Many of you know Cyril Kamar as K.Maro, Montreal hip hop/popstar who has had numerous hit songs such as Let’s Go, Crazy and Femme Like You. I had the opportunity to sit down with one of our city’s brightest talents for an exclusive interview and chat about his music, work ethic, how important the arts are for youngsters and about his new art gallery in Montreal that he opened recently with his family.  

Q: Tell us about your music background, how you discovered arts and what pulled you into music.

A: That goes back more than 20 years ago. I started freestyling with my hip hop friends. It was just for fun at the beginning and we did a freestyle contest and won a few when we were young. It was in French at that time.That was my first real contact with the music. Then I decided to move from freestyling to creating songs and experimenting. At that time, I felt like hip hop was a bit too landlocked. We had a lot of rules that you couldn’t sing about everything. We had to have samples of sixties and fifties music. I wanted to try to experiment like mixing blues influence and jazz and pop, even some dance music elements into my into my music. That’s what brought us a few years later to have big success in Europe. Then everything changed and it became more like a business. And although it has always been a business, we always had our own label, we were our own publisher manager, we were always independent. I was inspired by the Black Eyed Peas, Andre 3000 and all these artists, Outkast. That song “Femme Like You” was a mix between pop and rap and soul music chords. It ended up having a huge success, selling like 5 million records around the world. It allowed me to go travel on all continents and meet very different people. Artists also make money so I could reinvest in discovering new artists and become also an executive in the music. So with all this celebrity thing going on around me, I just felt like it was time for me to kind of just go back into shadow and help other artists.  

Q: What do you think makes Montreal very special for artists?

A: I think we have that reputation in Canada and even across North America as being one of the really creative cities. Being that open minded through the generations, I think that kind of helped Montreal always be because it was the case like before in the sixties and the seventies. Montreal had already a reputation then. It kept on going in the eighties and in the nineties. There’s something about Montreal where I guess people are more into creating than what they look at when they create. Because there’s a lot of big cities where what you look at creating or what you create becomes more important that really what you stand for while you create. Montreal has that that like hipster and very independent vibe, cool minded.I guess it really brings something really favorable for creation. Whether it’s in the video games, movies, music or art. And also I think we shouldn’t forget the quality of life that we have here that has nothing to do with creativity, but that puts you in a kind of peace of mind that you don’t necessarily find in New York. You don’t find in Paris or in Milan, where the pressure of the city and everybody gets along in Montreal. Immigration is very well integrated. So right away there, it takes off a lot of pressure points that you can find in other cities that you don’t have in Montreal. It leaves you that kind of coolness to just have good ideas.

Q: Tell us about your new art gallery and what’s your mandate with it? What would you like to accomplish?

A: Honestly, I’ve been in the art scene background for more than a decade now, as a collector, as a helper for a lot of artists, sometimes as a translator for some of the galleries that were not getting the right codes or the right language with their artist. My job was to try to figure out, coming from both ends of the business, the creative part and the business part. Sometimes I used to just be a mediator between artists and some galleries, but always like as an independent free element that was going around the art scene. At one point getting older, I thought maybe I should try to get closer to my artist and have have that role that I always refused to have. Maybe because I’ve seen some stuff in the galleries that I didn’t like and I’ve seen some relationships between artists in galleries that I was like, Wait a minute, there’s something wrong with that, just like I’ve seen in the music so much. But at the end of the day, artists have the same problems, same worries, and they tend to go and find the same kind of reassuring people they want to work with. How come I’ve been involved in art for 10 to 15 years now and I’m not doing the same thing in art? Some artists started asking me like, Why don’t you just open a gallery? We would like to work with you. We share the same background. An artist opening an art gallery makes more sense than anything else. So it kind of marinate in my head for a minute, and I was not ready. I was scared that if I made that jump, I would not like what I’m doing. Then my wife jumped on board also because it was a family thing. That’s what we called it..Keia Kai because we are a gallery at the end of the day, but we’re so much more than a gallery I feel, without no pretension. I would say the mandate would be for us to be like, we’ve been in the music business.. independent, free to move how we feel and move and not necessarily listening to the rules or whatever. Whoever said that it should work like that, We don’t we don’t forget ever that this is our play field and we want to keep it to ourselves.

Q: How did you come up with the name of the gallery? What does it mean?

A: It’s just a manga that we imagined with a few of our creative entourage. His role is to defend creatives and creativity and just make sure that if there are unwelcome people that decide because they’re rich or powerful or because they know a lot of people that they decide to come totally from outside with no credibility at all, He can do them harm, you know. He’s a kind of fighter for freedom and and very artist and creative oriented. It’s just an inspiration for me, for our team, for our artists.

Q: What has been the reaction from the public that has come to visit your gallery and what has been the reaction of the artists to see their work displayed in your gallery?

A: That’s probably the most fantastic thing, is that when you when you really have a purpose and behind your mind when you do something, you’re always looking for a purpose. It’s not just to say, okay, I’m going to open a gallery and make money, or I’m going to open a gallery and look cool. That’s the most fantastic thing that happens is as if people walk in and they feel that, you know what I mean?

They feel that there was a purpose behind it. The DNA, our family, the way we’re tight together. First of all, the artist feels good. We try to have a very narrowed curation and very specific, and we’re very picky with ourselves. Same thing for the artists. So they feel like they’re really in their home, in their house. They’re part of that collective. I was speaking about that relation that we have, the very specific relation that we have with our creatives being creatives ourselves. I guess when the public walk in the gallery, they feel that and that’s what they’ve been telling us since we’re open is that there’s a kind of special vibration in here. We feel those ties you have among each other, we feel we kind of everyone imagine that manga persona and they’re like, okay, I totally understand what you guys stand for. After five or ten minutes in the gallery, they feel like part of that movement and part of that family. We tend to bring this further from a white cube, a gallery with art. It’s all about the artist, what we stand for, what we’re fighting for. And I guess that’s what people have been telling us when they walk in the gallery is that they feel that it’s a special spot and there’s a special vibration. For us, that’s the best thing you could tell us.

Q:How important do you think art is for young people to embrace and how it can enhance their lives?

A: I think it’s not important. I think it’s essential. That’s why one of the mandate of the gallery is also to be able to cater to a younger audience. It’s very important for us for everyone to feel comfortable walking in the gallery. I mean, this is not a luxury store. This is not Louboutin or Louis Vuitton or whatever. We always try to have a lot of gatherings in here because we want the young people to be part of our family, too, and come in and not some of the people cannot afford some of the art. We always tend to have pieces for everyone.Everyone could look at a art piece and have a different explanation, inspiration. I think it’s totally important that from time to time you get off those screens, phones, Netflix and all of that and and find yourself alone in front of an art piece to try to see what it brings to you. It makes the young people especially question things more…questions about everything, you know what I mean? So they become more intrigued and they become more interested in details. They want to know more from the story of the art, the art history, all the way to more abstract. The cool thing about art is that there’s no explanation you have to find it for yourself and what it means to you.

We could tell you what was the inspiration the artist had when he did the piece, but then the whole thing is how are you going to interpret it and how what kind of story you’re going to make for yourself. So the imagination that it puts in your head and that purpose of loving art and getting to know more about it, when you start having this at a young age anyway… my daughter is two years and a half and I bring her to museums with me and galleries all the time. I can see that she’s looking at the colors. So there’s no age to start. But the younger you can start the better it is for your creativity and imagination.

Rapid fire questions.

Q: What is your favorite thing about Montréal?

A: I would say the coolness of people and the creativity. You’re not stressed and everybody’s cool. Then you became you become creative and then you have ideas and you try to go to the fullest of your ideas and that’s super cool.

Q: What’s your favorite Montreal restaurant?

A: Wow, There’s so many. Honestly, we are really lucky to have all those because sometimes it’s not like a big institutional restaurant. Sometimes it’s small little spots, maybe fits like 30 people max and you get in there and everyone’s so cool and it’s good food and, you know, good vibe. There’s a Lebanese restaurant for which you have a specific like love forever. It’s called La Sirene. It’s probably my favorite restaurant. But because I go there with my family and my close friends and I eat the food from my country,it reminds me of all those good time when I was a kid. But honestly, there’s so many good restaurants and we’re very fortunate.

Q: What’s your favorite vacation spot when you are out of your work zone and just want to chill with the family?

A: Honestly, I love going on vacation from time to time, but I would say that my favorite spot when I need to retire with my family..I would say is countryside. I don’t need to go to the beach. Like everyone, I love to get a little bit of sun. But having that the quietness of the, you know, the countryside around the lake, the sailing is probably my favorite spot to retire and get my ideas together. It sounds old but this is where I get the most quality time with my family.

Q: What’s a great book that you’ve read recently that you would like to recommend to people?

A: I kind of I read it many times, but just got back to it. The Prophet from Kahlil Gibran. It’s something that I don’t know. It’s because of everything that’s happening right now in the Middle East that is putting me into so much questions and so much pain and strain. It’s saddening to see what’s going on. And I’m trying to find out. I’m trying to find answers. And like everybody, I mean, I’m too stupid to be able to have a clear vision of what’s going on. It seems so complicated that I felt the need of going back to that book. I really recommend to anyone that is trying to have a quest of spiritual answers like I am because it’s fantastic. It’s poetry, but poetry about our everyday values of life. I recommend it.

Q: Name two artists on your playlist right now.

A: I’m listening to the new P. Diddy album. I’m not saying that he is a fantastic entertainer, but I was not so much into his albums. I was not going to say, okay, he released an album, I need to go listen to that. But his last album, I feel that it’s so soulful and there’s this… I’m just feeling that to 90’s…2000 vibes in there. It’s actually pretty good. I like it. And what’s the second one? It’s not an album, actually. It’s a jazz compilation that is out on Spotify. I’ve forgotten the name, but you can find it. It’s a blue cover and it’s kind of revisiting the big jazz classics, but only with acoustic instruments. It’s pretty fantastic. I would say those are the two I’m on right now probably is going to switch next week, but very cool.

Q: What advice to youngsters today?

A: Well, first things first is… remember back in the days we used to consider that being educated was kind of geeky or you’re not cool when you’re too educated. That’s over. You know, like the first advice is read books, get educated, but not just like don’t stock knowledge that you get. Try to be interested in a lot of things and read those books and try to get that education that matters. So that’s the first thing because it opens a lot of doors. The second thing is just believe in what you do. And don’t ever forget that what you do is your playground. It doesn’t mean that if someone comes and puts the money on what you do, it means that he knows and he controls the rules of what you do. What you do has its own rules and own freedom, and you have to protect that too. At all costs. You have to make sure that your playground remains your playground. And that’s why I’m talking about independence and freedom at the time where you cannot express what you wanted freely because you had to modify it in a way or you wanted to please this person or that person, or because of this or that, the freedom of what you’re expressing as your creative journey has to remain at all time. And then if you’re true to that and you believe in yourself, at one point is going to bring you somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, but it’s going to land somewhere and people are going to like it. And that’s the the debut of an exchange process around your ideas. But keep it like free all the time.