Happy Release Day Baloji

Baloji today reveals the stunning video for ‘Peau de Chagrin/ Bleu de Nuit’, the latest track from his album 137 Avenue Kaniama, available now on Bella Union. Shot in the Lusanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Baloji spoke to Dazed about the concept behind the video: “It is based on Congolese wedding tradition where a couple stands in front of a vegetal installation, a Pygmy tradition. It’s a place where you stand and receive presents from family and friends. Some of the most common presents you receive are plastic flowers, plastic bags of rice, or even a goat. And then if you stand there on your own, it means something happened – your partner changed their mind or something went wrong.”

Congolese-born Baloji’s music stands at the crossroads of traditional African music and Afro-American music (hip-hop, soul, funk, jazz). Growing up in Belgium – which he describes as, “a land of surrealism and multiple identities” – Baloji discovered the culture of sampling in electronic music. The result is a record combining African rhythms – not only Congolese, but also Nigerian, Zimbabwean, and Ghanaian–with 808 productions and funk-influenced synths. By placing his resilience at the centre of his work, Baloji reconciles all these influences to enrich his projects.

137 Avenue Kaniama is a construct of multiple narratives, designed to provide the listener with a cinematic experience of one singular sequence. A filmmaker in his own right – with a short film shot in his native Democratic Republic of Congo en route this spring– Baloji cites a diverse range of filmmakers as influential, including Raoul Peck (“I’m Not Your Negro”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), and Robin Campillo (“Beats Per Minute”).

First and foremost, 137 Avenue Kaniama is a collection of up-tempo tracks designed to make you get up and sweat. The record kicks off with ‘Glossine’, the medical term for tsetse flies bites (inducing the dreaded Sleeping Sickness), where he channels Bossa Nova baselines and Afrobeats. ‘Spotlight’, with its booming dopamine-inducing beat, is a reference to our screen-obsessed culture and “fear of missing out; our need to convince ourselves that we’re experiencing something real.”

There are more introspective moments on 137 Avenue Kaniama where Baloji examines struggles both personal and communal. ‘L’hiver indien’ is a faux-feel-good track– beneath its Afro-Disco exterior the song explores the disconnect of migrant communities in larger society. ‘Ensemble’– a Cameroonian Bikoutsi-infused Afro Trap track– is “a continental saying that means ‘we are together’ or ‘your issues are mine.’” 

137 Avenue Kaniama also sees Baloji explore love in its varying forms. ‘Ciel d’Encre’ is about the fathomless cycle of falling in and out of love with the wrong person: “when both of you know the love is gone but don’t dare to split,” while the spoken word piece ‘La Derriere Pluie/ Inconnue a Cette Adresse’ (‘The Last Rain/ Unknown at This Address’), is about the devastation of separation from one’s parents. The artist describes the track as “the most honest record I ever made in my life.”

The album’s title comes from same story told in ‘Inconnue a Cette Adresse’: “My mother’s house was originally on Avenue Kaniama in the Katuba neighbourhood of Lubumbashi. When I tried to meet her after 25 years, I couldn’t find her house number. The street just got smaller and smaller, until it couldn’t even be reached by car, so we thought it was dead-end. But then I got out and started walking, and in the end, I found her.”

Baloji’s debut album Hotel Impala (2008) was followed by its Congolese reinterpretation, Kinshasa Succursale (2011). Celebrated by the world’s press (The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Les Inrocks), Baloji then proceeded to play more than 200 live shows across the globe. In 2016 Baloji returned with a new EP, 64 Bits and Malachite on Bella Union.

Baloji’s LP 137 Avenue Kaniama is available now via Bella Union. Baloji will play Omeara in London on 29 March. Tickets are available Here