Championing a spirit of inclusivity and love, Pierre Kwenders is the Congolese-born musician telling stories through his sound. Curated over the span of 4 years, Pierre’s latest album offers a thoughtful reflection of his lived experiences. Kwenders creates with a refreshing yet classic touch, honouring the pioneers of Congolese rumba through a masterful infusion with Afro-inflected electronic sounds. Addressing issues of European colonialism, racism and homophobia, Kwenders’ new solo album, José Louis and the Paradox of Love is out now.
Congratulations on your upcoming album, José Louis and the Paradox of Love. Previously described as a storyteller at your core, what narratives can we expect to be explored in this project?
It’s a journey of self-discovery, self-love. Learning about who we are through experiences of love.
Featuring your birth name, the title of the album is suggestive of a personal and intimate project. Would you say this candidness is a trait we see reflected in the album?
Most definitely. I’ve opened myself up more than ever. Sharing my most personal fears, facing myself in order to become my real self.
On the eponymous track and lead single, Papa Wemba, you implore a tribute to the influential Congolese musician and the King of Rumba Rock. How has the work of Wemba, and any other individuals, influenced you?
Papa Wemba has been a pioneer in Congolese music and his impact is all over the younger generation. He was the first to crossover and mix genres like hip hop and rumba. Music is not too far from his legacy.
The album was written and recorded in a number of cities across borders including Montreal, Lisbon, Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. Did you draw much influence from the afro-electronic scenes in these areas?
Afro-electronic influence is everywhere. The main reason why I got to travel so much is because my collective Moonshine - we’ve been focussing on afro and electronic sound from different areas. My music is definitely inspired by sounds of those travels with Moonshine.
Curated over the span of 4 years, would you say the album embodies this transitional element of its recording?
I’d say yes in a sense yes. I really took the time to sit and reflect and correct. I also wanted to do something that would age well and for that, I need to take all the time possible to be locked in.
With tracks in Lingala, French, English, Tshiluba, and Kikongo, your work challenges the ruling of exclusive English language music in the mainstream. Was this use of linguistic inclusivity an intentional statement? Or rather, a by-product of crafting enjoyable multilingual music?
It is definitely a by-product of crafting enjoyable multilingual music. But I’d say it’s also a way for me to remain connected to my roots and share this beautiful culture I am from.
From the acclaimed vocals of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler to the feature of French-Senegalese artist anaiis. This album offers a range of energetic collaborations, some old, and some new. When collaborating on such a personal project, is there ever a concern about ensuring the character of the work stays personal?
Absolutely! The thing I love about collaborating is that you invite people into your world by getting a little taste of theirs. All done respectfully, there’s nothing to worry about.
I read how your early immersion into music was through a youth choir in Montreal. Do you think such early experience of music as a communal and celebratory medium informs the way you interact with music today?
I’ve learnt everything from the choir. The way I lay my voice on a song comes from my experience within the choir. That’s why it was important for me to invite them in this album. It meant the world to me.
Following on from this, with a discography pertaining to such an enigmatic and lively sound, would you say live performance enlivens your music?
I’m not shy on stage. That’s what I’d say.
Offering an instrumental range of guitar, saxophone, cello, trumpet, violin, and the Mbira, you create this unique blend of Afro-inflected electronic sounds with touches of Congolese rumba. What other musical elements do you use to create this signature melange of sound?
To me there is no limit. I’m also curious to try something new or to reinvent something. I’m willing to get out of my comfort zone anytime.
Speaking on Moonshine Collective, your post-border multidisciplinary artist collective, can you tell us some more about the collective’s ambition? Did its inception come from a creative space you felt was lacking in Montreal?
Moonshine is a lunar based afro electronic party. It happens every Saturday after the full moon in non-traditional venues (warehouses, studio spaces, lofts, etc). Moonshine is 8 years now in the making. Moonshine's whole concept is to bring people together by the way of dance and music. We call it enjaillement in french [of the Cote d’Ivorie] and enjoyment en english. We have brought that motto to many cities now: Paris, Kinshasa, Brooklyn, LA, Santiago, Brussels, and soon London [in June]. We started this journey because we just wanted to offer space for likeminded people and mostly a space where we could be free from all the stereotypes.
You’ve spoken previously about the influence of sagacité, a way of life coined by Ivorian singer Douk Saga, which means to work hard in order to play hard. Is this ideology something you follow in your day-to-day life?
Sagacité is my motto. I try to channel that energy everywhere I go and incorporate it in my life. By the way, it’s also the first track of the album -   title L.E.S means Liberté Egalité Sagacité for Liberty, equality, sagacity.