Exquisite beats, quirky headgear and funky dance moves made their way to Belgrave on Thursday evening for Baloji’s premiere in Leeds. While spending most of his life in Belgium, Baloji’s music is most certainly defined by his integration of enchanting Congolese rhythms with French rap, which you might think would not appeal to an English crowd. It was sadly true that most people in the crowd didn’t understand the fascinating and often deeply personal meaning behind some of his songs. ‘Spotlight’, for instance explores the 21st century obsession that society has with social media and the images we construct of ourselves through the internet, and ‘L’Hiver Indien’, which makes out to be fun and content in sound, but in its lyrics, details the difficulties faced by migrants who feel exiled in Europe, something Baloji himself faces being separated from his hometown and mother at a young age in Europe.
However, it became pretty clear from the very beginning of the gig that all Baloji really wanted from his audience was a good time, and despite not having a massive crowd to play with, as well as being restricted in time by only having an hour to play, he still managed to deliver quite a party. There was an incredible energy delivered from each and every song and band member – the impressive vocals and soulful strums from the lead guitarist deserve a special shout out. One interesting fact to note is that Baloji means “sorcerer” in Swahili, and he certainly cast an incredible musical spell that night. The crowd was transformed from showing some applause and lightly tapping their feet during the opening song to waving their arms, and busting some energetic moves in the second half. To be able to engage a small audience throughout every song is pretty impressive, and I’m more than sure that Baloji’s Afropop party is one that Leeds would love to see again some time soon. It’s simply magic.
Header Image Credit: Kristen Lee Moolman