Black in Quebec City: Webster is Writing His Story
The first record of a black man in Québec City was Mathieu Da Costa who traveled with the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain as early as 1604 or 1607.
For a city that sometimes seems to be all about history, Québec City sometimes has a short memory. Just ask Aly N’Diaye a.k.a. Webster, who 400 years after Da Costa often feels like a stranger at home just because he’s black.
“This is where I’m from. My world is here. All the sons of immigrants are gone, to Montreal, Toronto or the States. We are first generation to say: fuck that! You’re not chasing us out! If we go it’s always the same pattern starting all over again.”
Webster is the son of a white mother and an Senegalese father. He studied History at Québec’s Laval university and with his cool lazy flow he is now passing down his knowledge to the kids of Québec City’s surprisingly vibrant hip hop scene. Everything in Québec City, it seems, is about History.
In his song Québec History X from his first solo album Sagesse Immobile (Still Wisdom) Webster raps about Da Costa, who spoke a variety of European and native languages and was employed as Champlain’s interpreter, and other forgotten blacks from Québec’s past, like the 10 000 slaves of New France. “There were blacks in New France. Slaves, but also free men. If that history was better known blacks in Québec would feel a whole lot more integrated.”.
The truth is Québec City has had many different faces over the years, from an Iroquoian village called Stadacona, the capital of New-France, an often very English city after the British conquest of 1763, a diverse and bustling port town and, after business and ship traffic moved upstream to Montreal, the sleepy and homogeneous French-speaking provincial capital of today.
Or should we say yesterday… Once again the city is being transformed by the arrival of new immigrants from Haïti, the Middle East and Africa.
Webster’s native Limoilou district is where Jacques Cartier spent the winter in 1535-36 and his day job is at the Parc National Cartier-Brébeuf commemorating the explorer’s encounter with local native populations. Today it’s a diverse neighborhood that he and his friends call L.Land. “In a bigger City like Montreal people tend to regroup culturally. In Québec City there it’s more mixed. In Limoilou, people of all races live together.”
Unlike in Montreal, language is actually not much of an issue in La Capitale Nationale. “When you arrive somewhere, you have to learn the language. In Québec City, to function, you need to learn French. That’s it.” Webster himself used to rap in English – his name comes from the English dictionary he used to carry around – but he switched to French in 1995. “The identity of Québec Hip Hop was starting to take shape at that time and I wanted to be part of it.”
In 2008 Québec City is celebrating the 400th anniversary of it’s foundation by Champlain. The event commemorates, depending on who you ask, the birth of Canada as a country, or Québec as a nation.
A true historian, Webster doesn’t want to take sides, on that issue or the eternal debate on Québec’s independence from Canada.
“I think the issue of independence is becoming obsolete. If it had to be done, it should’ve been done in the 1980’s. A country that wants it’s independence gets up and takes it. That’s all. If it happens, though, I will be happy from the historical point-of-vue. To see that live, from the inside. To live history. I’d love to see that.”