Baloji’s is a fascinating story – born in Lubumbashi, war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo’s second city, he was taken away from his mother at the age of three and raised by his father’s relatives in Liège. He became a member of Liège rap collective Starflam in the 1990s and they rose to chart success on the late 90s. Leaving Starflam in 2004, he had no intention of starting a solo career, until he received a letter from his mother, breaking her 25-year silence, asking what he had been doing with his life. His answer to her was the album Hotel Impala and in 2007 he visited her, a trip that would have a profound effect on him.
His next album, Kinshasa Succusale, a reworking of Hotel Impala, was recorded in Kinshasa in just five days with a band formed on the spot (including Konono No.1). The music is a mixture of styles from traditional rumba, the tradi-futuristic tradi-modern style, the swinging mutuashi, the soukous and reggae, all mixed with Baloji’s unique style of vocals.
Baloji worked obsessively on the album – its sleeve, the photo insert and the two award-winning videos which accompanied it – both filmed in Congo and taking in dancehall, street scenes in Kinshasa and a troupe of masked wrestlers. Aesthetics are important to him in every way – he looks like a model and has in fact has modelled for Louis Vuitton, Belgian tailoring brand Café Costume and Eristoff vodka. Damon Albarn also drafted him into his Africa Express project last year and rumour has it that a new album is on the way.