Dear Denizen, direction afropop québécoise

À Montréal, la 31e édition des Francos s’est terminée samedi 22 juin dans une ambiance festive et estivale. Rencontre avec Dear Denizen, qui a présenté aux festivaliers un avant-goût éclaté de son album à paraître bientôt.

Établi au Québec depuis 20 ans, l’artiste d’origine congolaise Ngabonziza Kiroko (ou Ngabo) avait plusieurs raisons de célébrer lors de son concert extérieur aux Francos vendredi dernier. Tout juste rentré d’un séjour de quelques mois en Californie, le chanteur avait hâte d’offrir, avec sa nouvelle formation, du matériel encore inédit qui figurera sur le tout premier album de son projet Dear Denizen.

À Montréal, Ngabo est reconnu pour avoir exploré de nombreux genres musicaux, tant dans son album en français (Ngabo, paru en 2011) que dans les 3 EP qui ont suivi sous le pseudonyme Dear Denizen (2 en anglais et 1 en français). Sans oublier Abakos, le duo électronique qu’il mène en parallèle avec Pierre Kwenders, un autre artiste congolais de la scène montréalaise.

Le public québécois savait donc déjà qu’il est capable de passer de la chanson à l’indie rock, la synth pop, les rythmes africains ou l’électro comme un poisson dans l’eau. Mais l’ensemble des morceaux inédits présentés aux Francos a encore une fois annoncé un changement de cap prometteur.

BEC – Belle existence chaude

L’an dernier, Dear Denizen a fait paraître BEC, un EP plus léger et festif que les précédents, qui a aussi marqué son retour vers l’écriture en français, délaissée depuis 2011. « Je m’intéresse vraiment à plusieurs styles musicaux, et ma trajectoire d’un EP à l’autre, reflète beaucoup les scènes avec lesquelles j’ai été en contact à Montréal », explique le chanteur et producteur.

« Comme j’ai autant évolué dans la scène anglo que franco, c’est complètement naturel pour moi de passer d’une langue à l’autre et d’explorer toutes sortes de musiques. » L’artiste raconte que ce sont ses années en tant que barman au Quai des brumes [bar-spectacle de la scène locale montréalaise] qui ont nourri la création de BEC« Je baignais dans un milieu francophone, poursuit-il. Je me sentais bien, je faisais la fête. C’était un univers super inclusif. Mon EP est un condensé, un reportage émotionnel de ce moment heureux de ma vie. »

Sans être littéralement un coming out, la parution de 2018 correspondait aussi, selon Ngabo, à une période d’émancipation. « Je suis gay et, sans être dans le placard, il y avait encore des conditions avec lesquelles je n’étais pas totalement à l’aise, surtout par rapport aux gens que je connais qui vivent en Afrique. Le Quai était un monde où je me sentais complètement accepté, aimé tel que je suis. »

Acceptation, self-love, ouverture, inclusion. C’est dans ces termes que Ngabo décrit l’atmosphère de création de BEC, mais aussi celle de la scène des nouvelles musiques électroniques africaines de Montréal (avec pour porte-étendard le mouvement et label Moonshine, qui vient de lancer la dernière création d’Abakos).

Vers un premier album « franco dansant québéco-congolais »

Plus tôt cette année, Dear Denizen a participé au concours de la relève francophone Les Francouvertes. Ngabo y a dévoilé deux autres chansons écrites pendant la période BEC : Les Méchants, c’est pas nous (« une ode au Quai des brumes ! ») et OK, je t’aime, bye. Très populaires auprès du public et jury du concours musical, ces deux titres exemplifient sa nouvelle trajectoire : « Je veux faire un gros album franco dansant québéco-congolais! La formule sera vraiment afropop, mais influencée par la chanson québécoise puisque c’est aussi mon école. »

Ses deux récents séjours à Goma, sa ville natale, ont aussi beaucoup inspiré son processus créatif. Il y a entamé des collaborations fertiles « avec des DJs locaux qui créent des trucs vraiment hallucinants ! ». Peu après, Ngabo a apporté son studio portatif pour quelques mois à Los Angeles, où résident quatre de ses sœurs. « Comme j’ai quitté le Congo très jeune, je n’ai pas eu l’occasion de passer beaucoup de temps avec elles. C’est super de se voir, et ensemble, on écoute énormément de musique africaine ! Ça m’a fait recommencer à écrire en swahili, en kinyarwanda… », révèle-t-il.

Du nouveau en concert

C’est en formule trio que Ngabo a foulé les planches de la scène extérieure Sirius, vêtu d’une longue tunique bleue ornée de papillons multicolores étincelants. Le chanteur était très bien entouré : d’abord, par le batteur de renom Alain Berger (Youssou N’DourJean Leloup), puis par Louis-Philippe Gingras, excellent guitariste qui est également un auteur-compositeur-interprète très apprécié sur la scène québécoise.

Pendant un peu moins d’une heure, devant une foule de plus en plus dense, Dear Denizen a livré majoritairement des morceaux inédits. Outre deux chansons pop énergiques du EP BEC (Allez Hop ! et BEC, retouchées pour la scène), les spectateurs ont pu découvrir pleinement cette direction récente entreprise par l’artiste : plus dansante, chaleureuse, décomplexée et laissant une belle place aux nouveaux musiciens.

Ngabo a chanté ses deux nouveautés rodées aux Francouvertes, mais aussi Je rentre à la maison (une chanson sur le suicide d’un ami « trop fragile pour cette terre ») et Haraka Haraka (sa première prestation en swahili). Il a parcouru la scène en dansant, interpellant son public avec beaucoup d’humour, d’aisance et de générosité et… en enfilant momentanément un énigmatique masque blanc serti de bijoux.

En pleine forme, le chanteur était manifestement heureux d’enfin montrer ce qu’il mijote depuis des mois, et quasiment plus assuré lorsqu’il interprétait ses chansons inédites que ses titres déjà parus. Une performance ensoleillée et de bon augure pour l’album à venir, avec pour douce finale une reprise de Salut les amoureux de Joe Dassin.


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