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Baloji on being part of Studio Africa

There’s been a lot of buzz around Diesel teaming up with Edun, which goes well beyond a new denim range made in Uganda.

 

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To promote the Studio Africa project Diesel and Edun approached a host of exciting up-and-coming creative talents who represent the cream of the new generation of African practitioners, from photographers and fashion designers to artists and bloggers. Bringing them together as Studio Africa, the hope is to create ‘a virtual loudspeaker and platform for a new generation of creative talents from across the continent.’

 

Studio Africa is about celebrating and promoting creativity in Africa through the eyes of 9 creatives, whose individual talent is matched by their deep commitment to their respective countries and people.

Proud to mention Belgium is represented by the original and acclaimed rapper and producer Baloji.

 

 

Baloji, where you at?

I’m at home in Belgium. Out in the snow and I’m feeling sick.

How was the concert in the Boiler Room?

It was cool. There was a series of Studio Africa concerts starring in Paris, London, Berlin and there are some upcoming shows in the US, like the Coachella festival.

How come they asked you to participate to this African project?

I did a casting. I applied with 300 people and they selected a line-up of 9 people.

 

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Is this Diesel- Edun gig a big opportunity for you?

At first I was in doubt, but then they explained the concept and it started to make sense. It’s a cool project and I get to work with a lot of nice and interesting people, like Jefferson Hack and his crew.

Where does this revived attention for Africa come from?

It’s connected to a lot of things. One pivotal moment is what happened with the soccer World Cup in 2010. It’s a cliché and it has nothing to do with fashion. But at the end of the day everyone was looking at South Africa. It’s a very inspiring country, because it’s one of the few countries in Africa, next to Ghana and Nigeria, where people have access to wifi and fast internet. So when there’s a new video out, of Beyoncé for example, they see it at the same moment we see it here in Europe. So the gap, the difference you have becomes smaller. In South Africa they have access to fashion and taste and they’re able to create their own universe. That’s also what happens to fashion. The fashion scene looks at the African style and they create this African trend that frequently comes back into style. Look at Burberry, Kenzo, Paul Smith and his connection to the Sapeur movement. Things build up to the right moment, which doesn’t mean the whole world or the whole fashion scene is Africa oriented. The stars align, I would say.

 

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The record ‘Hotel Impala’ was extremely personal, for you rapped about the relationship with your Congolese mother and your journey towards feeling at home with both an African and European identity. Do you feel you’ve changed after going back to Congo and making that album?

It changed me and it keeps on changing me every day. I learnt so much after the album was finished. I went to give it to my mom in Congo and that was one of the strongest experiences I ever had in my life, because it was confronting in the way I had this projection of Africa when I was making the record. But when you face people and face situations you realise how different you really are and the fact that my culture is foremost Belgian. When my mom got the record, she was like: What do you want me to do with this? It’s very European to make a record as a present. Congolese people don’t do that.

They don’t expect a record, but money in stead?

Exactly. They expect money. So I learnt a lot from that and going there quite often, meeting people and trying to be as African as you can be and then being like: Waw, this is not going to work for me. I am different and I have to accept that I am different. And if they want to respect me, they have to respect me as someone who’s different. Raised in Belgium, but who doesn’t doubt the fact that he is Congolese. I was in Belgium illegally for 3 years  and for 3 years I was treated like a piece of Sh*. This was a troubled situation. So Belgium also reminds me of the fact that I am not 100% one of them either.

Did you feel Belgian once you had the Belgian nationality?

It’s a mixed feeling. The day I received my Belgian passport was one of the happiest days of my life. Was it because I was Belgian or because they couldn’t put me back in jail? I don’t really remember why I was so happy that day.

Do the other participants of Studio Africa have similar experiences?

Some of them, like Laurence Chauvin-Buthaud a fashion designer who’s half French, half Côte d’Ivoire. She’s going back and forth. But most of the cast were 100% African.

 

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What’s the biggest stereotype you come across being a black performer?

On a shoot it happens that people don’t know what to do with black skin, or how to treat African hair. Or they don’t know what to do with the lightning, the lamps,... But luckily that didn’t happen with the Studio Africa project. I also liked the fact that they didn’t work with wax. I’m so sick of it.

You mean hair wax?

No with wax I mean African wax prints.(Laughs.) Wax easily looks cheap. African fashion is not at all about the wax motive.

 

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So there aren’t any African prints in the Diesel collection?

They don’t have African prints, but they do have an eco-fashion approach that I respect and I think they are really honest about the textiles.

And who else to make eco-fashion look cool? 

That’s whay they used us. (Laughs.) I hope it works out for Diesel and Edun. It’s a good project and it’s good exposure for me and the rest of the cast.

 

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Text: Magali Elali

www.baloji.com
www.diesel.com

Photos:
Jerome Bonnet
Nothing but the wax
Diesel + Edun
Spike & Jones (DR Film)

 

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