When Congolese-American pop rapper Alec Lomami destroyed his worthy competitors to be crowned MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week we were thrilled, because we could ask him questions about his amazing immigration story. And okay, also about his hot style.
From the get, Alec knocked us out with his infectious single, a head-nodding ode to his departed home, “Kinshasa.” From Alec’s smooth French flow to the track’s candy disco production, we were hooked. He promises more of the same good stuff, plus guest artists, for his upcoming EP Melancholie Joyeuse. (And we’re hoping the cover will have awesome photography of Alec in his prep-school-meets-technicolor looks.)
Read on to find out the origins of Alec’s inimitable style, his thoughts on his adopted home, and what he eats to cure his homesickness blues.
Your tie (in your boombox photo) is awesome. Not to stereotype, but everyone we know from the Congo dresses to kill — is it something in the water there?
Maybe so! Fashion is almost a religion in the Congo. The iconic rumba artist Papa Wemba could be to blame for it. He popularized “La Sape” in the ‘70s. [Ed. note: La SAPE stands for "La Societé des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes," or Society of Atmosphere-Setters and Elegant People -- a Congolese scene inspired by African Parisian fashion and glamour in the 1970's.] However different aesthetically they might be, all Congolese fashionistas have – or attempt to have — elegance and class as a common thread in their style, which I think has a direct correlation to Wemba’s movement.
We were really inspired by your story of making music when you were locked up in an immigration detention center for nine months. Can you tell us more about what that was like? How did music fit into your routine?
To borrow from Charles Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. It was a time of extreme hardship, confusion, uncertainty and fear. But also, (I don’t mean to romanticize it too much) a great time of self-discovery. It was a time when I learned to enjoy the simplest things in life and to live life to the fullest – not in a hedonistic way, but by not letting time and opportunities pass me by. Music was actually a means to keep my sanity; writing was therapeutic. I can remember being in the yard with some headphones and zoning out, as if those four walls didn’t bind me. I told myself I wanted to give that same feeling to other people, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
For us Anglophone fans, can you tell us what the chorus of your song, “Kinshasa” means?
The chorus says “Na Za Mwana Kin,” which is a self-referential term used to describe a person who is from Kinshasa. It carries a certain connotation of dignity and pride, kind of like when Biggie says “Brooklyn!”
What’s the most surprising thing about living in the United States that they don’t know in the Congo?
That’s an easy one: not all African Americans can play basketball and rap!
When you’re homesick, what do you want to eat? (Or, just what’s your favorite Congolese dish?)
I’m a sucker for some “loso na madesu”! (rice and beans)
We know that you are living in the American south. Any favorite southern dishes?
Oh yeah, besides being Congolese, I consider myself a New Orleanian, so I’m always in the mood for some gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffée, po-boys and a good old-fashioned crawfish boil – and anything tastes much better with some Tony Chachere’s seasoning.
You rap about chasing after your “Rêve Américain.” How long have you been searching for the American Dream? And now that you’re here, when will you know that you’ve achieved it?
I’m glad that you brought that up. In the song, I’m describing how seduced I was by the American way of life – well, at least what I came to identify as the American way of life via music and films. I identified myself more with that culture than with the Congolese culture. But when I came here, I quickly realized that I didn’t quite fit in. It didn’t stop me from trying to reach the American dream, though. But my post-incarceration philosophy of life has tremendously changed. I’m more interested in being a better friend, a better brother, a better son, a better believer than in pursuing wealth, status, etc… because frankly making the pursuit of the American dream the goal of your life is ultimately unfulfilling and will quickly turn into a nightmare – in my subjective opinion, that is.
How did you hook up with producer Federico Mejia and what was that creative exchange like?
Federico is a longtime friend of mine. He is a super-talented multi-instrumentalist musician, and a front man of the band Youth Sounds. Choosing him to produce my records was a no-brainer. I needed someone well-versed in hip-hop and Indie Pop, since those were my two main sources of inspiration. I pretty much gave him the concept of the EP and at times, some songs to sample. He would send it back to see if I wanted to add or change anything to the tracks. The process was very Postal Service-like, except it was through text messages and e-mails.
What can we expect from your debut EP?
Some heartfelt danceable hip – pop music! I enlisted a few friends to lend me their voices on a couple choruses, and I’ll probably have 16 years old Congolese American rapper Wells featured on one of the songs. All in all, it’s going to be a pretty warm and fun records.
Alec Lomami’s debut EP Melancholie Joyeuse is out in September.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Shako Oteka