sat 21/09/2019

CD: Baloji - 137 Avenue Kaniama | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Baloji - 137 Avenue Kaniama

CD: Baloji - 137 Avenue Kaniama

Congolese-Belgian singer-songwriter rolls continents and decades into a singular vision

The death of “world music” is a wonderfully reassuring thing. That is to say, with every year that passes, it becomes less and less possible for media and consumers to bracket together music from outside the US and Europe as a single thing, and easier and easier for us to understand specific talents and currents within global culture for what they are. Obviously the fact I need to even say this means there's a good way to go. But talents like Baloji, the Congolese-born, Belgian-raised singer-songwriter, are blasting away the simplistic distinctions.

As this album kicks off, the cascading guitars and syncopated bounce of the drum patterns in “Glossine (Zombie)” instantly press the buttons that say “this is an African record”. But before the song is half finished, sounds and patterns that are both hip hop and techno have snuck in, with such subtlety and absolute musical logic that the track is cut loose from its continental associations. Ditto on the next track “L'Hiver Indien / Ghetto Mirador”: here not only do we have the black Atlantic connections between Congo, Cuba and Calypso in the guitar arpeggios, but Baloji's rapping joins then dots from the triplets of Memphis and Atlanta hiphop to those riffs. Not in a cultural fusion way, either; rather, just feeling as if all these elements are being put to use for the expression of a singular musical vision.

And as the record goes on, the more it feels like a personal record, and the less the specific elements matter. Even if your French is as rudimentary as mine, the strength of Baloji's expression is such that you get drawn into his storytelling, whether it's over Michael Jackson / Quincy Jones disco funk, low and slow trip hop, Congolese rumba or any combination thereof. And in the last third of the album, though it gets very moody and introspective, you get kept buoyant by the constant interjection of infectious hooks, until the last two tracks of the album pick everything back up in quite spectacular fashion. This is a unique album, brilliantly structured, and not belonging to any continent, any genre, or any style except for Baloji's own.

This is not done in a cultural fusion way; rather, just feeling as if all these elements are being put to use for the expression of a singular musical vision


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.