Pierre Kwenders: The Camp Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Addictive Afro-hip-hop-pop, coloured by plenty of great featured artists.
File next to: Radio Radio, Cheza, African Guitar Summit.
Playing: Camp Wavelength, Sunday August 30 @ Artscape Gibraltar Point
Get your ticket here!

As Wavelog readers and indie music enthusiasts, we’re not easily impressed by accolades. But Pierre Kwenders has gained some pretty impressive momentum recently. This year alone he’s been nominated for a Juno, long-listed for the 2015 Polaris Music Prize, and nominated for the SOCAN Songwriting prize for his song “Mardi Gras,” a collaboration with Radio Radio’s Jacobus.

For an artist who was first noticed when he collaborated with Nova Scotia hip-hop band, Radio Radio’s 2012 project, Havre de Grace, Kwenders has come a long way in a short time. Since 2012, he has released two of his own EPs, Whiskey Tea (2013) and African Dream (2013), as well as his first full-length album, Le Dernier Empereur Bantou (2014).

The genius of Pierre Kwenders’ music speaks for itself. It speaks for itself in four languages, in fact — French, English, Lingala and Tshiluba — the latter two being languages spoken his native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kwenders self-identifies as Congolese-Canadian, having immigrated to Quebec with his mother in his teens.

Pierre Kwenders’ fusion of African music with hip-hop, pop and electronic music is unique and catchy. It’s hard to listen to his stuff and not smile. After interviewing Pierre, I’m certain he’s going to bring so much love and energy to Camp Wavelength with his music and his presence. I know I can’t wait to hear him play.

I read that you’re Congolese-Canadian and that you moved here in your teens. I find your Soundcloud tagline “Living the African Dream” so compelling. How do you see yourself as living the African dream? Can you explain this a bit?

I believe everybody has the right to dream. I believe anything is possible anywhere in the world. The fact that everybody calls the ultimate dream “The American Dream” bothers me. My ultimate dream is The African Dream. I want the world to discover and enjoy my music. So far, Canada is embracing me. Some countries in Europe are following too. That’s my Living the African Dream. I’m still living and working harder and harder every day to make it real.

Your electro-pop is as melodic as it is strikingly rhythmic. What influences do you feel have most contributed to your unique sound and style?

Definitely, Congolese rumba is the most important influence in my music. I grew up listening to that music. It’s within me and will never go. The rest comes after. I love pop and electro. Obviously, these too, somehow, made sense with what I wanted to do.

What does songwriting look like for you? Do you start from a beat? A rhythm? A melody? A sliver of melody? Do you write on a particular instrument?

Most of the time, I start from a beat, then find the melody. Once I have the melody, I start putting words into it. I always remind myself to feel what I want to talk about. Because, it’s all about the feeling.

Where do you get most of your inspiration from?

Life and my mother. Life is full of surprises and wonderful memories. My mother is just the most amazing person in the world.

Do you co-write or prefer to write alone?

I do write alone sometimes, but I also co-write.

How does the Montreal landscape and weather affect your songwriting? Do you write in Montreal or do you return to Africa to write?

Summer in Montreal inspires parties, great vibes and dancing. Winter in Montreal, it’s all about love for me. I think it’s the time when people stay mostly at home getting to know each other. And for the lovers, winter is just that time of the year where most of the kids are made, LOL!

Never been back to Africa since my arriving in Canada, but I can’t wait to go back and feel the magical vibe of Kinshasa (the capital of Congolese rumba).

Your tunes have fantastic grooves that for me, carry the pieces. But what do you see as the backbone of your music?

I think it’s mostly the fact that without understanding all the lyrics, just the fact of listening makes you feel good, makes you feel something. I think my music has that. It’s a feel good kinda music.

“Indeed” featuring Maridee is so joyful and catchy! With which other artists would you like to collaborate?

There are so many of them. Kendrick Lamar is my pick for now.

I love how with your tunes you seem to strike a nice balance with English lyrics mostly coming in for the choruses while the verses are sung in Lingala and Tshiluba (I’m not sure which one). Are you aware of how you find this balance? Have you developed a method or formula?

There is no secret method or ingredient. It all comes naturally, and sometimes I just feel a beat in French or English, and while working more on it, I could end up singing in Lingala mostly.

What is your favourite live performance environment?

Outdoor shows are the best, especially during summertime. There’s another feel with indoors where you can feel closer to the fans and share some intimate time. Just the fact of being on stage is the most amazing feeling, whether it’s inside or outside.

My final question is what inspired you to use a stage name? Your given name is memorable too.

I didn’t want to mix my private life to my music life. In real life, I’m a different person — more reserved, and calm. When I’m on stage, I’m someone else. It’s sort of an alter ego. I chose my stage name in honour of my grandfather.

– Interview by Shannon Roszell

Pierre Kwenders plays Camp Wavelength Sunday, August 30 at Artscape Gibraltar Point (Toronto Island). Get your single day tickets here! Or better yet, join us for the whole weekend and get a Festival Pass!