This summer I’ve been hired as a freelancer for Iggy, MTV’s global music website. The site is aimed at young people to introduce them to the idea that pop music is a global phenomenon (if today’s tech savvy youth already didn’t know). It’s a pretty quick moving stream of content, and posts tend to disappear rather quickly. I thought it would be good to run each one of my posts as a series over here on Africa is a Country. The site’s editor Beverly Bryan graciously agreed to let me cross-post, so for the first installment, I interviewed the artist Alec Lomami…
Many artists today take the label international to a point where they in some ways become a nation unto themselves. As an artist with multi-layered influences, Alec Lomami is building his own nation in front of our eyes. He’s had quite a journey over the past couple of years, graduating college in Louisiana, moving to his mother’s house in North Carolina, flirting with the Afropolitan scene of New York, and most recently settling down at Stellenbosch University outside of Cape Town to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy after brief stints in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.
The producer-rapper arrived on the scene a year and a half ago with the release of his single “Kinshasa,” a dedication to the capital city of his country of origin in the midst of a sort of falling out with his country of residence, the United States. Last week he finally released Mélancolie Joyeuse, a free EP on Bandcamp, with “Kinshasa” and three other songs that each speak to his personal experience over the past couple of years. This week, Alec graciously took time to do a late night interview, and answer a few questions between library sessions at the university.
In the wake of the immigration issue that you faced in the U.S., how did you end up in South Africa?
What happened is my mom ended up becoming a US Citizen, and she declared me and it was approved. But even when it’s approved it actually takes a while before your green card is evaluated and given to you. It depends on when you apply, so my green card would have been valuable in 2015 or 2016. So I was like, Well I didn’t want to stay in limbo again. So technically I would have been there … and there was a lot of red tape, so I just needed a break. I was like you know what, “I can just go somewhere and do what I gotta do, and if in 2 years it doesn’t work out I can come back, and if I like where I am I can stay.” I just needed to move. It’s not that I got deported, I just chose to leave.
So how do you feel about the coverage your immigration issue received when you first started getting press?
That’s actually a good question. When I first brought up the immigration [issue] it was kind of a passing comment, ’cause I was asked a specific question. The question was “what inspired the song Kinshasa?”
Well, I was in jail [immigration detention] when I wrote the song, and when I had the idea. Part of the reason I brought the subject up was, I felt like most of my friends didn’t even know the situation I was in. I had maybe one friend who knew my situation. I didn’t tell nobody. It’s kind of something that’s shameful and embarrassing. You hear your own friends say, “oh, these immigrants, they come in our country take our jobs” blah blah blah. So I don’t want to be like, “well I’m one of those,” and you don’t want to be judged, so I never even told people that sort of thing. So then one of the reasons I even wanted to talk about it was I felt like, it was a good way to show that those immigrants aren’t all criminal, they’re just normal.
I felt like I wanted [to bring it up] for a good place to start at least a conversation about the situation, but we never really got to that. No one ever really asked me a real question about it. It just became like a marketing kind of thing, like a cute thing to say. And it hit the high point for me when there was this one blog that wrote something like, “Alec Lomami, arrested in America, now in South Africa.” So I’m just like “what?” [After that] I didn’t even want to mention, or talk about it, just because it turned into something I didn’t intend it to. But, I don’t mind talking about it at all if I feel like we’re actually talking about something meaningful, versus, “oh this guy, poor him, he was in jail, and he did this song in jail” cause that’s not really what I wanted to do.
Also, I didn’t have that much music out at that time and I wondered if people were covering me because of this story, or because of my music?
Your story is very emblematic of this idea of Afropolitanism, or a globally mobile African diaspora. What do you think about that idea, especially after experiencing it from the US perspective, and now being in Africa?
I feel like views on it has changed ever since I’ve moved back [to Africa]. When I was in New Orleans, there was barely any Africans that I knew. I just wasn’t around a lot of Africans and stuff. So to me, when I first started doing music, and I discovered the New York scene, that was just something exciting and new for me. Before it was just me and my cousin having all these ideas, you know we want to do this, and that we didn’t like how Africa was represented. I didn’t even know there was other people thinking the same way. So that was exciting and stuff, that was pretty cool.
But when I moved, when I came back – and [in the States] we had all these ideas, when you think about Africans back home, we felt like the people back home weren’t necessarily carrying the flag of Africa like they should. They might not like the traditional music, they might not like… you know, so you have all these ideas – but when I came [home] I was like well, “for the most part people wouldn’t fault a young African-American who’s into hip-hop for not liking jazz because that’s not the music of his time.” But I feel like, in some ways in Africa, if you listen to rap, people say he’s influenced by the outside, he’s not into his own thing.
But all this just kind of nuanced the way I see a lot of these things. I feel like some of it is necessary for a person living in the West, just because you’re always confronted by the fact that you’re a minority, like you’re not from there that sort of thing, so you kind of always have to assert yourself a little stronger. But, when I went to Zimbabwe, when I went to Congo, people just are African. There wasn’t necessarily this strong need to want to overtly preach it out and that sort of thing. I don’t know I just try to figure out what the balance is.
Check the rest of the interview on MTV Iggy.