Baloji headlines at Wynwood Life

To celebrate the Wynwood Art District’s many cultural pleasures, Wynwood Life – which started out as a blog for locals highlighting its upcoming events – is throwing a three-day street festival this weekend packed with great food, art exhibits, fashion shows and, of course, music. The groove-heavy lineup is peppered with favorite local DJs and live acts including Suénalo, Problem Kids, Mr. Pauer, Otto von Schirach and Pirate Stereo.
But the main attraction is an international sensation. Baloji, a Congolese-Belgian hip-hop artist known for his lyrical rhymes and electrifying live performances, performs Friday night at 8 p.m. with his five-piece band L’Orchestre de la Katuba in support of his album “Kinshasa Succursale,” which will soon be released worldwide.
Baloji has been labeled one of the most innovative rappers to emerge from all of Africa, and is even seen as redefining African music, but he quickly squelches that notion.
“No, no, no – I don’t want to put myself in that position,” Baloji says with a laugh. “I think that would be the most pretentious position to take after Fela [Kuti] and Ali Farka Toure and all these guys, so no, I don’t dare to go there.”
Baloji’s style owes more to North and South American music, anyway.
“I grew up listening to hip-hop, and as a hip-hop fan, one day you realize your favorite track is based on a sample of two seconds of a great track from James Brown or Bob James or Funkadelic, and then you start discovering these people’s music,” he says. “And I grew up making music with a guy from Colombia, and that led me to find a Latin jazz influence.”
Baloji has shared the stage at Coachella with U2’s Bono and performed at New York’s Lincoln Center, but he cites the opportunity to travel the world as the main highlight of his career. And he has never been to Miami, so he’s excited about experiencing first-hand its musical melting pot.
“The way people handle perspective on rhythm is very interesting from different places,” says Baloji, whose name is roughly translated as “sorcerer” in Swahili. “In Miami, you have the big reggaeton influence, the Puerto Rican influence, combined with all the Latin music – it’s a different approach and I’m looking forward to it.”
Baloji’s first solo album, 2008’s “Hotel Impala,” which contained elements of soul, Afrobeat and hip-hop, was certified gold and won two Octaves de la Music (a Belgian equivalent to the Grammys). But shortly after its completion, he felt unfulfilled musically, having never truly embraced his Congolese musical roots. So he headed for Kinshasa to explore them.
“It’s like if Americans don’t want to listen to Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan because you don’t want to listen to the same records as your parents,” he explains. “It was for me the music of my parents, and I think every kid growing up will be like this – it’s a natural reaction that we all have for some stupid reason. But the more I appreciate Latin music, Afro-Cuban music, Jamaican music, the more I reconnect with Congolese music. It’s like, I get it now. I don’t listen to it as my parents’ music – it’s just great music for what it is, and that’s something that you have to learn.”
Baloji’s first creative effort was starting to write lyrics when he was 14.
“Just poetry at first,” he says. “I love poetry. It’s kind of like a science – with phrase, with metaphor, with the way you structure your phrase and your brain – so I’m passionate about that.
“The thing that was really extraordinary was the first day that I could do it on my own, start to finish, because growing up I could never finish anything.”