LONDON – When she was young, Marie-Pierra Kakoma’s mother gave her an equation for success: when you’re black, you have to work twice as hard. When you’re young, black and female, make this ten times as difficult.
Kakoma made music as Lous and the Yakuza and accepted this message. The trip to release Lous’ debut album “Gore” last month saw more sacrifices than even her mother would have liked. In the past few years, Kakoma, 24, has relocated countries, dropped out of college, and experienced months of homelessness.
For Kakoma, whose life has been marked by turbulence for a long time, there is no question that it was all worth it. “Music is an exit, here we leave our reality,” said Kakoma in a video interview from Paris. “We put our reality on paper and then it is there, it exists. To me, it explains to me what is going on in my own life. “
The genre fluid artist combines sultry hip-hop with hard trap beats to create tracks that are both an explanation of her resilience and an exploration of Gen Z concerns, including race, loneliness and despair.
With words sung and tapped in French, Lous and the Yakuza feel like a distinctly globalized project, Kakoma’s Belgian-Congolese-Rwandan background with eclectic influences such as politics past and present, manga comics, Mozart and Whitney Houston connects.
The majority of her fans are from France and Belgium, but she also has followers in South Africa and Germany and great popularity in countries like Italy, where a remix of her soul-spotted track “Dilemme” rose through the US charts to the top 20 in April.
“I like to describe my music as a constant search for the truth,” said Kakoma, occasionally flashing her distinctive collection of rings. “It creates confusion and that’s what artists should do, we’re here to disrupt.”
Lous and the yakuza try to disturb and provoke in countless directions. In “Solo” she asks if she has to cry to be heard, mentions the independence of the Congo in 1960 and asks: “Why isn’t black a color of the rainbow?” Over the jumping trap beat of “Messes Basses” she sings “yo, yo, yo”, a refrain used in Rwanda when someone is suffering. And for the video for “Tout est gore” (“Everything is Gore”), she sits on steps with red rivers dripping around them.
The themes of violence and blood on the album reflect experiences from Kakoma’s own life.
Kakoma was born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996. Two years later, her mother was imprisoned for Rwanda, part of the period of Congolese violence, often described as one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II. After months in prison, Kakoma’s mother was released and ordered to leave the country immediately. She fled to Belgium and took her youngest child with her, but had to leave her other three children, including Kakoma, in the Congo.
“I think that shaped me so much,” said Kakoma, who came to live with her mother in Belgium two years later. By the age of 7, Kakoma had developed an artistic flair, but the poems, books, and songs she made were full of sadness, death, and tragedy. The cause, she said, was feelings of abandonment that came with her two years apart from her mother.
As a child, her father – an activist and prominent doctor in the Congo – commuted to Belgium. In 2005, Kakoma and her younger sister were sent to Rwanda with their grandmother after the genocide.
“For me we lived in a ghetto in Belgium,” said Kakoma, “but the ghetto was actually so privileged compared to basic life in Africa at the time.” When she was 9 years old, she found out about the genocide suffered by her grandmother and cousins.
“It was very explicit and that traumatized me,” she said. “All of this has shaped me into a person who has a very strange belief in hope. I have a lot of hope for the future because I have overcome so many things. “
Kakoma returned to Belgium at the age of 15 and attended a girls’ boarding school and then the University of Namur, where she began to study philosophy. She quit after four months on her parents’ alarm to concentrate on singing.
At the age of 18, a series of wrong decisions and encounters – fired from multiple jobs, hanging out with the wrong crowd and grappling with her roommate’s mother – left her homeless in Brussels for six months, Kakoma said.
“That’s where I learned everything I know today,” she said. “At that point, it was either crying, suicidal, or laughing and trying to find a way out.”
Kakoma got back on her feet with the help of friends and in 2015 released her first song “Full of You” in English. Over the next several years she uploaded music to SoundCloud and performed all over Brussels until she signed with Columbia Records in 2018.
Now Kakoma channels pain into her music: “I let joy be the only thing I enjoy every day,” she said with a smile.
Lous is an anagram for “soul” and yakuza means loser or someone out of the norm (it is also the name of Japan’s infamous crime organization). “I think it’s a testament to my resilience,” she said of the nickname.
The album’s title, “Gore,” is a metaphor for Kakoma’s life and the darkness she faces. To do this autobiographical work, Kakoma hired the Spanish producer El Guincho, who was known in 2018 for the production of Rosalia’s album “El Mal Querer”. When El Guincho received a folder of songs from his management, he had never heard of Lous and the yakuza, but was immediately drawn to their songwriting skills and voice.
“She’s different in a way that she’s really natural. She has incredible abilities to make music,” El Guincho said in an email. “It’s a very good thing, but sometimes it’s harder to get such an effortlessly talented artist to go further.”
“I think by the end of the album’s making process she really got that, and now the sky is the limit for her,” he added.
Today, Kakoma Madonna and producer and actress Issa Rae can count among her fans. Last month she made her American television debut on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”.
In Kakoma’s distinctive style, reflected in the icons on her face, boyish swagger and eye-catching elegance, she recently starred in fashion campaigns for Louis Vuitton and Chloe and walked the catwalk for Paris Fashion Week.
“There is so much inspiration behind her that I even learn so many things from different cultures that I didn’t really know,” said stylist Elena Mottola, who has been working with Kakoma for a year. “I think the fashion industry needs people like Lous.”
Kakoma is an avid student of the world who realizes the importance of being one of the few artists who are black, European and female on big labels, and the responsibility that comes with that.
“The problem is, I’m in an industry that thinks about my vagina and the color of my skin all the time,” said Kakoma. “If I don’t talk about it, how would young women feel?”