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Pierre Kwenders sings about love — in all of his languages

A portrait of the artist.
Camille Sauvayre
Pitch Perfect PR
A portrait of the artist.

Who is he? Pierre Kwenders is a Congolese-Canadian singer, songwriter and DJ.

  • Hailing from Democratic Republic of Congo, Kwenders immigrated to Canada with his mother as a teenager, bringing a love of music and celebration with him.
  • After settling in Montreal, Kwenders joined the Afrika Intshiyetu Choir, a local African church choir that he credits with aligning him with his path as a musician.
  • Kwenders' latest album, José Louis and the Paradox of Love, was released last year. It was awarded the 2022 Polaris Music Prize, an annual award for the year's best Canadian album.
  • What's the big deal? Kwenders' fourth studio album has been re-released in a deluxe edition, with several new tracks.

  • For Kwenders, the album is an exploration of love, life and his own identity. He says he is sharing the story of "that young kid who left Congo at a very young age – I was 15, 16 years old – and then I arrived here and I still have this idea of what life is supposed to be, and everything else that everybody is telling me around me and all that is connected with love."
  • Love extends to the journey of his understanding of his own sexuality. Kwenders came out as gay three years ago, and details the experience in the track "Your Dream," where he reassures his mother and thanks her supporting him on his journey.
  • What's he saying? Kwenders spoke with NPR's Kira Wakeam about the project, and how it encapsulates all of the unique aspects of his identity.

    On his musical origins:

    My uncles always played guitar around or there was always a guitar around and there were always people singing. And my mom and aunties dancing around.

    Singing was always part of every gathering, and the music that we would play would be over late at night. Some [would be] old Congolese rhumba songs at parties with things, and most of the time we were also singing at funerals.

    I remember when my great-grandmother died, my uncle wrote a song that all of us, the great grandkids, had to sing at the funeral. And it was one of the most beautiful memories of my younger age. And I think that's just something that was in me. And it took me a while to finally realize it. And I think it was that moment when I joined the choir that was kind of the beginning of me realizing that that was the path for me.

    On his seamless switching between languages:

    When I started singing, it just felt right for me to kind of move in between those languages and it's also something very common in the Congolese choir because there are over 250 tribes in Congo, so imagine how many tribes there are. So when you go to church, we could start the mass in French, with one song in French, and the second song could be in Lingala and the [next] song could be in Swahili and Kikongo and then a song that mixes all of those.

    Want more queer stories? Listen to Consider This on LGBTQ vets sharing their experiences with 'Don't Ask Don't Tell'

    On the re-release of the album:

    Well, some of the songs I had already had. For some reason, it didn't feel right to put them out at the same time [as] when the album came out. And for some reason also, It didn't feel right to hold on to them for the next project because I feel like I'm already somewhere else. 

    I have another story to tell now. And it just made sense. I was like, well, let's give these songs because this is also part of the story. And I want to give it to the people, by the way, for the next project. And it's kind of a little gift. And I really, really wanted people also to listen to "Vibraçao," which is another version of "Heartbeat" that is featuring Sarah Kalume, a young artist from Congo. 

    So, what now?

  • When he's not in the studio, Kwenders is DJ-ing underground dance parties for hundreds in Montreal.
  • He says: "The album is called José Louis and the Paradox of Love because you ask yourself so many questions about who you are, about who you love, about [how] to love yourself, and also in order to love people that are around you better."
  • Kwenders is also gearing up to release his next project: "I think I already have the next album done. Hopefully by the end of next year, it'll be the new album and hopefully early next year, new singles."
  • Learn more:

  • 50 years ago, teenagers partied in the Bronx — and gave rise to hip-hop
  • Veeze is just like us — except he's one of the best rappers alive
  • The misplaced promise of Kim Petras
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
    Kira Wakeam