As a member of Canadian hip hop supergroup Nomadic Massive, Waahli has performed around the world, including at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. But 2018 brought out a new side of Waahli, as he released his first solo album, Black Soap, in September and he will make his U.S. solo debut at BRIC House Sessions on February 21.
With Nomadic Massive, “we were all big fans of the music that came out from New York, and especially the Bronx, where hip hop all started, so to play there was a highlight of the group and for myself personally,” Waahli said. The show at the Bandshell was also a chance to connect with friends and family in NYC, and connect with the community. “We loved the energy and loved the show!”
That same spirit of community will be on display at BRIC House Sessions, where Waahli will perform as a solo artist along with a live band—another first. “This is a project that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. It will be my first solo show in New York and hopefully not the last.” We spoke to Waahli about his career as a musician, influences on his new album, and what to expect when he hits the stage later this month.
When did you first realize that you wanted to focus on music as a career?
My father is a musician—he plays guitar—and I remember that at a young age, I was playing guitar as well. But I guess I didn’t follow through and it came back later in my life. In the late ‘90s, I started to take that more seriously and then focus on myself. I was trying to not only interpret music from other artists, but also building something that resembles me and with which I identify.
How would you describe your style on Black Soap, your first solo album?
The foundation is hip hop, for sure, and there are influences from Afro-Caribbean style. I trace my Haitian roots a lot, so there are songs in Creole and there’s an Afro-Latin vibe to the album as well. I was born in Montreal, but my parents are of Haitian descent. I felt it was important to embrace that, which is why I decided to put it in the album. It’s a mix of all these influences.
Is there a particular message that you are hoping to spread with this project?
It’s a lot about my identity being from the diaspora. Being born in Quebec as a black person, this topic of reflecting on identity surfaced a lot on the album. But I also include messages about having fun as well, despite the fact that things are complicated in life. I tackle a lot of issues—from racism to identity to love—and topics that I go through every day. I try to put it in a song, in like an education-slash-entertainment way: edu-tainment. That’s what I tried with this album.
Who are some of your influences?
Musically, what drives me? I like Fela Kuti a lot and he’s been a big part of my musical upbringing and influence on me. I’m not sure how it’s reflected on the album, but it’s somewhere. That is present and is always in me.
De La Soul is also a group with a strong influence on me and my music, because of their alternative ways of seeing things. They wear different glasses with the way that they perceive life and music in general and I really appreciate that. And they’re having fun while making good music. And Fela was really more about this crazy individual who makes like 20-minute songs and it’s not boring. I was always amazed at how a person can do that and be energetically charged as well.
Throughout your career with this project and with Nomadic, you’ve collaborated with a lot of musicians. Are there any who have stood out as especially interesting or as one of your favorites?
On the album, there’s one collaboration with Thanya Iver for the song, “Intent,” the last song on the album. She’s a really great multi-disciplinary artist and she plays violin and keys and I was impressed with our collaboration for many reasons. I had started to produce this song and I remember seeing her performance online and I thought, “I’m going to contact this person and see if we can try to collaborate.” We got into a session and then the magic happened...there was something magical about this moment. Just with the texture of how she plays and how she sings, she added so much into my creation and made it so complete. All of my collaborators on this album were great, but I’m so happy about this collaboration with Thanya. She’s an artist to look for and is very talented.
And you’ll be performing alongside Boogát, who is also from Quebec. What is happening with the Canadian music scene these days? How is that impact growing?
There is a lot going on, especially because the internet is at the forefront of pushing someone’s career. You never know where the internet can take you and Canadian music is moving quite fast. We’re exposed to a lot of music right now in Quebec and the rest of Canada, and we’re coming closer and closer to our artists because of the internet.
Montréal music is also booming. There’s so much creative talent here. Every week, you hear someone dropping new music and there are so many artists to discover. It’s such a hub for creation as well. It’s a nice place to make music.
And Boogat is an artist who I have known for a long time in Quebec and Montréal. We’ve done shows together—on the same bill—and he’s a well-known artist in Canada, so I’m excited to share the bill with him in a different setting. We saw each other maybe two or three months ago, and we’re in communication as well for this show, talking about things like sound and whatnot.
What can we expect from your show at BRIC House Sessions? What can you tell us about the plans?
Expect a full, live band and expect us to play some songs from the album and some new songs that I haven’t played before. That will be really interesting and I’m happy it will happen at my U.S. solo debut performance at BRIC. We’re going to experiment with some stuff as well, using whatever technology that’s available. And we’ll maybe have a guest as well—it’s going to be a good show. I’m looking forward to it.