Cuban-Mexican band Athenea y su Candela is making noise in the Montreal music scene

Artist Athenea has high hopes for her two musical groups

Athenea y su Candela leading in the 15th edition of the Syli d’Or de la musique du monde contest. Courtesy Renè Cordero Bonilla

Melanie Fowler, whose stage name is Athenea, is a 23-year-old Cuban-born artist, and the lead of two Latin music groups: Q'bolà Orchestra and Athenea y su Candela.

She is a singer, dancer, songwriter, producer, and an all-around performer. 

Athenea and her two acts have been performing in the Montreal music scene since 2016, having first started in restaurants and pubs that had stages and music equipment available. Athenea y su Candela—which translates to Athenea and her flame—is now leading in the 15th edition of the Syli d'Or de la musique du monde contest. The contest is an event organized by Les Productions Nuits d'Afriques who have been showcasing new upcoming artists and giving them the chance to win up to $50,000 worth in prizes and opportunities such as paid studio time. 

Athenea moved from Cuba to Montreal with her mother back in 2016, a decision that, she explained, came out of the blue. “I just followed an order that my mother gave me, not understanding what we were getting ourselves into,” Athenea said. “I was told to finish school early and get my papers done because we were moving to Montreal. […] It's only once on the plane that I realized my life would change forever.” 

Athenea studied music all her life. She performed in malls and public spaces all over Havana starting at the age of five. For Athenea, music is in her blood. Both her mother and father are artists, and her grandmother, Marthe Augustin, was a performance star in Haiti during the 1920s.

Cuban-born artist Athenea leads two Latin music groups. Courtesy Renè Cordero Bonilla

Once in Montreal, Athenea attended Marie Victorin CEGEP to continue her musical studies. Not satisfied with how the program functioned, she had other ideas in mind. “It was so boring,” said Athenea. “Everything they were teaching here I had already learned in Cuba.” From there she met classmates from the music program and formed her own band instead. They named it Q'bolà, a Cuban expression that translates to “What's up.” 

Q’bolà Orchestra currently has 12 members, with instruments such as voice, piano, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, drums, congas, macaras, 

güiro, and more. Athenea’s second act, Athenea y su candela, counts seven members, with instruments that range from voice, piano, percussions, keyboard, and more.

“With Q’bolà Orchestra, we take people down memory lane with covers of Spanish classics as well as some American pop music, said Athenea. She created her second act to express a more vulnerable side of her musical creativity with original songs talking about more serious issues.

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In her first year in Montreal, she married her now husband, Ricardo Angel Soriano,  who is also from a family of musicians. The couple are following both of their family's footsteps as they perform together in both musical groups. Soriano plays the keyboard and also sings. 

“I don't think I could have a spouse that's not a musician,” said Soriano. “We both come from a musical background and it has become one of our ways to communicate and understand each other.” 

“Melanie is such a stage monster, it’s not every musician that can be a performer.” — Gabriel Evangelista

When they perform, the audience can feel the musical chemistry the two musicians share. “They compliment each other musically, with Athenea being on fire, and Soriano being the more grounded one,” said Gabriel Evangelista, pianist and arranger of Athenea y su Candela. “Melanie is such a stage monster, it’s not every musician that can be a performer.” 

One of the original songs Athenea y su Candela perform is “Amarga Gloria” which translates to bitter glory. It’s an original composition by Athenea describing her experience emigrating from Cuba to Montreal at 18 years old. 

“It's been five years since I moved and it's still a challenge sometimes, […] there’s this unspoken hierarchy here that if you speak French and you're white you're automatically respected,” said Athenea. “[With “Amarga Gloria”] I was able to use metaphors to express myself about my feelings about the move, about everything I left behind and on how you're treated when you're new here.” 

Atheana, Soriano, and Evangelista all described their signature sound as a mix of old Latin music, specifically influenced by the 70s decade, as well as the newer pop influences. They also mix both Cuban music and Mexican music, with the rhythms being traditionally Cuban and the harmonies Mexican. “When people come to see us, they will feel nostalgia from our song selections, but [...] on an upbeat fast Cuban tempo that makes you want to dance,” said Athenea. “We are still trying to perfect our sound,” added Soriano. 

With only a few days left before the results of the Syli d'Or de la musique du monde contest the group has big plans for the future. They will continue performing in the city this spring, in hopes of continuing to spread joy and good energy through their performances and Athenea's diva-like energy. Athenea has high hopes for her groups moving forward. “Grammys, American Music Awards, that’s the goal,” she said. “We will be there one day.”