People & CityPeople to Watch: Pierre Kwenders Wins 2022 Polaris Music Prize

People to Watch: Pierre Kwenders Wins 2022 Polaris Music Prize

2022’s much-anticipated Polaris Music Prize was awarded this week. On September 19 at the Polaris Gala, hosted at The Carlu in Toronto, the coveted award was given to none other than Montreal’s Pierre Kwenders for his album, José Louis and the Paradox of Love. 


The Polaris Music Prize is presented to what is considered the best Canadian album regardless of genre, company or sales of the year. The prestigious prize is chosen by a Grand Jury consisting of 11 music industry professionals and picked from a pool of 197 nominees.


With his third album winning the award, the Kinshasa-born artist received a $50,000 prize and a global music promotion distribution package for one release from Play Mpe. Play MPE will also gift all nine remaining Short List artists with distribution packages worth up to $1,000 each.


Paradox of Love cover, photography by Daniele Fummo


The album consisted of eleven captivating and moving songs and an impressive array of five languages, featuring French, English, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba. Kwender’s vision for the album is about being yourself and being able to tell your own story, controlling your personal narrative. The songs refer to his background, hometown, his past and what he envisions for the future.


José Louis and the Paradox of Love comes from Kwender’s birth name, already demonstrating the personal connection he has to this work. Full of cultural and personal references, the album is a beautiful mix of genres including rumba, contemporary electro, jazz, R&B and more. His mesmerizing songs range in combinations of beats with “Papa Wembra” being what could be the centrepiece of the album as it rises in the dynamic music.


Travelling the world with his Moonshine Collective, Kwender wrote and recorded this spirited album as he worked to spread his music globally. This collection of tracks comes from the heart as it combines and surpasses music boundaries, telling a powerful narrative. It is no surprise that these different elements came together to create a form of storytelling that pulled listeners in.


Photography by Daniele Fummo


In an emotional acceptance speech, Kwenders talked about his upbringing, family, his culture and life, along with the effects moving to Canada had on him. He mentioned the loss of two of his cousins and his godfather, who had passed away only three days before. “All these three people that I mentioned inspired me as f**k,” he said to loud cheers. Kwenders also dived a bit into his album and said, “Love is a paradox and I still don’t know what love is, I’m still trying to figure it out.” 


“This is a story for so many people, so many Africans, so many diaspora African guys, young girls moving here and discovering themselves and I just happened to discover myself, discover who I am in Canada,” he continued near the end of his speech. As he finished his speech with love and thanks, he ended with a casually cool (but never cliche) mic drop.


Pierre Kwender’s Polaris Music Prize Acceptance Speech


With his first Polaris Music Prize in hand, Kwender’s future song-inspiring experiences are plentiful. The musician has upcoming gigs across North America, notably, Toronto’s Adelaide Hall in February.


If you’re looking to dive into other Polaris Prize nominated artists, be sure to read our interview with 2022 nominee Myst Milano.


Christine Truong is a Glossi Mag contributor.

Christine Truong is a 4th-year Creative Writing and Publishing student at Sheridan College. She loves art, with digital artworks clogging her storage, but still hates drawing hands.

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