Baloji – The Haunt, Brighton – 15th October 2018

Photo by Dan Whitehouse

It’s not every day you get the chance to see a Belgian rapper of Congolese origin perform in Brighton, but that’s exactly what the audience got during Baloji’s gig at The Haunt this week.

Baloji began his musical career as a member (under the name Balo) of hip-hop group Starflam, who achieved great success with their album Survivant going platinum. Since going solo in 2004, he’s released four albums, his latest being 137 Avenue Kaniama. This show was the first night of his UK tour, which additionally sees him play London, Bristol, Leeds and Gateshead.

Starting proceedings was Rebecca Garton, a London-based experimental r’n’b singer who excelled on stage despite a minimal turn out. Garton wow’ed the audience with her strong vocal abilities and bass-filled backing tracks. Despite the small audience she performed in front of, she was full of confidence and enthusiasm and the crowd listened attentively as she breezed through track after track. The beats behind her lyrics were unpredictable and choppy at points which really added to the intensity and overall appeal of her set. Garton seems an exciting artist willing to push boundaries while also embracing her heritage and is definitely an artist to watch.

Shortly after Garton’s performance, fans began to flood into the venue just in time for Baloji to perform, his band taking to the stage initially, allowing him to make his grand entrance.

Having not witnessed Baloji live before, I was amazed at what an incredible all round performer he is. Not being content with standing still at any given moment, he danced, jumped and ran across the stage, beaming throughout the performance and asking fans “Are you ready to party tonight!?”

‘L’hiver indien’ was a sure highlight from the set along with ‘Spoiler’, but Baloji managed to keep the crowd jumping and swaying through each track of his performance.

In awe of the crowd who had turned out to support him, he stated that he was told people wouldn’t take him seriously as he didn’t rap in English, which prompted huge supportive applause. Despite his origin, he spoke of his love for English spoken rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, citing them as an influence on his work. It’s clear Baloji is keen to take hold of his influences and incorporate them into something refreshing, taking elements from American and Belgian hip-hop, funk, soul and his African origins. If you struggled to make sense of his lyrics, it wouldn’t have mattered, as his instrumentation, stage production, performance and general delivery were gripping from start to finish.

He charmed the audience with his positive and warming presence, quoting “You have to give flowers to the people you love while they can still smell them” and gesturing towards his band mate, encouraging the audience to show appreciation for him. Despite his own incredible performance, his backing band deserve just as much appreciation, the talent between them taking the overall show to another level.

Baloji was sure to showcase his sense of humour throughout the set as well, stating “I know most people think African music is about sex, that’s not completely wrong” to roars of laughter from the crowd.

Performing an extensive set of his best songs it sounded like a greatest hits compilation, there wasn’t a dull moment throughout and it was a joy to see him perform in such a small venue, when he could clearly take on an arena-sized show.

Not only was Baloji’s performance at The Haunt a pleasant surprise, it was also one of the best I’ve been lucky enough to experience at the venue. There was a feel good vibe throughout the duration of the show and a talent such as Baloji should not be overlooked. If the rest of his tour is up to the same standard, fans are in for a treat and we can only hope he will be back to the UK soon so more get a chance to enjoy his work.

Dan Whitehouse