Montreal dance party Qualité de Luxe brings this multicultural nation together under a groove
The first Toronto stop will unite fans of everything from Afropop to zouk
On Saturday, the popular dance party Qualité de Luxe is traveling outside of Montreal for the first time and heading to Toronto. Touted as Montreal's biggest Afropop, soca and dancehall party, its playlists include everything from kompa and zouk to coupé decalé. People and cultures mixing freely together in peace and harmony… it sounds like an ad for Tourism Canada, but the cynicism is challenged when you see multiculturalism in action — and on the dance floor.
"The party by itself is kind of like a statement." - Poirier, DJ and producer, speaking about Qualité de Luxe
I remember my Grade 10 History teacher Mr. Speed telling our class about the historic moment on Oct. 8, 1971, when Canada became the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. His face beaming with pride, he described a cultural mosaic of equality and inclusivity right before he popped in a DVD so we could see the pivotal announcement.
I've since realized that the dream of equality is complicated by a society like ours, which is rooted in historically entrenched inequities. That reality is part of what fueled the two-week long Black Lives Matter Tent City protest/camp-out in front of Toronto Police headquarters.
And yet, there are still moments where I witness the connection, exchange, synergy and learning that I think this national policy was hoping to realize. Seeing restaurants that fuse Filipino and Caribbean cuisine, fashion lines that merge Indian textile design with North American hip-hop culture or just Latino pre-teens yelling "Say wallahi!" to their Somali homies on the 35 Jane bus. Even at the tent city that was temporarily erected by Black Lives Matter Toronto, I was deeply moved to see First Nations allies perform smudging ceremonies each evening to cleanse the space and provide moments for meditation and healing.
Qualité de Luxe's Toronto debut promises to be another moment of synergy and connection.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Qualité de Luxe resident DJ and internationally acclaimed producer Poirier. For over 15 years he's been throwing parties in Montreal that frequently connect and cross genres. His club night Bounce Le Gros, now defunct, blended grime, crunk, hip-hop, ragga, reggae, booty house and Baltimore breaks. Parties like BLG and Qualité de Luxe, the latter of which began two years ago and features two other resident DJs, Kyou and Mr. Touré, mix diverse realms of music — and people.
"The party by itself is kind of like a statement," he says, describing the current series "We're not pushing that statement in the promotion, but when you come to the party, you're just, like, 'wow.' There's something happening here. And the goal of the party is to really bridge, to unite people from different cultures."
Qualité de Luxe is housed in a large industrial space rather than a club. By hosting the party in a stripped down venue, the resident DJs hope to eliminate some of the posing and posturing that happens in traditional club nights and facilitate a point of connection for a crowd that often arrives from disparate cultural backgrounds. Poirier says, "It's a mixed crowd, but it's a doubly-mixed crowd. In Montreal, to have a mixed crowd, that means Francophone and Anglophone together. And then you have people from the Caribbean, African people and lots of Quebecois, Montreal people."
Poirier's love for diverse global sounds was ignited through community radio and at the start of his career he worked at CISM-FM (Université de Montréal). He describes the impact of campus radio on his youth:
"When I heard college radio as a teenager, suddenly a whole world opened to me. When I was a teenager, there was no internet. College radio and specialized magazines were basically the only door. In Montreal it's quite particular because there's no urban commercial radio. So if you want to listen to reggae or hip-hop, it will definitely be on college radio or community radio."
Poirier's tastes reflect Canada's rapidly changing demographics. According to Statistics Canada, about a third of Canada's population will be a visible minority by 2031, the country's foreign-born population is expected to rise 28 per cent and people of European descent will become the minority in Toronto and Vancouver. The effects of this steady increase in diversity can be heard in the playlists of DJs across Toronto. From the legendary monthly Shuffle parties that ran for 10 years and remixed hip-hop, trap, R&B, reggae and dance music, to the wildly popular GUMBO parties that connect Afrobeats, soca, dancehall, samba, baile funk, Afro house and R&B, more and more promoters are realizing the successful formula of sampling and remixing global sounds.
Poirier has been reveling in this playground for some time. His recently released album is aptly titled Migration and is a sonic global journey that features acts as diverse as Red Fox, Machinedrum, Face-T, MC Zulu, Fwonte, Dubmatix and Riddim Wise.
The album's title was partially inspired by recent stories of the immigration crisis in Europe: "While I was making the album, I saw the news. I was looking also at all the collaboration on the album and I felt a link. Most of the time, people are moving for a reason, really serious reasons. They want to escape either war or a very repressive government, or they are just trying to extract themselves from not a good situation where either education is not good or security is not good and they're always seeking something better. And I think it's a very courageous thing when you decide to change locations, to change country. So I don't mean [to say] that the whole album was about that, but I saw a connection."
As a Canadian DJ, Poirier is cognizant of the tentative balance between inspiration and cultural appropriation, but he identifies his role as one of a connector.
"I'm very conscious about the issues but it's always a question of being well-informed about what you're doing and where you're coming from.
"I think it's not necessarily about cultural appropriation but more about sharing and knowing the people that are around us. Not knowing our neighbours or the people in the city always brings distortion. But when you know the people and the culture, you're more aware about how you can navigate with that and have fun about the difference. The difference not being an obstacle but something that is an added value. Once you know the people, there's less prejudice about them."
When I asked Poirier what folks in Toronto should expect at Qualité de Luxe this Saturday, he said simply, "They should expect to dance. The requirement is a smile and good shoes.
"Seriously, when you play soca music, if you don't smile, I don't know what's happening."
Qualité de Luxe, featuring resident DJs Poirier, Kyou and Mr. Touré and DJs Nino Brown (Yes Yes Y'all) and DJ Ontario Bananas (Dos Mundos). Sat., Apr 8. Geary Lane, 360 Geary Av., Toronto. 10pm. $10.