A sultry evening with Baloji at Het Bos
The weather wasn’t in our favor for the past couple of weeks, but on the 17th of June something magical happened and I was lucky enough to have witnessed it. The great weather God he is, Baloji, the Belgian-Congolese rapper, brought the African sun and heat to Het Bos. Temperature was rising as he performed his latest EP 64 Bits & Malachite to the uplifting African rumba beats played by his band. Just a moment before his performance I’ve got a chance to sit down with Baloji to talk about Antwerp, his album and the genius he actually is…
This Is Antwerp: You’re back in Antwerp to perform your latest EP 64 Bits & Malachite. What are your impressions so far of this city?
Baloji: “I love Antwerp! Especially for places like this. I actually discovered this place solely because I’m a coffee junkie. To whichever place I go on tour, I check two websites that mention the best coffee roasters. It’s a very trendy thing nowadays, these coffee bars, but I’ve always been very much into Kenyan, Rwandese and Congolese coffee.”
TIA: Let’s say you’re very much into all things African, as your EP shows a lot of African influences as well. How did you experience the recording of this album?
Baloji: “It’s a five track EP, an interlude between the previous album Kinshasa Succursale and the new album that will hopefully be released in January. My first albums were rather soulful. I grew up in Liège where house was the main music genre people were listening to. It was surrounding me everywhere. That combined with hip hop formed the founding of my career.
But African music has been very present in my life as well. House and hip hop is the music I grew up with and saw on MTV, but the Congolese music my parents were listening to, is my culture. I used to hate these records my parents were listening to, but now I love them. I thought it would be interesting to do something with it, instead of sampling Cool and the Gang. It makes more sense, cause it’s my heritage, it feels more natural. So does 64 bits & Malachite. It feels like my own little baby. The result of all these influences.”
TIA: Growing up in Belgium, would you say that you’re rebranching with your roots through your albums?
Baloji: “Many people claim that I’m going back to my roots, back to my Congolese identity, but I don’t. I’m not trying to sound like something I’m not. Congolese music is something that I know without thinking of it. It’s simply there and for the time being it will stay there. I’m feeling comfortable with it. It’s my heritage. Plus, African music is so diverse and so interesting. A country like Congo is eight times the size of France. It’s like going from Gibraltar to the North of Sweden and seeing the difference in cultures between the Spanish and the Danish.
Having this in mind, you can only imagine how much diversity Congo has to offer. There’s so much more left to talk about. It took me and my band a while to find a way to do so, as they originally didn’t like hip hop and I didn’t like African music. But we found a way to blend together, and now we have this inexhaustive source of inspiration.”
TIA: Your lyrics are very poetic and that’s also one of the many titles you’re being given by the media... a poet. On top of an artist, a director and a stylist. How would you describe yourself?
Baloji: “I personally believe that I have only one job, and that’s poetry. There is this new song of Pusha T in which Jay-Z raps 'I always knew I was a prophet, but I couldn’t find a decent job'. I guess it just doesn’t pay the bills. The same goes for being just a poet. That’s why I’m trying to explore it and reconnect with it in different art forms, whether if it’s in my album 64 bits & Malachite, my fashion collaboration with Komono or the movie I’m currently working on.
They all form an extension of my poetry. A journalist once referred to me as a polymath, a person who expresses his knowledge through different subject areas. I’ve never heard that word before, but I like it. It’s so different from these specific boxes, people try to put you in.”
TIA: Any chance you’ll be trying to express your poetry through painting?
Baloji: “No, I don’t think I’d be good at it, but I do love photography. I try to take interesting shots whenever I go on tour and put them online on my Instagram feed. However, for the time being I’m focusing on this movie I’m directing about African sorcery and the new album which by the way will be completely different from what you’ve heard so far.”
Text by Laetitia Sabiti - pointcinque.com
Pics by Thor Salden