TD Ottawa Jazz Festival: Pierre Kwenders prepares to tackle English Canada

Pierre Kwenders performs at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival June 22.

Pierre Kwenders is the stage name of the Congolese Canadian musician José Louis Modabi. He told the Montreal Gazette that he adopted the stage name in honour of his grandfather, a man he never met. His star has been rising in French Canada for some time and now he seems set to make a break into English Canada, as he tells ARTSFILE in an emailed interview. Kwenders’ 2014 album, Le Dernier emperor bantou, was nominated for a JUNO as world album of 2014. It also made the Polaris Prize long list. Kwenders is a DJ, a singer and a rapper in four different languages: English, French, Lingala and Tshiluba, both spoken in the Congo. He blends African styles with pop, hip hop and electronica.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you perceive your musical endeavours.

A. It’s always difficult to talk about yourself. I believe I’m a pretty shy and a bit introverted person, but yet music allows me to surpass myself. When in writing or composition, I’m able to reveal myself more and being on stage is where I feel at home.

Q. A lot of people may try to lump you into a box called world music. I know you reject that as an outdated term. But you do pull in musical influences from everywhere. What catches your attention first and why?

A. First and foremost, I am a real music-lover. For me, music is boundless, but it is only the sounds that culturally change from one region to another. I like to let myself be rocked by new sounds that can take me somewhere else, make me travel. All the more so, I am convinced that this is how one discovers the different cultures that make the world what it is.

Q. Does your easy connection to music in different places, such as New Orleans and in Quebec, have its roots in the music of the Congo and Africa? If so what is it about that grounding do you draw upon?

A. Music is a way of expressing oneself. Of course, we can express ourselves in different ways in different regions. One thing it is about, we all express the same feelings through music. This is where the connection is found.

Q. You are part of an arts collective called Moonshine. Can you tell me about that?

A. It was initiated in 2014, by my BFF and manager Hervé Kalongo and myself. Moonshine is a party that happens every Saturday after the full moon. The event gets announced 48 hours before its start. The exact location never gets publicly released and can only be retrieved on the day of the party by text. The idea was first to showcase my DJ skills and to bring to Montreal a new vibe focusing on diversity in entertainment. Today the collective counts artists such as Kae Sun, Mark Clennon, ABAKOS and Bonbon Kojak. And we’d better not forget the visual artist BOYCOTT.

Q. What is ABAKOS?

A. This is more of a fun project for me and my friend Ngabonziza Kiroko from Dear Denizen. We both wanted to get out of our personal genre and do something different together. Being both from Democratic Republic of Congo, we thought it would be a great idea to bring our talents together in this future soul project. There’s nothing more beautiful than two tall black men singing and dancing together. LOL.

Q. You will be in Ottawa at the Jazz Festival and then back again in the fall as part of the NAC Presents concert series. Are you touring more in English Canada?

A. That’s the plan. I’m looking forward to conquer the heart of English Canada. Right after Ottawa Jazz Fest, we’re flying to Winnipeg. I’ll be also playing in Toronto in September. More dates to be announced in a near future.

Q. Tell me about your show at the Jazz Festival. What will people see and hear?

A. First, people need to be ready to dance. I’ll be playing some of my old repertoire and some songs from my upcoming album. Lots of fun and sweating, so make sure to stay hydrated.

Pierre Kwenders
TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
When: Thursday June 22 at 10:30 p.m.
Where: Tartan Homes Stage Marion Dewar Plaza

Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.