This article was originally published by Zahra Habib for McGill University. Click here to read on McGill’s website.
Lounging in the backyard of his converted duplex after a round of outdoor job hunting, a Styrofoam package of butter chicken in hand, Abdoulaye Mouflet doesn’t seem so different from your typical Montreal student. Yet this 21-year-old Economics and International Development major — a self-taught DJ and producer, and co-founder of a growing art collective called KAJ – is tapping into the local emerging music and entertainment scene while also helping to shape it.
With a goal of turning KAJ into a “Silicon Valley of record labels,” Mouflet has more than a business interest in fostering an artistic community. His father, also an artist and native of Martinique, moved to New York from Senegal in the ‘80s. He didn’t speak English or a hold a degree, but by the time Abdou was born in ‘95, the family owned a dance school and a music studio in Manhattan. There, Mouflet learned how to dance the merengue of his Dominican heritage, and became hooked on Afro-Latino beats. For the Mouflets, exploring different artistic mediums was a family affair.
“I used to make a lot of music when I was a kid. I played African drums, piano, a little bit of guitar. Growing up in a dance school and a music studio, I was always learning from musicians.”
When his parents split up when he was fourteen, however, Mouflet stopped making art, thinking that his future lay in the world of big banks and finance.
“I was working for a bank when I already knew they were evil. It definitely made me feel defeated for the last two years.”
As he tells me about his switch from finance to delivering for Uber Eats, it’s hard to picture the defeated version of this charming, confident man.
“I was never a materialistic guy, but I thought I was. Now, I’ve realized that cash does rule everything around me, but I don’t have to enslave myself to it. There’s so much more to life than just being someone who has a fat paycheck.”
Both his studies and social life at McGill encouraged Mouflet to discover what he wants out of life: the freedom to work for himself, while finding new ways to tap into and challenge his creative potential.
“I don’t know where this is going, but I see myself doing something creative and entrepreneurial. I don’t see myself pursuing economics in grad school, but I do think it was a smart program for me to take,” he says. “It teaches critical thinking, especially for understanding systems, which to me is the key to success: Understanding systems, how they work, and why they’re in place.”
Ending up at McGill was also a blessing, he says, because of the exposure he had to other compelling and intelligent people who helped put him on his path.
“[KAJ] wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t go to McGill. It put me in contact with smart, like-minded people. We support each other. If I went to an American university, or stayed in New York, it wouldn’t have happened.”
When asked to explain what he means by that, Mouflet is frank.
“Institutional racism,” he says. “It definitely exists in Canada too, but I don’t feel like it’s on the same level, because of the huge proportion of the population being immigrants.”
Letting go of the big money mentality was one foot out of a corporate future. Getting back into music however, after a seven-year hiatus and onto a new terrain, was a journey of hard-work and self-discovery.
“There were times where I felt so down, but I would look at myself and say ‘I’m the man. I got this’. You repeat that to yourself so many times that you become it. There have been times where I’m asking ‘Am I really the man?’ But you just have to believe in yourself. I feel like that kind of energy just brings success.”
His comeback happened in his third year, while rooming with a friend who DJed and kept his equipment in their living room. Enticed, Mouflet asked his friend to show him some basics, and caught on to some of the tougher elements within days. Soon, they were throwing massive parties in their Plateau apartment, causing Mouflet to think about turning his hosting success into something greater.
“I realized that if I could get 350 people to come party at my house, I could definitely get 350 people to do something with a cool purpose.”
The name KAJ refers to its founders: Kenan, Abdou, and Juan. Though it’s pronunciation implies ‘cage’ in French, the idea of KAJ has always been openness: to innovation, supporting local businesses, and giving everyone time in the spotlight.
“KAJ was always supposed to be a community of musicians who help each other. Now, I want it to be even more than that… The idea behind it is growing with the community, in a way that benefits everybody.”
Mouflet is invested in what he does. Whether it’s surrounding himself with positive energy, daily regeneration (“I’m the kind of person who wakes up in the morning and talks in the mirror to pump myself up!”), or handling his relationships with openness and respect, his analytical mind and economics background taught him to think of everything as a hackable, configurable system.
“The way to be successful in the game is to not be selfish about it,” he says. “The best way to treat people is with respect and humility, because in the end it will always benefit. In the short run, it might not necessarily – especially with business. But running a business with negative energy, screwing other people over… eventually that comes back to you. As for the system… I try to screw the system, by creating my own.”