Star of the Belgian galaxy, this singer born in Congo experienced war and poverty. At the speed of sound, her hits and melodies propelled her onto the international stage. Meeting with an eclectic artist, also a Vuitton muse.
The name she chose for the stage speaks for her: Lous, an anagram of soul, the music of the soul. In 2019, with the song Everything is gory Marie-Pierra Kakoma, charismatic Congolese-Belgian singer and songwriter, has set the music world on fire. Accompanied by her “Yakuza” – a group of dancers, musicians and acclaimed producer El Guincho (the beatmaker of the singer Rosalía) – she emerged from a teeming Belgian galaxy that continues to shape talents named Stromae, Angèle or Damso. Author of hits like Dilemma – 20 million streams worldwide – and the album goreLous and the Yakuza has established itself as one of the major phenomena of the international pop, soul and rap scene with dancing melodies and a universe all in quicksilver.
From the middle of her forehead to the tips of her long fingers runs a myriad of small hand-painted symbols, like constellations of messages of hope engraved on her skin. Lous is elegant and tapered like an ebony sculpture. At 25, she’s an old soul in a young woman’s body. Born in Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to a Rwandan mother and a Congolese father, both doctors engaged in humanitarian work, she has faced all kinds of adversities since childhood. She fled the war in the Congo, lived separated from her parents in post-genocide Rwanda. A political exile with her family in Belgium, she was a victim of poverty and racism, and even found herself on the street. She never let fate bring her down: “I constantly clung to my dream of becoming a singer to keep my head above water,” she confides. Humanist, it contributes to the financing of the construction of hospitals in Africa.
In video, the Louis Vuitton fall-winter 2022-2023 fashion show at the Musée d’Orsay
Passionate about literature, she translated the poem that dazzled America and the world, The Hill We Climb (The Hill We Climb), declaimed by African-American poet Amanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony. A female icon and model, she inspires Nicolas Ghesquière who chose her as the face of Louis Vuitton campaigns. Her voice, she does not leave unscathed. The lyrics of her songs testify to the freedom she allows herself: total, absolute, crazy. As she commutes between Brussels, Paris and Los Angeles to complete her next album, the singer confides exclusively.
I constantly clung to my dream of becoming a singer to keep my head above water
Lous and the Yakusa
Madame Figaro .- What are you talking about Kise (1), your new single which announces an upcoming album?
Lous and the Yakusa.– Kise is a love story, the story of a fusional friendship between two women linked for better and for worse. To express the questions of this very intense relationship, I looked for pure, lively, raw sounds and fast rhythms. My vocal inspirations remain the same: Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and soul. The male voice we hear in the backing vocals is that of El Guincho, who is very good at incorporating afrobeat, dub, tropicália and rock’n’roll samples.
What do the symbols on your face represent and when did you start painting them?
At school, I drew pictures on my hands and knees during class. I also started painting them on my face when I was 18: I didn’t like make-up, so I drew these images there that made me feel stronger, more beautiful. I haven’t stopped since. All have a personal meaning. Since my childhood, I have been obsessed with archaeology, ancient Egypt, Maya and Inca civilizations. My drawings are inspired by these cultures, as by the symbols of my African tribes.
What are your tribes?
I have two. I will not mention the name of my tribe in Rwanda, because the ethnicity caused a terrible war there. In Congo, I am part of the Kalwena ethnic group, as we say in Swahili. According to the story passed down to me, this tribe is descended from a woman who fell in love with a man from another empire. To protect him, she had given him a bracelet of intestines which symbolized the strength of kings and queens, and had commissioned her brothers to help her. One of them had then created the Kalwena tribe, from which I descend. I find the concept of tribe interesting, because it testifies to belonging to a culture. But at certain times it is only a source of separation and pain in the world. So I handle it with care.
The war was one of the first lessons of my life: I learned to speak and to survive at the same time
Lous and the Yakusa
What do you know of the pain of the world?
I know the heartbreak of separation. I was born in Lubumbashi and I was separated from my mother when I was 2 years old. During the second Congo war in 1998, my mother, a Rwandan pediatrician, was imprisoned because of her ethnicity. My father, who is Congolese, fought for his release. He managed to get her to emigrate to Belgium in a refugee center, where we joined her in 2001. The war was one of the first lessons of my life: I learned to speak and to survive at the same time .
You grew up between Congo, Belgium and Rwanda. What memories do you have of your childhood?
In the Congo, we lived in a big house surrounded by five hectares. My father, who was rector at the medical university, is obsessed with history, transmission, and took hundreds of videos of us there. In 2001, we moved from this opulence to the most disreputable district of Brussels, Saint-Josse. We slept in the same room. The neighbors hated blacks and harbored every conceivable prejudice about immigration. Then, in 2005, my parents said to me: “Your little sister and you are going on vacation to Rwanda.” We stayed there for six years! I was educated in Kigali. It was after the genocide: you saw mutilated people and crippled orphans everywhere in the street. I was 9 years old, I lived with my maternal grandmother who was very harsh and the country scared me. My parents, involved in humanitarian work, joined us. I learned years later that they had to go back to Congo, where there was war. My values changed at that time: I understood that my life in Brussels, with running water and electricity, was a luxury.
Lous and the Yakuza, the Cover Story
How did music come to your rescue?
I failed to adapt to the misery around me, but art played a fundamental compensating role. I was already playing music – I have been composing since the age of 7 – and I was drawing. These disciplines saved my life. I returned to Belgium at 15 and continued to create. I performed in every café that offered me a microphone. I started posting homemade videos on the internet. I did everything fast. I set up humanitarian projects, I lived alone very young with the aim of being a singer, when my parents did not agree… I found myself homeless, I was spat on while I slept on the streets, it was horrible. My first album, gore, is aptly named. But I’m tenacious: that’s what emerges, I hope, from my music and my paintings. I am a black woman who succeeded on her own, against all odds. I am happy if my trajectory can serve as an example. I tell it implicitly in gore and in the song, Dilemma. I also talk about colonization, loneliness, prostitution.
I’m a black woman who made it on her own, against all odds
Lous and the Yakusa
You recently exhibited your paintings in a gallery in Paris and in New York – your NFT works of art were displayed on a gigantic screen in Times Square… What links do you weave between painting and music?
It’s my first exhibition and I’m in the process of linking the two, which is new to me. I was 21 when I came out gore. I’m 25 today and almost finished the second album. I have been searching for pure truth since my childhood. Painting and music are a way for me to open my eyes to pain and injustice in the world.
These themes are at the heart of Amanda Gorman’s poems. You translated his book The Hill We Climb in which she writes: “We will make this wounded world a wonderful world.” What moves you about her?
Amanda Gorman and I are two authors with the same love of words. We are also two young black women who have experienced the same hardships: having faced discrimination, which brings us closer. Amanda Gorman’s success is due to the affirmation of universal equality between men. She managed to convey it with her speech during Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony.
Painting and music are a way for me to open my eyes to pain and injustice in the world.
Lous and the Yakusa
Which female fashion muse fascinates you the most?
I think of Gia Carangi, a wonderful woman who rose to fame as a model in the late 1970s. She was an American of Italian and Irish descent: she was gorgeous, androgynous, touchy and full of creativity. Her fate as a living flayed fascinates me more than that of other fashion muses. Gia was addicted to drugs and died of AIDS at age 26. Despite her tragic trajectory, she kept her aura until the end and succeeded in transmitting a fighting spirit. His life was adapted for the screen in a film with Angelina Jolie, Anatomy of a supermodel (2001).
You yourself are the face of Louis Vuitton. What connects you to this fashion house?
The story that I have woven with Louis Vuitton was born from my simple and gentle encounter with the greatest designer that I had the opportunity to meet, Nicolas Ghesquière. I appreciated the risk he took by offering me to be muse when I was not yet known. It is an extraordinary prestige for me to have closed two shows for Louis Vuitton. I like the values of this house and the way it respects women.
(1) Kise (Sony). lousandtheyakuza.com