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HAWA B Is Getting Better All The Time

The Montreal-based musician unravels the complexities of her sound and persona.

by Maggie McPhee

Photo by Alexandre Minus Couture

The last time RANGE saw HAWA B, she was strutting on stage during M For Montreal in a black leotard draped with fine silver chains, whipping her hair around like a yo-yo, and pushing furniture over, all the while hitting notes that sent jaws to the floor at Montreal’s Club Soda. 

When we catch up with her weeks later at Racer Café, in the city’s residential Ahuntsic borough, to chat about her upcoming show at Casa Del Popolo and forthcoming EP, Sadder But Better, we half expect her to enter guns blazing, dressed to the nines, flipping tables, and bringing tears to patrons’ eyes with the vocal runs of an angel. It takes a moment to adjust to the serene, t-shirted vision before us, but as the conversation progresses we learn that our instincts weren’t too far off. 

“I’ve done performances where the organisers weren’t happy because I would go on tables,” HAWA B tells RANGE. The 30-year-old musician speaks with a soft smile and punctuates most sentences with a laugh. She recalls an all-ages, family friendly event at a campground in which she got into trouble. “That makes me mad when that happens. But then I’m happy afterwards,” she says, explaining that audiences always respond well. “It’s fun to see that it gets through to people that would not necessarily go see that kind of show.” 

Just over a decade ago, the singer-songwriter-producer-performer moved to Montreal from the South Shore suburb to study music full time. Her story up until then hit all the classic plot points of a young person obsessed with music. Soul and jazz filled her childhood home. Singing lessons started at age eight. Christmas albums were made. She sang and played piano in a high school rock band called Better Than Heaven (the name is too good not to mention). But despite this lifelong devotion to music, HAWA B didn’t carve out her identity as an artist right away.  

“It took longer to really understand my own sound, because I don’t have many examples of what I do,” she says. “So it took a while before even my musicians got to understand my universe. But now we’re there.”

HAWA B’s universe blends jazz, R&B, soul, and alternative rock. Like contemporary dancers, the six songs from her first EP, Sad in a good way, flick with hi-hats, tip-toe with classical piano, punch with electric guitar, and fall dramatically to the ground with her emotive, elongated vocals. The combination is so unique it verges on multi-media art. “I listen to a lot of Radiohead and a lot of Beyoncé and then a lot of Jazz,” she says. “I don’t fit into normal discussions, either. I’m weird I guess.” She pauses to mull over what she’s just said, then confirms: “Yeah, I’m weird.”

The path to self-discovery involved years of toiling on Ableton until she grasped the software well enough to communicate to her band all the sounds she had only heard in her head up until then. Two summers ago led to a fortuitous encounter with Félix Petit, a multi-instrumentalist and producer who has worked with other Montreal jazz-inspired-indie artists like Les Louanges and Hubert Lenoir. The duo co-produced her two EPs and now perform together, Petit laying it down on the keyboard and saxophone. “He knows how to make you sound better,” says HAWA B. “He brings the best out of people, he listens to your ideas and he just makes them shine without imposing his own sound.”


“Once on stage, I just wanna feel free to do whatever the fuck.”


Next, she shed her instrument. “I used to play live, but I stopped because it would really restrain me in my movements,” she says, explaining that the newfound freedom allowed for much needed catharsis on stage. “I have lots of, I guess not only sadness, but a lot of negative emotions that are built up. And then once on stage, I just wanna feel free to do whatever the fuck.” 

“I don’t like restrictions in terms of social norms and stuff. I’m not good with that and I think most of the time they’re bullshit,” she continues. Through her genre-defying sound and iconoclastic performances, she hopes to inspire others to break the mould. “I want people to feel like they can express themselves in whatever weird way.”

HAWA B performs in Montreal on February 8 at Casa del Popolo as part of Taverne Tour and in Quebec City on February 14 at Les Ateliers du Réacteur