Quebec musician Karim Ouellet, Juno award winner, dies at 37

Quebec City musician Karim Ouellet, a Juno award winner and Félix award nominee who broke through with his heartfelt 2012 hit song L’Amour, was found dead Monday in Quebec City. He was 37.

Ouellet, best known for his 2012 song L'Amour, found dead Monday in Quebec City

Karim Ouellet celebrates his Juno Award for Francophone Album of the year for his breakout second album Fox, during the Juno Gala in Winnipeg in 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Quebec City musician Karim Ouellet, a Juno award winner and Félix award nominee who broke through with his heartfelt 2012 hit song L'Amour, was found dead Monday at a music studio in Quebec City. He was 37.

Sources told Radio-Canada that Ouellet's body was discovered Monday night at L'Unisson studio in Quebec City's Saint-Roch neighbourhood. Quebec City police have ruled out foul play, and the coroner will investigate to determine the cause of death.

Ouellet's sister, fellow Quebec singer-songwriter Sarahmée wrote in a Facebook post that the family would "continue to celebrate his life, his talent and his legacy" and asked for privacy while the family grieves.

"Thank you for this outpouring of love for Karim, to those who were touched by his words and his melodies," she wrote.

Born in Dakar, Senegal, Ouellet was adopted at the age of three months by Quebec parents who were diplomats and grew up moving back and forth between Quebec City and France, Rwanda, Tunisia and Senegal, before returning to Quebec to study in his teens. 

WATCH | Philippe Fehmiu on the power of Ouellet's music: 

A 'sensitive' and 'agile' musician, dead at 37

1 year ago
Duration 2:00
Philippe Fehmiu shares his thoughts and insight on the incredible music and legacy of the late Karim Ouellet.

Ouellet first became known in 2007 as part of the Movèzerbe hip-hop collective and collaborated with artists such as CEA, Webster & Limoilou Starz.

Ouellet's second album, Fox, launched him to new heights, selling more than 33,000 copies and earning him five nominations at Quebec's ADISQ awards in 2013 and the 2014 Juno for Francophone album of the year.

He was also named best new artist by Radio-Canada in 2013 and the single L'Amour earned him the Prix Félix-Leclerc, presented by the Francos de Montréal music festival, which supports young up-and-coming francophone artists.

Ouellet had recently celebrated his 37th birthday and was working on his fourth album before his death, according to his profile on Spotify. 

ICI Musique host Philippe Fehmiu first met Ouellet through the Quebec City music scene, but the two grew to become friends. 

Fehmiu said Ouellet spoke recently of health problems and talked about taking some distance from the music industry.

"The last time we talked, he needed some time for himself," he said. "He needed some time just to have a different pace from the last decade. He needed to be stronger to make sure he was able to survive in that business." 

'A lot of spirit'

Though Ouellet later became known as a pop artist, Quebec City artist Webster told Radio-Canada's Tout un Matin that Ouellet was "born of the hip hop community in Quebec."

He said Ouellet  had "a musical approach to hip hop" and would be remembered for his originality, his creativity and his lyrical sensibility. 

"For me, Karim Ouellet was a genius in his approach to music," said Webster. "He was someone who really opened up a musical universe."

The two artists collaborated on Webster's song Quebec History X and became close friends.

"Our birthdays were close together, so we often celebrated together," he said. "Every time we saw each other we laughed a lot."

"He was someone with a lot of spirit," he said.

Upbeat music, melancholic lyrics

Fehmiu said Ouellet, who served as a spokesperson for Black History Month in 2018, was a voice for the African diaspora in Quebec.

He said the young artist was able to draw inspiration from soul and hip hop, while finding a sound that was his own. 

"He had this huge talent for melody — that song that you would hear only once and remember for the rest of your life," said Fehmiu.

With songs like L'Amour and 2016's Karim et le Loup, Ouellet is known for his style of upbeat music with more introspective or melancholic lyrics. 

"I don't want it to be all that sad," Ouellet told CBC Radio's All in a Weekend in 2016. "When I listen to music, I like deep lyrics and sometimes really sad music, but when the music is happier, I like the result."

Ouellet said he drew inspiration from artists like Belgian singer-songwriter and musician, Stromae, whom Ouellet toured with in Europe and North America.

"When you listen to Stromae … it's a beat, but when you read the text, no music, like a poem, it's sad and you don't want to smile," he said. "But with the disco beat you want to move and smile, even though it's sad."

From Senegal to France to Tunisia and back-and-forth to Quebec in between,singer-songwriter Karim Ouellet developed a pretty open mind when it comes to music. After the success of FOX, we speak about his new album TRENTE and sounds from reggae to disco.

Political figures paid tribute to Ouellet and expressed their condolences to his family. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that Ouellet was "creative, avant-gardist and infinitely talented," while Quebec Premier François Legault called Ouellet "a young artist who brought a new style to Quebec music."

Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she was "shocked" at Ouellet's passing and quoted lyrics from L'Amour

"May these words continue to resonate in our hearts," Anglade wrote, in a tweet.

Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand tweeted that Ouellet's gentle nature and his lyrics "would live on in the music landscape of Quebecers forever." 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here

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  • A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the group Movèzerbe.
    Jan 18, 2022 5:18 PM ET


Ainslie MacLellan is a journalist at CBC Montreal. Follow her on Twitter: @CBCAinslie.

With files from Lauren McCallum, Radio-Canada, CBC's All in a Weekend


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