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Interview: Baloji talks to Run Riot about creating the music we want to hear

With his name meaning “sorcerer” Baloji is a towering force. Stirring together influences from his culturally chequered past and to create  a magical mix. The 35-year-old musician was born in Lubumbashi in Congo but aged three, he emigrated to Belgium with his father. The singer’s debut album Hotel Impala was a reply to his mother who asked him what he’d been up “for the last 25 years” and a deep seated need to consolidate his identity.

Less than a year later his wish to return was granted and his new album Kinshasha Succersale is Baloji getting musically reacquainted with the Congo. But you’d be mistaken for thinking that this is an attempt to restore a musical tradition or promote Congolese music to a western audience. Baloji’s journey is completely personal and that’s what makes it so compelling. Baloji’s sharp lyrics spoken in Swahili (the forbidden language under Mobutu) are smart and introspective.

Ahead of his Village Underground appearance we wanted to see what was in his box of tricks.

Dan Davies: To break through to to an international audience is hard for a Belgian, for a Congolese-Belgian do you think it’s harder or easier?
It’s hard to break any market for any non-english project, some world music project can have an audience who’s responding only for the “context” and the folkloric aspect of they music, so I will say it will be easier if it was all in Lingala!

DD: Is your music too radical to be world music?
Don’t know if it’s radical and I don’t know if it’s world music....it’s somewhere in between!

DD: Tell us the how you strike a balance between going back to your roots and back to the future?
We cannot think about music like finding a market! We have to do “the music we want to hear” the music that synthesis what we are and what define you! Personally, it’s a large spectrum but hiphop is still the main element ‘cos it’s a music based on the idea of re-inventing the past with machine and rhymes.

DD: Your music is also based in rap and other western black music movements, what artists influenced you growing up?
Everything between Jay-z, Jacques Brel, Animal Collective, Sufjans and PiL.


DD: How did the Congolese take your music when you first visited?
Depending on the community it took time and now we finally have a strong audience. Congolese music is really conservative and only give room for Congolese pop and that’s the difference with Eastern African countries where the diversities are more present - like Mali, Nigeria, or Ghana.

DD: How did you link up with Konono No 1?
Just by talking with all their managers after the other that lead to a really crazy sessions where some others musicians played they parts.

DD: How does your spirituality affect your work?
I’m not a really spiritual person but I’m surrounded by some believed freaks from all kinds

DD: You are full of energy on stage – what makes a wild gig?
When the crowd goes wilder...a show depended a lot on the energies on both side of the speakers! In French we said “emmeteur-recepteur” when both side are alert and open for it.


Official site: baloji.com

Next gig:
with support from AJ Holmes & The Hackney Empire
19:30, Thursday, 28th November 2012
at the Village Underground
54 Holywell Lane
London EC2A 3PQ

Read our interview with AJ Holmes here.