Congolese-born, Belgium-based artist Baloji today shared the powerful short film Kaniama Show, premiered with OkayAfrica. The fictional satire about collusion of state and media powers in the form of a Soul Train-esque show has already received numerous awards at festivals – it coincides with the release of his album Kaniama: The Yellow Version, out today on Bella Union. Baloji discussed the album and more on NPR’s Weekend Edition this past Saturday here.
This follows Baloji’s previous singles “L’hiver Indien” (ft. Gael Faye), “Spotlight & Miroir” (ft. Marshall Dixon & Poison Mobutu) and short film “Zombies” that premiered via NOWNESS. The original tracks come from Baloji’s previous album 137 Avenue Kaniama, released last year on Bella Union (Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Father John Misty). The label is re-releasing the album as the artist originally intended it, as a one-track mixtape. In a world of fleeting singles, Kaniama: The Yellow Version brings back the full album listening experience.
Baloji is an artist in motion, a musician, poet, film director and man of many images and ideas. Baloji means “man of science” in Swahili, but shifted during the colonial period to “man of the occult sciences and sorcery.” With influences from Outkast and LCD Soundsystem to African rumba king Tabu Ley Rochereau and salsa music legends Fania Records, he mixes hip hop culture with Congolese guitars and a melodic approach with some French chanson structure. His perpetual motion is showcased in music videos like “Soleil De Volt,” where he fronts a satirical variety show band with flamboyant flare, also apparent in his sharp curation of Komono eyewear collections.
As a teenager, Baloji started his first rap collective, Starflam, and released his first solo album in 2008, Hotel Impala, conceived as a reply to a letter he received from his mother after a 25-year absence. 137 Kaniama Avenue is an extension of a story set in motion on that album. Baloji explains, “It’s the anchoring point of a trajectory marked by my intrinsic attachment to the country as much as by my remoteness from it. A geographic and symbolic distance, which gives me perspective, and inspiration.”
Award-winning novelist and poet Alain Mabanckou (Prix Renaudot, Man Booker International finalist) described the album as “a patchwork universe, rich in words, parables, a universe of stories, poetry in motion, which points a finger at the failings of our societies, now ravaged by collateral damage from globalisation. Baloji, with his legendary flamboyance, offers an artist-witness’s response to his era. Now it’s up to us to inhabit this space where freedom takes the form of art!”
Baloji will soon embark on an international tour, as well – dates here.