In last week’s “Africa In America” episode, we played a brand new track from Alec Lomami, the Congolese fashion plate who’s been teasing audiences with his first official release for close to two years. The Mélancolie Joyeuse E.P. was officially released last week, and it’s hot as all get out, which is no surprise- this guy is not messing around, whether it comes to his hard-knocks origin story, his flow, or his haberdashery (for real, look at the dude). Lomami was born in Belgium but didn’t qualify for citizenship, so he was forced to leave. He tried his luck in Congo, but his alien-status and the on-going conflict in the country required another move. Finally he made his way to the U.S., where he was denied a visa and was eventually incarcerated. His immigration status was finally ironed out, and he was released. He’s been working on his music since. This personal diaspora has certainly informed his music, but not in the ways that you may have anticipated. The sound of the Mélancolie Joyeuse E.P. is bursting with enthusiasm and optimism, a wide-open embrace of a world-spanning definition of pop that reflects the extent of his travels by connecting the lines between american rap, European Electro, and the stars of the Francophone ferment.
The opening track, “CLV”, is a study in syncopated kick drums, grinding bass lines, and bright, clear piano samples. The production on this track is super classy- elements and textures move from left to right constantly, but instead of sounding like a superabundance of ideas jammed into a three and a half minute hip-pop experiment, the track flows like a beautiful fusion between vintage 90’s ghetto-blaster jams and a DJ Screw track.
“Kinshasa” sounds like a cross between the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack and a Mýa song. It pushes forward relentlessly on rolling snares and airy synth lines, but that just makes the hook, a tasteful sample from the Canandian group Stars, hit even harder. This track seems particularly meaningful in the context of Lomami’s life story. In a 2011 interview with Fader, Alec described his relationship to the track, saying, “[I am] affirming myself as being the son of the city, while trying to convince others that I am, since my Congoleseness has been questioned many times.” This track is what really sells Mélancolie Joyeuse. It’s smooth, it’s powerful, it’s fun, but it also has a haunting touch of nostalgia to it, living up to the EP’s title.
Any discussion of this EP would be incomplete without a word or two about “Pardon My French,” a track that reflects both the best and worst of Alec’s rabidly globe-spanning pop. The intro to the tune, which samples Miriam Makeba’s deathless “Pata Pata”- is perhaps the only moment on this short collection that veers too close to twee, but as soon as the song moves into the verse and heavy half-time beat starts to grind, the saccharine flavor begins to fade. Unfortunately the intro sample figures prominently throughout the rest of the track, and every time it returns, it’s hard not to wince a little. But it’s also countered by another great moment- a hilarious and well played reference to Kanye’s world spanning “Niggas In Paris,” backed by an echoing breakdown and electronic counter-melody that’s truly beautiful.
Fans have waited two years for the Mélancolie Joyeuse E.P. to drop, and even then, half of the tracks had been released well before the collection was released. But Lomami has promised that that the next release will be out “soon,” and it’s a safe bet that this excellent work will still be new to many listeners. Even for those in the know, it’s been worth the wait. The songs are beautiful and exciting, Lomami’s flow is impeccable, and the production is almost uniformly next-level (Unsurprisingly, this is a killer album to listen to on headphones). We’re looking forward to more from this guy, and hoping it comes sooner rather than later.