songwriters should work with, especially if you’re an artist and a songwriter, because it’s your world.  I don’t feel like my age has ever been something that has been in the way, or might make people underestimate me. It’s actually quite the opposite. I feel like people normally forget my age until it’s brought up, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re born in 2000. I totally forgot,’” she laughs.

Faouzia’s family moved to Canada from Morocco when she was just one year old, settling in Notre-Dame-de-Loures, Manitoba, a rural town near Carman. She hasn’t been back to Morocco, where she still has relatives, since she was 13, but says her parents made sure she and her two sisters were exposed to their culture.

“As soon as I entered my home, it was like I was back in Morocco,” she says. “We even had a Moroccan living room, and we’d listen to Moroccan music and Arabic music, actually a bunch of different music from different countries. I spoke Arabic at home too.” Not surprisingly, Middle Eastern melodies are part of many of Faouzia’s pop songs, not just musically, like in “RIP, Love,” but in the way she sings – sometimes trilling and stretching a word like “thin,” for example,  on the ballad “Thick & Thin.”

When she first meets with a songwriting collaborator, she uses descriptions, such as “touch of, like, Middle Eastern melodies or production,” “very dramatic and powerful,” and “very emotional” to help provide some direction for the sound. “What I normally do is I play songs that I really love that are in my catalog, or songs that haven’t come out yet that I really love, that are very fitting to the theme of the project, and I try to set the tone that way,” she says. “I use a lot of descriptive words on what my sound is.

“After that, I proceed to tell them what I’m feeling for the day, whether I want to do something up-tempo or more slow, or I’ll give them concept ideas, like words or feelings. And then, that’s how we work around it. So it’s very much working around an idea in my head.”

Unlike the six-song Stripped, it’s also important to Faouzia that Citizens is not referred to as an EP, rather a “project” or “body of work.” “Citizens is much more than an EP to me, especially at this stage of my career,” Faouzia explains. “I feel like it’s bigger than an EP, in the sense that it includes songs like ‘Minefields’ and ‘Puppet,’ and so many things that I’ve been working on for so long. It really is a taste of what my next project is, but at the same time, I feel like it can hold its own ground as a body of work. That’s why it’s a lot more significant to me than an EP would be.

“I think ‘RIP, Love’ and ‘Anybody Else’ are the songs off this project that showcase the most where I’m taking my music.”

How do you carve out a successful career in music? For Chester Krupa, a 25-year-old songwriter/producer whose work has been streamed more than a billion times on various platforms, the path to success required flexibility and ingenuity. As soon as he began making beats in his first year of University, he began sending them out to potential collaborators. “I was reaching out to people [cold calling], hustling, and trying to start relationships,” he recalls.

This penchant for seeking out and wholeheartedly embracing opportunity eventually led to him collaborating with grandson, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful activist rap/rock/dance singer-songwriter. That partnership opened once unimaginable doors: working with an icon like Travis Barker; producing the song “Rain,” featured in Suicide Squad 2; getting his work into the Fast and Furious movie,  Netflix’s original Riverdale, and in corporate placements for Marvel, Mercedes Benz, UFC, Taco Bell, Microsoft, and Air Canada; winning the $10,000 SOCAN Songwriting Prize in 2019; and more.

Early on, unsure about what career path he wanted to pursue after finishing high school, Krupa enrolled in a General Media Arts program at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University). He would regularly have to record people and mix audio tracks for class assignments, which sparked his interest in audio engineering – and by extension, music production. He started routinely producing beats outside of class and sending them out to local artists and YouTubers. Within a few months, he was making music for one of the most popular YouTubers in the world, Casey Neistat.

“It was crazy,” says Krupa. “I’ve always been a huge fan of his stuff, and this was right when he was about to do his daily vlogs. I found his e-mail [address] on his website and offered to make him beats. He said yes, and asked me to send him some stuff. I started sending 10, 15 songs a week to him, and he would use them in every one of his videos.”

Meanwhile, Krupa was connecting with local Toronto artists and collaborating with them. His big break came when a local singer-songwriter he was working with, Blaise Moore, was signed by Interscope. “I was trying to leverage that while reaching out to people,” says Krupa, “which was how I met my manager.”

“I jump around a lot. I don’t like [staying] with one thing”

His new manager, Prim8 Music, also represented grandson, and brought the pair together. “He told me they had one song that they couldn’t quite figure out the production for, and asked if I wanted to take a stab at it,” Krupa explains. The song that he helped out on was “Blood // Water,” Grandson’s second-highest charting song to date; For his work on the track, Krupa was a co-winner of the aforementioned 2019 SOCAN Songwriting Prize, alongside grandson and his longtime producer Kevin Hissink. Since then, Krupa has regularly worked with the rock/rap singer, most recently on his 2022 JUNO-nominated album Death of an Optimist.

Most of Krupa’s work is done remotely, sending stems back and forth with Hissink, and sharing ideas via e-mails and voice messages. He feels he’s grown significantly as a producer while working with grandson. “I wasn’t ever producing rock music until I started working with him,” he says. “It was diving in head-first and figuring it all out… People were bringing so many genres into his project – rock, hip-hop, electronic – and trying to meld it together. It’s been a cool process to experiment; throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

While working with grandson, Krupa has done production on tracks featuring stars like Jessie Reyez, Ke$ha, and one of his favorite artists growing up, Travis Barker. “I grew up listening to Blink 182, and getting stems for Travis Barker drums is a crazy experience,” he says. “I’ve gotten to work with a lot of cool people on a record, [with] so many new perspectives, and learning new tricks.”

The remainder of 2022 will have lots in store: more grandson work is coming out, as well as projects with high-profile artists like Quavo, Jason Derulo, and Swae Lee. Meanwhile, he’s also been working tirelessly on an upcoming solo project.

Recently Krupa has found himself experimenting with pop and dance production, while also making songs specifically for TV shows and commercials. For him, taking risks is still the most important thing. “I jump around a lot,” he says. “I don’t like [staying] with one thing. Constantly doing different genres keeps your production skills fresh.”