Kandy Guira at Nuits d’Afrique: Using Sign Language and Musical Fusion to Build Bridges Between Cultures

Interview by Zenith Wolfe

Additional Information

The inventor of afro-electropop, Kandy Guira, is on the scene in Montreal for the tail end of Nuits d’Afrique! But it’s by no means her only show in Canada: she’ll be passing through Gatineau, Sherbrooke, and Guelph before heading abroad for shows in Ireland, France, and Mexico. She’s using the tour as an opportunity to showcase her latest album, 2021’s Nagtaba, with which she hopes to break down barriers between cultures and languages, as well as make music accessible to people with hearing issues. 

PAN M 360: Hi Kandy! The tour you’ve been on these last few months, it’s taken you through Germany, Italy, and the U.S., and now it’s taken you to Canada. What’s the tour been like so far?

Kandy Guira: The tour’s going really well! It’s totally magnificent to see completely different crowds in each different country.

PAN M 360: What would you say is special about being able to do a tour across various countries?

Kandy Guira: It lets me meet the public in each country that usually follows me online. On the internet everyone’s there, everyone’s connected, but it’s better and more exciting to meet them in their own countries, to discover these countries, and to see the symbiotic connection. I always look forward to making this connection – it’s a pleasure to meet people who have already listened to our music because it puts a face on my listeners and gives me energy. 

My music and tours are also the mediums through which I can transmit my messages across language barriers. That’s why it’s special to me: it lets the public feel like they’re heard, and it helps me break down language and colour barriers. 

PAN M 360: Why’s it important for you to break down colour barriers?

Kandy Guira: We’re in such a divided world, and for me, the future is found in unity. That union, that’s what my album Nagtaba is about: it’s only together that we’ll create a magnificent and harmonious world. We build up barriers, create in- and out-groups, and say there’s no unity. That’s not true for me because there’s a vibe that’s unique for everyone, but we all exist, laugh, and cry in the same way. We have to deconstruct those barriers and see each other as we are.

PAN M 360: The music on your album, Nagtaba, how would you say it works towards breaking barriers like that?

Kandy Guira: Each song on the album talks about a specific problem and provides a possible solution. I sing in the language of Mooré, which is everywhere, even in sign language – I translate my songs into sign language to make them accessible to everyone because I have a brother who’s deaf. He doesn’t understand what I say, so what I do in my projects is I try to have a sign language singer at all my shows. 

I do all this to break down the language barriers, and if someone says, “I don’t understand Mooré, I don’t understand French,” I don’t think that’s a real problem because I’m listened to in the United States and China. If it’s possible for my music to enter those countries, that means it’s possible to come together.

PAN M 360: Could you tell me about the kinds of things that inspired Nagtaba? Was there any inspiration from your cultural heritage?

Kandy Guira: I’m Burkinabe (from Burkina Faso) and it’s the root of my inspiration. That is to say, the traditional Burkinabe music inspires me. I’m from the Mossi side, so on Nagtaba you’ll hear some bendré, a traditional tambourine used while singing for the king when he had to speak to people without anyone else hearing. 

I explored this instrument all while mixing it with my French side – I live in France now and I’ve been inspired by other musical styles I hadn’t known before. I wanted to bring them together for Nagtaba, which means “together,” to bring together the two different countries that served as my inspirations. It creates a bridge between the two countries, effectively.

PAN M 360: Does that make it important for you to play in a place like Montreal where there’s a similar mix between French and English?

Kandy Guira: It’s important for me because it opens the door. That bridge I’m building between Burkina Faso and France, I’m also extending it to other countries like Canada in this instance so Canadians and I can have an access point or each other’s cultures. 

PAN M 360: There’s an exchange there in both directions: you give your music, and they give back the culture. 

Kandy Guira: Exactly! By discovering others you can learn to accept them. The reason we don’t want to build bridges is often because we don’t understand people. If we give ourselves the permission, courage, and the desire to discover others, we’ll see that they’re a lot like us. We won’t be able to say we don’t know them anymore.

PAN M 360: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on now that are furthering those goals of unity?

Kandy Guira: I’m trying to make my music more accessible to people who are hard of hearing. It’s my passion because I want it to be a habit to think of them, not something extraordinary. I want it to be logical and normal that we include them in the general public. That’s why I always translate my works into sign language, and my ongoing project is to bring a sign language singer to all my live shows and tours. I’m also in the middle of learning sign language, but I don’t know it well enough to do it myself.

PAN M 360: Even at Nuits d’Afrique?

Kandy Guira: At Nuits d’Afrique, unfortunately not. I would be happy to have them but they couldn’t provide one. That said, I’m always in contact with friends who are deaf and maybe they’ll propose someone who can attend and take that position.

PAN M 360: Any other causes you address in your music?

Kandy Guira: I talk a lot about education for young girls, women’s rights, and environmental conservation; these are also causes I address in my latest album. The album is full of ideas that will help us unite because that’s what inspires me.

PAN M 360: Thanks so much, Kandy! Hopefully, you can unite the world one crowd at a time.

Kandy Guira will perform during the Festival international Nuits d’Afrique on the Loto-Québec Stage on July 23 at 7 PM. This concert is free. For more info, click here.

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