Music is universal, no matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Montreal’s Pierre Kwenders (by way of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo) happens to speak four languages, and they are all expressed on MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time. This breakthrough album is an evolutionary step forward from Kwenders’s 2014 debut album, expanding his take on hip-hop, world music, and electronica by adding super-smooth sax solos, rhythmic guitar passages, and some stellar guest contributions, notably from the Seattle hip-hop community (TheeSatisfaction and Shabazz Palaces). It’s fitting that Makanda means “strength” in Luba-Kasai (a dialect of the Bantu people); these tracks are powerful, emotional and convey a sense of confidence well beyond Kwenders’s years.
A common thread winding its way through the album is love; love lost, love found, love in the metaphysical (and physical) ways. Lead single (and my personal favourite) “Sexus Plexus Nexus” is an anthem to getting lost in love with great lyrical flow and one of the catchiest choruses you will hear this year. You can hear the Prince influence on here big time, with hints of Fela Kuti and Lionel Richie thrown in. “Rendezvous” has a similar theme, this time going to Paris with your significant other and getting lost in the City of Lights, dancing the night away. The multi-syllabic flow in the chorus is impressive as a delivery like this, especially in a foreign language, must not be easy to maintain for the uninitiated.
Being from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kwenders articulates his roots exquisitely on this record, especially on “Welele” and “Tsvarakadenga”. Putting you right in the midst of a small block party, the percussion in the former adds to the call-and-response chorus that embodies the sense of fun and community that the lyrics (sung in Lingala, one of the native tongues of Kwenders’ home city) describe. The latter’s tropical beats, warm guitar plucks, and surprise trumpet solo are underscored by the song’s message of female empowerment stemming from the title’s translation (roughly “divine beauty”).
Album closer “W.T.F.U” shows a different kind of love: a love of country. Encouraging the listener to stand up for what they believe in and do something about the injustices going on in the world, wherever they may be. It reinforces the album’s title: strength not just in love, but in personal and spiritual growth. MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time will take you on a journey into your mind, body, and soul and you’ll come out the other side much stronger for having listened to it.