Yao, a Franco-Ontarian artist of Togolese descent, born in the Ivory Coast of Africa, found out he had a creative spirit when he took a special interest in writing and acting as a child. After moving to Ottawa with his family in 1999, he was admitted in the Centre for Artistic Excellence of the De La Salle High School, where he specialized in Theatre and Creative Writing. Encouraged to pursue his musical interests, Yaovi, as he was then known, soon hooked up with FLO, with whom he created the RenESSENCE duet and, in 2006, released the self-produced album 2 faces d’une même âme (2 Sides of One Soul), followed by dozens of live shows.

Hooked, Yao remained torn between his passion for music creation and his search for a more traditional career, ending up neglecting his creative side as he pursued undergraduate studies in Finance and Political Science. Once he had secured a comfortable job in the banking sector, music came calling again in 2009, thanks to a chance meeting with his old friend Lynx, who had his own recording studio and production company by then, and invited Yao to join him. The end result was the 2011 hip-hop album Généris, with lyrics written by Yao and music composed by Lynx.

“Sometimes we’d discuss a theme, like the day I mentioned my problem with insomnia, and Sonny later sent me a piece.”

Yao then decided to take the final jump, joined SOCAN, and started taking his destiny in his own hands. His financial background helped him set up his own company and manage his business but, more importantly for the evolution of his music style, Yao discovered slam and, in 2012, joined SlamOutaouais, a Ligue québécoise de slam (LIQS) member team. Meanwhile, the musician started cooking up his next album and looking for a high-profile collaborator, who turned out to be Sonny Black, the co-writer of numerous K-Maro, Dubmatique, Corneille and Marc Antoine hits.

How did Yao get Sonny’s attention? “I just wrote to him,” he says. “I sent him my Généris album and asked him for a personal review. He went along and, as it turned out, his comments were exactly what I’d expected they would be. That’s where it all began. Sonny accepted to re-work the album with me, and we ended up with the Généris 2.0 promotional version.”

Towards the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, they worked on the new version, which came out last fall. Then Yao moved to Montreal for two months to build a creative bubble with Sonny that eventually produced Perles et Paraboles (Pearls and Parables), an album that was recorded practically as it was being written. How did it work? “It varied,” Yao explained. “Sometimes we’d discuss a theme, like the day I mentioned my problem with insomnia, and Sonny later sent me a piece that became “Solitude nocturne” after I wrote the lyrics to it. Sometimes it was the other way around.”