Pierre Kwenders (real name José Louis Modabi) is a 29-year-old Congolese-Canadian musician known for his heady pastiche of Afrobeat, moody electro and Congolese rumba. Nominated for World Music Album of the Year at the 2016 Juno Music Awards, Kwenders has gone on to claim international recognition, also counting a Polaris Music Prize nomination among his accolades. His Afrofuturistic music (Don’t call it world music, a term he feels is obsolete) has brought him to the International Stage as a tour-de-force on the live circuit, with performances at Rennes Trans Musicales in France, Budapest’s Womex 15 and, more recently, Printemps de Bourges in France being among the highlights.
By all accounts a postmodern pop star, this polyglot performer sings in five languages (French, English, Lingala, Chinoba and Kikongo), taps into a rich heritage of festive music-making—from Congolese legend Papa Wemba to "King of Pop" Michael Jackson—and draws from a long lineage of brazen fashion cues. In October of 2014, he released his kaleidoscopic debut album, Le Dernier Empereur Bantou, the title a nod to Sub-Saharan Africa’s Bantu kingdom from the 14th and 15th centuries. And while the soulful artist has yet to return to the motherland since immigrating to Montreal at 16, he has boldly pegged himself “the spokesman of modern Africa.” Kwenders belongs to a generation of young Africans living in the diaspora who wish to expand Westerners’ appreciation of the continent and its pre-colonial glory days. “We want Africa to evolve, to assert itself on the international stage, and it’s young people like us, who live abroad, who are in a good position to help move things forward. I am proud to consider myself among its many ambassadors,” he says.