Staring at a new world
I was a frightened 16 year old, staring at a new world, longing for safety and a happy home.
I came to the UK when I was sixteen with the help of the Red Cross, after escaping from The Congo – where I had been forced into becoming a child soldier. I arrived in London alone and was soon transferred to Bradford where I was given accommodation.
Bradford was a place where I was welcomed with open arms. I didn’t face racism, people weren’t unfriendly or nasty, I was embraced with love and respect. It’s a multicultural hub and a place where people take pride in their identity. I guess, as long as you’re respectful it’s a place where you can really be yourself. Even though Bradford is a small place, it gives you so much, it is everything to me.
During the first weeks in Bradford, I would often commute to where my girlfriend lived, a place called MAPA which was a communal building, offering accommodation for young people who have been separated from their families. She showed me around and I met this guy with locks called Jerry who worked there. Surprisingly, he showed me a music studio and I remember a surge of happiness shooting through me because rapping and music was a hobby in my old life.
I asked Jerry whether I have to pay and he said it was free. Without deliberating further, I started to record my music. I wanted to keep my hip hop styles, I’d been rapping in English and incorporated a little French, then I started experimenting with Lingala, which is the language we speak in Congo. From there I coined Lingala Hip Hop – a mix of Lingala, English and French. At first people couldn’t understand why I would rap in Lingala, why I couldn’t stick to English.
But I remember Jerry in the studio, grinning ear to ear, telling me: “I don’t know what you’re saying, but I like it!”
He encouraged me to keep going and then I met Jay and we started rapping together, we formed Lo’ Souls and from there, the sky was the limit. We won Bradford’s Got Talent in 2007, which was a huge boost. We supported N Dubz in Leeds and Keighley, then Tupac’s Outlawz Crew in 2007.
At first no one wanted to rap in Lingala, even the Congolese British people I knew were shy to even speak it, and here I was confidently rapping in three languages. I said, “Here you are, you’re British and you’re Congolese, you can mix your cultures, be yourself, be proud of who you are”. I’ve shown that you can stay true to yourself and your background and still be successful. Now we have big artists in the UK who use Lingala in their lyrics. You go to London and you see artists like Yxng Bane and ZieZie singing in Lingala. This means the young people who I take to their own gigs have the confidence to use their own language in their songs. Lingala Hip Hop is now the biggest style of music in Congo, and it started here in Bradford.
I’m a patient person who has learned to recognise and take opportunities swiftly. I saw my future in the studio with Jerry and I leapt at the chance to record there and ultimately be mentored by him. But there are other times where I went all in, like in 2005 when I did my first gig in Centenary Square. At the time, there was a lot going on; I was heartbroken from splitting up with my girlfriend, and I wasn’t allowed to work or study because of my immigration status. However, I had a song and I had a mic – that was all I needed to perform in front of 2500 people. Following this concert the Telegraph and Argus wrote an article about me, and then I performed at the Bradford Mela in front of 8000 people and I smashed it! I used the excitement I felt from these achievements to drive me forward.
You have to grasp golden moments with both hands; like when I decided to remix The Game’s song Ali Bomaye which found its way to The Game’s team, who contacted me and gave me the opportunity to perform with him. At first I was scared, thinking, “Where am I going to start?” But, when I met The Game and noticed how polite, professional and respectful he was, I learned an important rule – in order to get love, it is important to give it first. After this moment, things started moving for me, and I started to focus on building my career.
I guess I want to be someone who people can look up to and take inspiration from. Currently, I work with Studio 12 in Leeds mentoring the young people there. The kids there are always asking me questions like, “How do you get the big cars in your videos?” I tell them, it all comes back to respect and treating people well. It’s important for young people to understand that you don’t have to do negative things to survive. People I know have sold drugs and have been involved with crime, because that’s what they see around them. I want to show young people that there is another path to take, even when your start in life is tough like mine was.
I still have strong links in the Congo and work with men and women who are affected by war. Although there is officially a peace agreement in the Congo, there is still a lot of fighting and atrocities going on, many people are still dying every year. I hope that with my music, I can inspire people to get involved in music and give them a way out, a better future.
This year I released my single Unité, and my next step is to record my album Nzambe Ya Rap (God MC). I’m currently in talks with a friend to make a film about my story and I’m searching for funding to make this happen. I was going to be supporting Snoop Dogg on his 2020 tour but sadly that was cancelled, so I’m hoping when he comes back to the UK, I am able to perform with him.
You can’t expect things to happen overnight, as long as you keep motivated you’ll achieve your goals. Sometimes when you’re doing it you don’t really see your achievements until you look back, you’ve just gotta keep going and challenge yourself to keep levelling up. It took me 13 years to finally work because of the very lengthy and complicated immigration process; in that time I had to keep going, I couldn’t put my life on hold. My advice to others facing difficulties is to believe in yourself, take your time, be patient, challenge yourself and respect everybody. I knew that one day I would make it and here I am.
Since finding success people have often thought that I would have left Bradford and moved to London, Leeds or Manchester, but no. I do travel around a lot, but I always come back to Bradford, back to my home.