Pierre Kwenders’ new album, Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time, is steeped in love.
The totemic belonging of family, identity, and shared history of bodies that carry the same beats and rhythms. The unhinged joy of intimacy, and the sensation of truly being seen by someone whose witness you’ve longed for. The warm safety you’ve finally nurtured inside yourself, a radical act of solitude and recognition and acceptance. The kind of love that makes you free, that gives you courage.
“‘Makanda’ means 'strength,' and I dedicate the album to my mom, grandma and aunt, three women who have been very important in my life and made me who I am,” Kwenders says, over the phone from his home base in Montreal.
It’s a continued homage, since Pierre Kwenders itself isn’t just a stage name, but the name of his grandfather as well. On Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time, Kwenders isn’t just a time traveler, slipping backwards and forwards or zigzagging through countries and continents. His music captures life in a circle, a belief that there is no beginning or end, no race to some imagined victory, but that everything is connected.
Congolese rhumba mixing with electronic synths alongside sax solos and brass flourishes, and all 11 songs on the record sung or rapped in either Lingala, French, English or Shona. Every track contains its own atmosphere, even though they share related landscapes, be it the spacey, Afro-futurist title track, or the lush “La La Love” and the equally shimmering "Zonga." Two standout songs close out the record. “Tsvarakadenga” is unnervingly brilliant, a soaring track that feels like shouting into a canyon and the wind catches your voice and tosses it back at you. “WTFU” is a foot-stomping, political dance party that’s rife with attitude and action. Recorded in Seattle with Shabazz Palace’s Tendai Baba Maraire, Kwenders has crafted something utterly unique with Makanda because it’s so deeply rooted in his circle.
You can listen to the album a week before its release in the CBC Music player, and you can pre-order Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time here.
Kwenders was also kind enough to walk CBC Music through his new record, track-by-track.
‘Bittersweet Mornings’ (feat. Fly Guy Dai)
"You know when you meet someone and you get your hopes up and that person tells you beautiful words, and you’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, this is the man of my life?’ or 'Is this the girl of my dreams?’ And then you just realize that it was only a dream, you know? And you wake up in the morning and you feel that bitterness, and you’ll be like, ‘Damn it, I wish that was the real deal.’
"This is a story about a girl meeting a guy that, you know, some guys can be very well-spoken. They will always have the right thing to say. And it can be the other way around, too. You can meet a girl who will tell you the most beautiful things or will make you believe that you have found the perfect person to be with, but you wake up the next morning and the person is not even there. You spent the whole night with them and then you wake up — there's nobody on the other side of the bed. And that's the worst feeling. It's just one of those morning and you feel like shit you know?"
‘Woods of Solitude’
"It’s more of a personal song, it's like more of an introspection and a discovering of self. Being who you are and not following anybody's path but making your own. Be as real as you can be. Be yourself and live your life as you see fit."
‘La La Love’ (feat. Kae Sun and Tanyaradzwa)
"It’s in the title! [Laughs] You fall in love and you want to do everything with that person. You, don't want that person to go anywhere, you want them to stay just right there. There's nobody else that you'd rather be with. It's just a love anthem."
‘Makanda’ (feat. Ish, a.k.a. Palaceer Lazaro, and SassyBlack)
"You know how sometimes you wake up you need that song to tell you, ‘You can do this. Don't give up. Believe in your dream and do the things you dreamed of doing, because nobody else is gonna do it for you!’ That's what the song is about. Stay focused. Live your dream, live your life, and things will pay off."
"People like to say that Paris is probably the most beautiful and romantic city in the world, so I was like, you know, ‘Let me just make a song about Paris because it kinda is.’ And that's what I’m just singing to someone and I’m like, 'I love you, and I will spoil you with surprises and one of them is I’m taking you to a romantic rendezvous to Paris. And there’s a shout-out to Moonshine [Kwenders’ arts collective in Montreal], because I’m saying, ‘We gonna go to Paris and then back to Montreal, have fun at Moonshine,’ [which is also a] monthly party that we [the collective] do every month. I mention Kinshasa [the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] right after Montreal. I was just giving a shout out to my cities."
‘Sexus Plexus Nexus’
"[Laughs] Well, yeah, it's obviously about sex. Just getting lost in love and ah, have the most fun that you want to have fun with the loved one. And it's a funny story because the title is from Henry Miller's trilogy [The Rosy Crucifixion which consists of Sexus, Plexus and Nexus]. I've never read the book, but a friend of mine who's from Paris, his wife was having a baby, and they were having a girl who they were going to name Mara. I asked him why, and he goes, ‘Ah, it's the name of Henry Miller's [fictionalized] wife and he wrote three books about her. It’s like a huge love story, they break up, they go back together. It's like a very intense love story with a lot of sex and sensuality.’ And I’m like, ‘Oooh, interesting.’ [Laughs]
"So, I went online and read about it and it just so happened that when I was writing that song, I was kind of in love with a girl anyway. Like deeply in love, pretty much madly in love. I wanted to have the best sex I've ever had with that person, and I was like, ‘How can I put this into a song?’ And also make it fun and not cheesy, and Sexus, Plexus, Nexus."
"It's all in Lingala and Tendai, he was working on the song the whole first day I was in Seattle, I was like, ‘Ok, this guy with his headphones working on a song, what is he doing? I don't even know if I’m gonna like it’ and then when he finished it, I was like, ‘Wow.’
"This vibe that took me back, way back in Kinshasa when I was little in the parties with families, everybody dancing around. All this traditional music with percussion and some guitar, and I felt like it was like that party song. That's what it is about, getting people together, getting family together. ‘Welele’ is kind of just a shout, a celebration, a response somebody sings. We're all having fun: mothers, sons, daughters, uncles, grandfathers, and that's basically what I’m saying in the song."
‘Zonga’ (feat. Tanyaradzwa)
"It’s a love song, but a sad one. This is just a story where you've been in love since high school, you've been together since high school. Everybody around you thought you guys were going to be married, live happily ever after, have 10 children, but unfortunately it never happened. And you feel so sad, you still want that love, you still want that person to come back.
"‘Zonga’ means ‘come back to me,’ so I’m basically just crying to that person to come back to me. Tanya was the greatest addition to the song. The girl is singing to the guy to come back and the guy is singing to the girl to come back, it's like the same story on both sides."
"There's no way to say in English, actually, but you know those people who like to talk too much, they like to talk shit? [Laughs] That's basically for those people. I’m just telling them to shut up and, you know, I don't want to hear anything, just stop lying, stop saying shit about me, stop talking shit about us, or anybody, actually. I don't have any problem with anybody, just leave me alone, let's just have fun and leave me alone."
"It's pronounced 'Zsarakadenga' and it's in one of the languages from Zimbabwe — Tendai is from Zimbabwe — and it means 'beauty from heaven,' like divine beauty. It’s an homage for Kinshasa women, including my mom and aunts."
"Wake the f--k up! [Laughs] There's a lot of bad things going on in my country right now, and I kind of wanted to tell the people to wake up and make a change. Telling the Congolese people, those who live there and those overseas, that it’s our country, nobody can take care of it for us, and we need to. [In the song] I’m saying that we're sons of kings, we shouldn’t be afraid, and we have to stand up. I needed that to be the ending song. It's a powerful song and it's a meaningful song and I want my people to stand up and make a change.
"That song is really for my people, for Congolese people, for what's happening in there, but also it can be taken in any situation. It can be taken in a relationship situation when you, for example, are in a bad relationship and you don't know how to get out of it. And with everything that is going on right now in the world, things in the United States or even here in Canada, even here in Quebec, you know, we're seeing some racist stuff, and it’s just crazy. We all need to wake the f--k up and do something about it."
Pre-order Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time.
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