An emblematic figure of the Francophone music scene, Yao, whose full name is Yaovi Hoyi (BSocSc ’09 and ’15), invites his listeners into a musical universe alive with poetry.
As a singer-songwriter and public speaker who loves slam, poetry, music, and entrepreneurship, Yao has performed on stages all around the world. He is a proud champion for Francophonie culture and for promoting the French language among young people.
To launch the Mois de la Francophonie, we talked to this proud Franco-Ontarian who is also a University of Ottawa alumnus. Read on to learn more about this talented artist – whose passion for his mother tongue is contagious.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I was always interested in the arts and I started making music at a young age, but it took me seven years to realize that I could turn my passion into a career. In high school, my friend LeFloFranco and I formed a group called RenEssence and in 2006 we recorded our first rap album. We put on many performances at the University of Ottawa while I was a student. The old alumni auditorium was like a second home!
After university, I started working in finance. When I was younger, I used to always say that I wanted to work in the business side of showbusiness, which is what ended up happening when I founded my record label, Intello-Productions Inc.
I got involved with music again and launched my first solo album in 2011 under my own record label. Then I decided to keep putting all my energy into music.
How would you finish the following sentence: Artistic creation in French is ...
I would say that “Artistic creation in French comes naturally.” I get asked sometimes why I sing in French, but in fact, French language is part of my heritage and it is this heritage that allows me to share my emotions and my vision of life with people.
I am a Francophone, so it’s natural for me to create and sing in French.
What’s funny is that Francophone music is always characterized as a genre, and yet it isn’t a musical style; it’s a language. Francophone music isn’t just for Francophones; it’s music in French for everyone, regardless of their language.
What does the Mois de la Francophonie mean to you?
It’s a celebration, an opportunity to promote the Francophonie and to invite others to discover the culture and language. I see it somewhat like Black History Month; it’s an opportunity to focus on the topic, but it still takes place all year long!
In fact, I’m proud to be a spokesperson for the Rendez-vous de la francophonie this year. Not only as a Franco-Ontarian performer, but also as a performer representing diversity. It allows me to show a different side of the Francophonie, one we tend to forget. It’s important to understand that the Francophonie is diverse. For instance, in Ontario, many Francophones hail from ethnic minority communities. As the slogan for the Rendez-vous de la francophonie reminds us, French is a language for a million stories.
We often talk about Francophone identity, and even more so in a minority context, but what does the Francophone identity, and being Franco-Ontarian, mean to you?
We define and confirm our identities in relation to others. Today, many young people identify as Francophones, but also as bilingual, and I find that’s great. Our identities are multifaceted and we should be proud of them. I am not a purist when it comes to the French language and I believe that all the influences that shape it do, in fact, enrich it.
There is also the cultural aspect, which we sometimes forget but which plays an important role in maintaining the language and in building an identity.
You have performed across Canada and also in the US and around the world. In your opinion, how is the Francophonie doing?
The French language is evolving and growing, and from a certain perspective, it is doing well. Some surveys say that it is the third-most spoken language in the world, others rank it as the fifth-most spoken. I often say that wherever you go in the world, you can find someone who speaks French.
But the French language is also facing challenges.
It’s true that the Francophonie in Canada is in decline and that we are facing real linguistic insecurity. I’ve conducted several workshops in schools and unfortunately, you can see that young people are having trouble with French. I think that we need to rethink our approach so that we continue to encourage them.
That’s why I’m so involved with youth. I had the pleasure of attending the Jeux de la francophonie canadiennein Dieppe, New Brunswick, a few years back and of seeing thousands of young Francophones from across the country. Despite accents and expressions that varied from region to region, we understood each other and saw ourselves in each other.
What inspires you the most during your creative process?
I am very introspective when it comes to my music and my writing, and I am inspired by human relationships. Those who listen to my music get to know me. I like to work with emotional topics. As a performer, you always want to speak to the audience’s collective energy, but you need to keep in mind that its individual personalities that make up that collective energy.
Obviously, there is also the beauty, richness, and versatility of the French language. It’s a complex language, which is what makes it so interesting. I enjoy playing with words and I love searching for the perfect word, or combination of words, to express a specific idea or feeling. The vocabulary is so vast; there are always new words to discover.