La Base Lex and Wasiu

La Base: Lex & Wasiu is a window into contemporary Quebec life

We spoke to the Radio-Canada web show hosts about the evolution of Quebec French and representing something different on the small screen.

It’s an un-uttered truth that most English-speaking Montrealers seem to forget that the francophone portion of the city — by far the majority of Montrealers — even exist. It’s easier to keep to the anglophone bubble: staying west of St-Denis, interacting with the Ontarians and Albertans and Americans who stop by for a diploma or two, and polishing your cash-register French without delving into the rest of the language. 

The titular hosts of La Base: Lex & Wasiu — a Radio-Canada web show that recently launched its second season — break that mold in a beautiful and vibrant way. The French-language talk show, which features the two on plastic-wrapped couches discoursing with a great selection of guests drawn from the crème de la crème of Quebec celebrities, of seemingly all races, ages and genders, is only 10 minutes per episode, but the lively duo manages to fit laugh-out-loud jokes, social commentary and genuine moments of learning and beauty into just about every episode. 

If you’re one of the many anglo Montrealers, like myself, who always wish their French was a little less rusty, La Base is a fantastic place to start. Though Wasiu, a rapper and TikTok star on the side, is an anglophone and Lex is an allophone — he was born in Panama and spoke Spanish before either English or French — their love for la langue de Molière saturates the show. However, it’s contrasted with their outsider status — they talk about feeling out of step with mainstream Québécois culture as young men of colour in a cultural apparatus that doesn’t always celebrate that. 

Perhaps the best part about the show is Lex and Wasiu’s friendship, though. They’ve got a real love for each other that feels like some of the healthiest masculinity I’ve seen on TV in a long time, a mix of heartfelt compliments and teasing repartée that makes you want nothing more than to shoot the shit with them. I got to do just that over Zoom recently to get the story behind how La Base came to be, what making Season 2 was like for them and what it’s like to represent a modern, ethnically diverse form of Québécois French, among other things. 

(This interview has been condensed and edited.)

Alex: Tell me about the genesis of La Base. Where did the show come from? 

Lex: Vice, which produced Season 1, hit me up. I was really excited, right, ‘cause at the time, Vice was really popping. I was like, “Man, this is it.” So I pitched a whole bunch of ideas. They said, “Yeah, that’s really cool. But we want something smaller than that. Do you think you could do it with somebody?” And Wasiu and I’ve known each other for like a long-ass time. We met in college. He’s my best friend. So when they asked me that, immediately I thought, “Well, it has to be Wasiu, obviously.” 

I walked out of there and called Wasiu, still on the steps of the Vice building, and I’m like, “Yo, we’re going to be on TV, bro. We got something. They asked me for a co-host, I pitched you, and they love it.” I had no idea if I got the gig or not. But I was so confident. 

So we actually got the gig, just doing little videos for Vice, similar to La Base. Then they got approached by Radio-Canada, talking about, “Oh, do you guys have anything for us?” We shot a little demo and they liked it. That’s how we got Season 1. 

Alex Manley: Tell me more about your friendship. When you said you met in college, did you mean CEGEP?

Wasiu: We met in 2008 at Dawson College. We were in the same gym class, and I fell asleep in class on the floor. And then Lex said, “Yeah, I’m going to be friends with this guy.” At the time, he had spiked hair and that wasn’t really my… my choice of surroundings. But we ended up bonding over music and… and women, honestly.

Lex: Everybody assumed that we had gone to the same high school. But we had just met. And then we’d always get told, “You guys should have a show, you guys should have a show.” It became a running gag. And now, we have a show. None of our friends were really shocked; they thought we had been working at it this whole time, but we hadn’t, really. We’d just been doing our thing. 

Wasiu: Not only were they not shocked, it was almost like, “What took you so long?”

Alex: How did the format — where you treat each guest like an expert you’re trying to learn something from — come about? 

Wasiu: I was never really well-versed in the Quebec Star Academie thing, you know what I’m saying? For me, it was like, not only am I learning who these people are but, like, they could teach me something, too. That was kind of the approach that we took, like, “Okay, you guys don’t know anything about anything. So you figure it out on the couch.” 

In Season 2, it kind of shifted. We can be a little bit more well-versed in who we’re talking to. I did the bare minimum, though, because I still wanted to have that learning aspect of it. 

Alex: I’m curious about your ambitions going into Season 2. What, if anything, were you trying to accomplish with it?

Lex: There was something undeniably hip hop about Season 1, just because we are who we are, but it wasn’t like there wasn’t anything directly hip hop to it. Like the way we dress, the way we talk, the music that was produced by Planet Giza, all these things made it (feel a certain way). HK — High Klassified — we invited for Season 1 because he’s our boy. But we didn’t invite him off music, you know? It was like, “Oh, he’s a funny dude, he knows about fashion, let’s talk to him.” 

For Season 2, we assumed a bit more of that hip-hopness in the set, with the guests that we chose. We were like, “Okay, we need more people that represent a certain culture and we want to embrace it.” Lost was the evident choice, Benny Adam was an evident choice, and in the interactions that we picked, the clothes that we picked, we’re really aware of those things. I think that’s what was different. On s’est plus assumés cette fois-ci. 

La Base Lex Wasiu
Lex & Wasiu. Photos by Alexandre Turgeon Dalpé

Alex: You just busting into French there leads me to language. In Season 1, you said neither of you are francophones, which caught me by surprise. How are you both so perfectly bilingual? 

Wasiu: I wouldn’t say I’m perfectly bilingual. I’m okay. He’s perfectly trilingual, though. I learned French from talking to my cousins growing up, but I never went to French school. If you asked me to write a novel in French, I’d be like, “Yeah, I gotta hire a ghostwriter.” Which would be Lex. Lex would be like, “Okay, I might learn a fourth language to write something else in.” 

So I can speak French. But you know, it’s not the “correct” way to speak French all the time. We use the anglicismes, we use a lot of Créole words, some Spanish words, some Arabic words. And that was probably the biggest issue that we had with Radio-Canada was, “Oh, well, can you guys not say that, and say it properly?” And that opens up a whole other can of worms. “Okay, well, what is proper? What does that mean?” You know what I’m saying? 

So that’s when you start going into race and diversity. What does it mean to have people of colour in front of a screen if they sound like everybody else? Do you just want to fill in the quota or do you actually want some diversity? We ran into a lot of things like that. It was like, “No, we refuse to say this,” “We have to say this.” And I think, since it kind of worked in Season 1, it gave us a little bit more leeway for Season 2. 

It’s definitely the biggest point of contention, though. Already some articles are talking about, “Oh, we’re losing the French language again because of shows like this where he says, ‘Je peux pas pas pull out.’” Like, how do you say “pull out” in French? It’s not the same energy, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes you gotta say shit how you say it. But that really offends people. Rather than just embracing the fact that we’re the only place in the world that speaks like this, everybody wants to find something to fight about.

Lex: I feel like the whole mixing languages is a representation of something that exists but doesn’t get represented. It’s all in good faith, I think, as far as the producers, as far as the broadcasters. Everybody means well, but they don’t really know how to handle it. It’s always a learning curve where you have to explain it, like, “This is wrong. This is kind of problematic. No, we can’t say it that way because the whole point is to represent a certain aspect of the culture that you guys aren’t representing.”

And I get the fight of Québécois history vis-à-vis l’anglais. I went to French school from elementary till the end of high school, and then I switched to English. I embrace all languages in the same way. Like, I’m really happy I didn’t grow up in New York because I got to learn French. Whenever I travel, I’ve got that French in my pocket. And I’m happy I didn’t grow up in Panama because I got English and French. 

And it’s sort of like, if you embrace that the diversity that you want to put on screen is more than just an image, that it comes with a cultural baggage, comes with a linguistic baggage, (then you have to reckon with the fact) that something might translate into words that don’t exist in pop culture French, because you guys haven’t let it. 

I feel like the crowd is ready, les auditeurs sont prêts à entendre ce français là, but it’s like everybody’s worried that French is going to disappear. French isn’t going anywhere! Language is malleable. It evolves, it doesn’t stay stagnant. We’re not talking like la Bolduc anymore. We’re not talking like Michel Tremblay anymore. 

But Michel Tremblay got shit when he was writing novels. And it’s like, “Bro, we’re writing in a certain way too! Embrace it, shut the fuck up and let us do our thing and you’ll see.” 

Alex: I love the idea of Michel Tremblay being so controversial back in the day and then now it’s, like, “le bon vieux français.” I hope 20 years from now, La Base is going to be that, and people will wonder, “Why aren’t we talking like that anymore? What the fuck are kids talking like today?”

Wasiu: Exactly! That’s what we want. ■

For more on La Base: Lex & Wasiu, please visit the Radio-Canada website.

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