By Jerome Bonnet Lores

By Jerome Bonnet Lores


Having moved to Belgium at the age of three, in 1981, and growing up in the declining industrial town of Liège, Baloji began a career in hip-hop at the age of 15 with Starflam Collective. The group became Belgium’s most successful hip- hop outfit, putting forth the platinum Survivant in 2001. He left the group in 2004, turning his back on music altogether. But in 2007, he received a letter, out of the blue, from his mother, whom he had not seen since he moved to Belgium as a child. As a way of explaining what he had done with his life, he set out to make his first solo album, which turned out to realize a quest for—as much as a display of—identity. It sounded equal parts retro and futuristic. Since the release of that album, Hotel Impala, in 2008, he has won awards and critical praise for his unique mixture of hip-hop and African styles.

Newly inspired, he recently pushed the project further. He returned home, intending to rework the Hotel Impala material with local musicians in Kinshasa. The collaborations were so fruitful that in addition to new versions of seven songs, he created seven new songs. The resulting record, Kinshasa Succursale (Kinshasa Branch Office) features contributions from some of the finest musicians from Kinshasa, including Konono No.1, soukous stars Zaïko Langa Langa, a brass band (Fanfare La Confiance), a choir (Choeur La Grâce) and many more.

The artistry of Baloji (whose name means “sorcerer” in Swahili) is not restricted to music. The Observer (U.K.) has called him “one of the most innovative video producers to have emerged from Africa in recent years.” Videos for the songs “Karibu Ya Bintou,” with Konono No.1,” and “Le Jour d’Après / Siku Ya Baadaye (Indépendance cha-cha),” with Royce Mbumba, demonstrate his skills and aesthetic.

Last update: July 1, 2013