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Congolese-Belgian artist Baloji started his globalFEST set at New York City's Webster Hall on Jan. 12, 2014 in high fashion -- but by the end, he was working hard in rolled-up shirtsleeves. (Ebru Yildiz for NPR)

Baloji: globalFEST 2014

Jan 16, 2014

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Baloji's band included the amazing Dizzy Mandjeku, a legendary Congolese guitarist in his own right. An exultant Baloji had the globalFEST crowd wrapped around his finger with his trademark mix of lilting soukous and Congolese rumba, the swagger and sweat of American soul, and the trenchant commentary of hip-hop. Congolese-Belgian artist Baloji started his globalFEST set at New York City's Webster Hall on Jan. 12, 2014 in high fashion -- but by the end, he was working hard in rolled-up shirtsleeves.

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What happens when an artist mixes the suavity of Congolese rumba, the sweat and funk of James Brown, lilting soukous guitar, the visual flair of the sapeurs and the sensibilities of 21st-century hip-hop? The charismatic Congolese-Belgian singer Baloji has one answer. As he sings in the tune "Karibu Ya Bintou (Welcome to Life in Limbo)," his collaboration with the band Konono No. 1, "I came to reinvent tradition."

While he's been quietly building a career in the U.S. over the past couple years, he was in prime shape at globalFEST 2014, backed by an amazing band whose members included the Congolese guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku, who collaborated with legends like Franco and Tabu Ley, and who is himself a treasured bandleader.

With his electrifying stage presence and style to spare, Baloji had the globalFEST crowd wrapped around his finger. He also had some pointed things to say about perspective — both about his own and the audience's — and not only in his lyrics. "This isn't world music," he said at one point between songs. "This is our music."

Set List:

  • "Ŕ L'Heure D'Été"
  • "Mamy Wata"
  • "I'm Going Home"
  • "Nazongui"
  • "Secours Populaire"
  • "Karibu"
  • "Congo"

Credits:

Producers: Mito Habe-Evans, Anastasia Tsioulcas; Videographers: Olivia Merrion, A.J. Wilhelm; Editor: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Event Coordinator: Saidah Blount; Special Thanks: globalFEST, Webster Hall; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann.

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