Pierre Kwenders Makes Music Outside of Space and Time
Great music has the ability to transport you. Sometimes, a record will bring you back to an old memory or even pull you close to a distant friend, but in some cases, it can suck you into another place and time. On his new album MAKANDA at the End of Space, Beginning of Time, released last month, Montreal-based artist Pierre Kwenders asks his audience to step into another dimension.
The album, produced by Shabazz Palaces’ Tendai Maraire, is a futuristic voyage into outer space or something like it. On MAKANDA, Kwenders envelops you in sounds spanning from his native Congo to his Montreal stomping grounds. Yet, no matter the sonic origin, there’s a sense of life and forward movement – and not necessarily that which has a clear destination in mind. For Kwenders, there’s an overriding calm in the journey.
“Don’t complicate, embrace your faith,” sings SassyBlack on “Makanda.” And that is exactly what Pierre Kwenders does on this eclectic LP. For a project with a title that means “strength” and one with content so eloquently concentrated on love, Kwenders’ faith translates. “I wanted to share the love and the joy of life within the album,” he tells TIDAL.
In this interview, he opens up about the story and recording process behind MAKANDA, from losing his aunt to recording in Maraire’s Seattle studio, and how he created an album “you can listen to everywhere and anywhere, and you’ll still feel the joy coming out of it.”
* * *
Tell me about your new album. I know makanda means ‘strength,’ and it’s based on love and the women in your family, but talk to me about how you got started on it.
At the beginning, there was not much to go with the album. It all happened really fluidly, me traveling to Seattle and everything that was going on in my life. Then, my aunt, one of the women I dedicated the album to, was in a battle with cancer, and she passed away last August.
I was going to visit my aunt in the hospital and [I ended up] reminiscing on the memories and talking with her and being surrounded by family. That love and enjoying spending time with family and friends inspired me so much, so I wanted to create that vibe and share that love I was experiencing in that moment writing that album. I think that’s how everything came about. I wanted to pay homage to the women in my life because they’ve been amazing to me and filled me with so many wonderful values. I wanted to share the love and the joy of life within the album.
What was it like recording this album in Seattle?
It was good because I got to get out of town, and the funny thing was that I was working on this album while touring because I was still touring with my previous album. I would be touring and coming back to Montreal and trying to figure out the perfect time to come to Seattle because I was on tour also with Shabazz Palaces. We always needed to find the right moment to meet up, and the best place to meet up was Seattle because we had a studio there.
It was just great for me to get out of everything that was going on in my life and be in an Airbnb in this gray, foggy city where it rains all the time and just be in my room listening to beats and writing songs and spending all my time in the studio recording. I didn’t get much time to visit the city because I was going from the Airbnb to the studio to get some drinks and then back to the studio and get out at like 7 a.m., and be back again at night. It was very inspiring because I knew I was there to work and make something that I would be proud of, something that would be great in my own eyes and for everybody. And that’s what we did
Did you set out with an idea of what you wanted the album to be, or did it just come together organically?
[MAKANDA producer and Shabazz Palaces member] Tendai [Maraire] and I just let things happen. The thing is, there was this chemistry between Tendai and I. We knew what we wanted to do. We wanted people to feel alive listening to the album. We wanted to feel alive while we were working on it. It was not about the vibe of the city – the city can be very grey or whatever it is – but I’m from Africa, and you just have that fire in you and you just want to share it. I wanted to put all my energy in there, and I wanted people to have fun listening to my album. I wanted them to have that energy to lift you up instead of keep you down. It was all in the spirit and very, very natural and organic and we wanted it to shine a light and to be what it is now. You can listen to it everywhere and anywhere, and you’ll still feel the joy coming out of it.
You spoke in four different languages on this album: Lingala, Tshiluba, English, and French. Was there ever any hesitation that you might be isolating audiences who couldn’t understand what you were saying?
It’s never something that is calculated. I will never go into the studio and say, ‘I want to do an album and sing in five-10 languages.’ I’ll listen to the beat, and if the first word that comes out of my mouth is in Lingala or French or in English, I’ll start with that. To me, there’s this thing I like to do with the languages. It’s kind of a game, I can be saying the same thing in French or in English or in Lingala or any other language, but just the fact that I’m singing it in different languages, it feels different. The emotion you get out of it is also different. It’s just a way for me to create a roller coaster of emotions to people when they listen to the song, and you just get carried away with one sound and then another sound comes in and takes you somewhere else, and then you come back to the other sound, just like traveling to those sounds, those feelings and those emotions. I feel it’s very amazing.
I remember when I was a kid, I didn’t know any English, but I was listening to Michael Jackson songs, and I would feel something out of it. It would make me happy. It would make me want to dance, and I didn’t even want to know what he was talking about. I want the same thing to happen with my music. I want people to listen to and feel something about it before understanding what I’m saying. I want them to feel something out of it. That’s the most important thing.
How do and art fashion play a role in your music?
Well, that’s part of my personality. I like to be well dressed. I like to present myself in a way that is comfortable and in a way where people will be happy to see me. Being born Congolese, you are surrounded by people that like to be wearing beautiful clothes. I think it’s just something that has always been part of me, and there’s this thing they teach us when you grow up: you have to present yourself for other people. I’m never comfortable when I’m on stage not wearing something I’m comfortable in. I really want to present myself in a way that is comfortable and in a way that people will like me. It needs to blend with my music as well. I feel like my fashion style goes well with the music that I do and all of that goes well with my personality, and I like to wear nice clothes and have nice shoes, to look good, to present myself great in front of people. To me it’s just a way of life
Do you have anything coming up that you want to share?
Right now, I’m going on a UK tour in October. I will be opening for Ibibia Sound Machine for a few days and I have a few dates of my own in the UK and in France. I will be back in the States in March at the Apollo. There’s that, I’m really excited about that. A lot of good things coming. I’m looking forward to it.
I’m really grateful with this album coming out and all these people talking to me seem to like it, so hopefully everybody will follow us and follow the vibe of the wonderful journey we just started.
TIDAL is proud to announce the world's first music service with High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly curated Editorial.