'We're not far from the animal we are' 

Montreal Afrobeat collective Papagroove marks new era with third album, The Hunt

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - new era Montreal collective Papagroove moved away from its Afrobeat origins for a more electic sound on its latest album, The Hunt.
  • photo submitted
  • new era Montreal collective Papagroove moved away from its Afrobeat origins for a more electic sound on its latest album, The Hunt.

Scores of writers and pundits have warned of the alienating effects of the digital technologies that have become enmeshed in nearly every aspect of our lives. Our instincts have been dulled under the weight of convenience, modern luxuries that have disconnected us from an elemental part of ourselves we once took for granted.

But, according to Sébastien Francisque, lead vocalist for Montreal Afrobeat collective Papagroove, these "modern activities" are only an extension of our baser, animalistic instincts, something the band sought to capture in its latest album, The Hunt.

"How we live our everyday lives is an extension of that feeling of hunting," says Francisque in his thick Quebecois accent. "Even though we think [through a lens of] modernity, we are far from it. Everyday life goes back to it, our behaviours, our actions are very near to those basic needs. The album is an integration of that. The modernity is there, but we're human and I think we're not far from the animal we are."

Papagroove was originally formed in 2006 as a purely instrumental jam band, drawing on influences from Afrobeat, funk and jazz. The collective gained a voice shortly thereafter when Francisque joined as lead vocalist and lyricist.

Building on the politically charged protest songs of Afrobeat's pioneers, Francisque doesn't shy away from social messaging in his songs.

"Having fun with the music, having a good time, but having something more profound behind it, I think it's in my nature," says Francisque. "With the kind of music we're doing, it just comes naturally. It comes from the integration of Afrobeat, but we don't have the same reality (as a place) like Nigeria, but this music influences us and we're very conscious of our environment here, so we try to write about that reality."

The band sought to expand on its Afrobeat horizons on the latest record to incorporate a wider range of styles. Like the song "Walls," the album's closing track, which guitarist and Juno-nominated producer Guy Kaye describes as a more "minimalistic, spacey type song" than the group's usual output.

"We have a few songs that are a little more towards the mainstream, and then other stuff is more in the Afrobeat vibe," he says. "It was an interesting exploration to see how we could expand the soundscape of the band."

Francisque says Papagroove's sonic evolution has progressed naturally, incorporating different elements from its diverse roster that reflects the cosmopolitan makeup of the band's home base of Montreal.

"We're not trying to make very traditional Afrobeat music, because I think that would be copying or not very authentic," he says. "We try to keep it with what we're surrounded by: the musicians we are and the people we play with. We all try to combine it naturally when we're playing together and not forcing it. That's kind of been our approach the last year."

Known for their dynamic, get-out-your-seat live show, Papagroove makes a point of giving each of its members—11 in all, including a brass and rhythm section, although only eight are on the current tour—a chance to shine onstage.

"Seb, who is a modest guy, he really gets people going quickly," says Kaye. "It's a very energetic show and we drop things down for soloists. Things get almost rock-sounding at times. Maybe not aggressive, but it can really take off and then come back down. It's a real experience to see and to live."

Papagroove plays a free show at Olympic Plaza on Thursday, Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Wanderlust Festival Whistler (non-festival attendees are permitted). Then, on Aug. 2, Canadian all-star collective Broken Social Scene hits the Olympic Plaza stage at 7 p.m., followed by Nahko and Medicine for the People on Aug. 3, also at 7 p.m. For the full Wanderlust schedule, visit wanderlust.com/festivals/whistler.

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