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Baloji Voices Modern-Day Congolese Struggles

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in Belgium by his father, Baloji spent the early years of his career avoiding the traditional Congolese rhumba his parents listened to and focused his energy on hip-hop.

In an interview with Afropop Worldwide, Baloji recalls the days before he worked on his first album and his sentiment toward Franco Luambo Makiadi, Tabu Ley Rochereu, and other legendary soukous artists from the 1960s: “Franco for me was -- ahh, I don’t want to deal with this kind of music -- this is for old people.”

Then, inspired by American samples of Otis Redding and other jazz artists featured in American hip-hop, he began seeking artists who represented DRC’s past. Diving into curiosity sparked by a letter from his mother, whom he hadn’t seen since 1981, Baloji discovered Franco, Tabu Ley, and other renowned musicians who made Kinshasa the music capital of Africa more than half a century ago. For his second album “Kinshasa succursale,” which translates to “Kinshasa branch,” he traveled to DRC’s capital city, where he found his signature style infusing the music of his Congolese roots with American soul and politically charged hip-hop lyrics.

In “Le jour d'après,” Baloji samples “Independance Cha Cha” by the father of Congolese rumba, Joseph “Le Grand Kallé” Kabasele. The original song was first performed in February 1960 and was considered an iconic call for unity when Congo gained its independence from Belgium in June of the same year. “Independence” was adopted as a celebratory anthem by other newly-autonomous countries during the post-World War II decolonization of Africa. In 1960 alone, 16 nations became independent along with the DRC.

Baloji and Royce Mbumba - Le Jour D'Apres

However, Baloji’s lyrics reflect the struggles of a country plagued by civil unrest ever since. “Le jour d'après” voices his criticism about his nation’s progress and how much freedom its citizens have truly gained during the past 55 years.

Revolution is at the time to vote / 
Strength in numbers is the antidote /
To change the debt into dowry I covered this unifying song /
Symbol of the credulity of our premises /
Between independence and armistice /
But for our democracies to progress /
That must learn from the errors of youth /
My country is an emerging continent /
Built in less than 50 years.

Baloji in “Le jour d'après”

The country’s constant state of conflict has left its economy and its citizens in ruins after several shifts in power, constant civil war, and endless government corruption during the past 50 years. The country continues to reel from the impact of the Second Congo War -- the deadliest war since World War II. The United Nations has attributed millions of Congolese deaths to war crimes committed by neighboring Rwanda.

DRC remains in turmoil to this day. Its citizens still live in constant fear of death, rape, or displacement by militias hungry for control and the country’s rich mineral resources. Peacekeepers are concerned about a current offensive to disarm Rwandan rebels because it’s likely to cause tens of thousands of Congolese to flee the eastern region of DRC. Recent multi-city protests have turned deadly as citizens are opposed to proposed electoral law changes that would extend President Joseph Kabila time in power.

Yet, some say the Congolese remain resilient and even optimistic about the country’s future even though they’re still fighting for peace and freedom today.

“Can you imagine? A country like Congo has its first election in 2007,” Baloji said in an interview with Public Radio International. “It’s almost like a revolution and [‘Le jour d'après’] talks about that. We have to accept that it’s only a small step, but we don’t have to lose the idea that we are on the right path, either.”

Baloji continues to draw inspiration from his native country’s rich music history with the addition of Tabu Ley’s bassist Dizzy Mandjeko to his band. As he creates new music and prepares to release an EP called “64 Bits & Malachite” this year, he is more than ever committed to telling the stories of his Congolese people’s modern-day struggles while building on the sounds and conflicts of their past.

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