Pierre Kwenders: Montreal’s Afro-Electro Star and 5 Musicians Who Inspired Him.

Published February 3, 2015

Born José Louis Modabi in Kinshasa, the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the musician now known as Pierre Kwenders immigrated to the Montreal area when he was 16. Just over a decade later, he is one of that city’s rising stars, and credits it with exposing him to a great diversity in sound.

“Aside from the quantity of snow, Montreal is not far from the perfect city,” Kwenders tells TD Music. “It definitely helped me experience different styles of music, and that can be heard in the songs I make. You can listen to folk one song, and then hear some deep house right after. It's great for a musician to be around.”

Over the past few years, Kwenders has become a visible member of Montreal’s vibrant music community. He’s part of a rap-electro-soul collective dubbed DIFA (Doing It for Art), DJs around the city, and collaborates with a variety of local artists, many of whom contributed to Kwenders’ debut album, Le Dernier Empereur Bantou.

Released last October on Montreal label Bonsound, Le Dernier Empereur Bantou is a highly infectious blend of rhythms, melodies and vocal styles (it’s earned the artist a 2015 JUNO nomination in the World Music Album of the Year category (sponsored by Canada Council for the Arts)).

Kwenders sings in multiple languages - French, English, Lingala, Kikongo, and Chinoba – over a modern Afro-electro sound that’s equally influenced by his love of Congolese rumba, South African disco, and ’80s pop.

No matter the dialect or beat, Kwenders’ messages are universal.

“The important thing, for me, when people listen to my music, without sounding cliché, is that you can do anything,” the musician offers. “We are free to imagine a universe without limits, linguistically or stylistically. Remaining authentic is key.”

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Kwenders also refutes stereotypes that persist about his native continent.

“What and how Africa is often depicted by many media outlets is far from reality,” he emphasizes. “Young Africans listen to Kendrick Lamar and ASAP Rocky. They tweet, and you can find them on Instagram. When I proclaim myself a ‘Representative of modern Africa,’ it's mainly to try and change the perspective most people have of Africa.”

Fittingly, Pierre performs with his band this Friday (February 6) at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre and its Kuumba Festival. With its theme of Afrofuturism, this 20th anniversary edition of Kuumba is part of the TD Then & Now series celebrating Black History Month.

In honour of Black History Month, we asked Kwenders to share with us five Black musicians who have especially inspired him, and how so. See his excellent list below.

Koffi Olomide: For the sensuality in his music.

Michael Jackson: The first ‘world’ artist in my opinion. He mixed all kinds of styles to create his own.

Sade: My muse; when I write, it's for her.

Pharrell Williams: He’s a hard worker. There’s not a year that goes by where you don't hear something good from him.

Fela Kuti: He was a free spirit, and someone who remained authentic.