Saturday 3 February 2024

Montreal-based Waahli wows his audience with a fusion of hip-hop and reggae

by Olivia Barrett, Editorial Associate

As hues of the red, blue and purple lights illuminated the stage in the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage, the room buzzed with excitement awaiting Waahli, a Montreal-based artist.

The renowned entertainer treated the full house at Fourth Stage to a variety of his singles as well as songs from his EP, Saponification, which was released in December 2023. Being of Haitian descent, Waahli’s music infuses elements of Haitian funk with hip-hop and reggae to create his unique sound. Additionally, Waahli uses a mix of singing, vocalizing, rapping and spoken-word to best tell his wide range of stories.

Waahli furthers his unique sound by alternating between French, English and Haitian Creole in many of his songs. While the audience may not have understood every word in every song, elements like the drums, bass and electric guitar kept all eyes on the stage.

Before performing any songs from Saponification, Waahli took a moment to explain its name to help the crowd understand its significance. He said “saponification” is the process of soapmaking, relating it back to his single Soap Box featuring fellow Montreal-based artist, Clerel.

The soap box is an important symbol to Waahli as it pays homage to stepping onto a platform to address a public space. Stepping onto the soap box tells people to listen and gives the person a chance to make their statement. Waahli’s song does just that as he positions himself as a soap box storyteller.

With each song, Waahli’s strong vocals captivated the audience as he told an array of stories related to the theme of going outside of your comfort zone, which he said was the message of his EP. Similar to his introduction for Saponification, Waahli continued to spend a few moments explaining the significance of his songs before beginning a new one. From following your intuition to the desire to see someone again, each of Waahli’s songs reignited the crowd’s excitement.

Throughout the performance, applause erupted in the packed room after each song. The liveliness of many of his songs, like Diaspo en diapo, had the countless members of the audience dancing both in their seats and on their feet throughout the performance.

Waahli moved seamlessly between his upbeat songs to slower ones, like Awake, and never missed a chance to encourage clapping or singing from the crowd. His encouragement of audience participation supplemented the performance as it ensured the electric feeling in the room never faded.

As the sweet sounds of Saponification echoed through the mellow atmosphere of Fourth Stage all night, Waahli received a standing ovation after having the crowd on their feet, moving along to the Haitian funk-inspired sounds of Vle Ale.