Interview: Q&A with Fulu Miziki – Waste-to-Energy Music (October 2021)

There are only a few acts able to generate global hype without having even released an album… Fulu Miziki is possibly one of the most unlikely examples. The collective, which came to light in Kinshasa roughly 10 years ago, not only hasn’t published an LP, but not even an EP or single. Still, they are one of the most talked-about names in the global beats scene because of being an authentic, rhythmic and loud hymn to DIY music.

In an age of environmental crisis and renewed consciousness towards nature, their so-called ‘garbage music’ is one of the best epitomes of a daily commitment to return to a more basic and organic way of life. Starting from their very own hand-crafted instruments and “stage costumes” that salvage and give new life to bits and pieces found on Kinshasa’s roads, Fulu Miziki embodies the genuine eco-warrior spirit spreading a militant waste-awareness message and educating young people about the recycling practice.

Since we are only one month away from the publication of their very first work, an EP titled Ngbaka out of the London-based far-out label Moshi Moshi Music, it was the right time to learn more about the most up-and-coming project born and grown on the streets of Kinshasa, in the true sense of the word.

Can you briefly introduce your project to us? I know that the collective was launched back in 2003, but when and why did you decide to call yourself Fulu Miziki and what are the aims behind the project itself?

It’s mainly been in the past 10 years when everything started getting together very well, when the collective decided to take the journey of finding these different sounds and coordinating them together, when we started working on our look, and we shaped our ideology. But it really took a long time before we could have something worth rehearsing, then slowly we started believing in ourselves and kept going.

What are the main influences and driving forces inspiring your sound? I’m pretty sure that the environment where you live is the main one, but what else?

Yes, our driving force is mainly our environment, our surroundings, but also our older artists who have tried so hard to do the same. We are talking about music here, also the look, the costumes and masks. Congo has many artists, traditionally we are a country of art, you can see yourself from the “Africa Museum” in Belgium where our stolen art has been stored. As we all grow up, churches are a thing for us; it’s where we learn how to sing, how to play instruments. All of these situations have been really inspiring for us.

Even if you are a collective, so ever-changing and continuously developing by definition, who are the main “regular” members of your band and are there any instruments that are always part of your instrumentation when you play together?

We have 8 regular members, and each masters a different instrument, though all members know how to play each instrument. The 8 regular members are, Pisko Crane, Sekelembele, Abbe, Padou, Tsche Tsche, Deboul, Le Meilleur, Aicha. On stage we always have 8-10 instruments. Each one created by the artist who plays them.

Despite the fact that you are going to release your first work in a few weeks’ time, and it was impossible to find any recorded music apart from your videos, your project already enjoys quite a lot of hype all over the world. How did you achieve this?

We have an EP coming out on 12 November, so we decided to go electronic on this EP, and show the work we created under quarantine. Our hype comes only from sharing the positive message, positivity is the key. 

Your live performances and their videos have definitely helped you to make plenty of “good noise” around your name. When did you decide to start recording and share them?

This started almost 3 years ago, when we got a management team behind us to help shape our ideology and decide how to transmit our message to the outside world. And it has been great, people love what we are doing and we appreciate each one who comes to our concerts, orders our merchandise and buys our music. 

Fulu Miziki are a rhythmical and eloquent expression of Kinshasa itself. There are only a few cities around the world that could give life to such a project considering its exhilaration and exuberance. What’s your relationship with your city and how do you feel about representing Kinshasa around the world with your music?

Kinshasa is everything for us, it’s the place where we were born, the place that has offered us what we have now and what we carry in our future when it comes to arts. Our streets are massively vibrant; people dress in style and very elegantly, the pastors are loud, the churches are huge and extra as well. Funerals are such a huge event; death is very celebrated and so is being born. We are proud of what we have achieved so far, and looking forward to doing more.

How was it to “enclose” your music in an album and how was to move and “relocate” the energy, freedom and unpredictability of your live sets into a recording studio?

Studio recording is not really our thing, we are meant to be loud, and there’s not much space there to be loud. We have actually thought of recording our other music live on stage when we are performing on tour, because we feel more vibrant and energetic. Getting into a studio is not the best format for us, but we do it when we have to deliver something to our audience. 

You have named yourself in a particular, as well as perfectly fitting way, “eco-friendly”. How much and in which way can music help the relationship between men/women and the environment?

Music is life, life is environment.

I imagine your rooms and studios like cabinets of music curiosities, where you recycle, transform and give new life and a voice to hundreds of objects, just like some sort of musical version of the Dr Frankenstein’s Laboratory. How does your behind-the-scenes activity work? How do you spot, transform and make your instruments playable?

This is not something we imagine, that’s our reality, our bedrooms are our studios, we work from there, small rooms but loud and vibrant, we get inspired by the colours of costumes, our own clothes, the music we listen too, the food we keep in our rooms. They are just like small museums. 

You have recently started to bring your music abroad. So, I’m wondering what logistical issues you encountered while travelling with such a unique instrumentation and how people react when they see you performing your instruments for the first time.

Our logistics seem like a nightmare to those who don’t know, but we have managed to get around it, it was very difficult at the beginning. But remember that all our instruments are from recycled material, so they broke on the journey, so we often arrive at the festival venue with missing instruments, we have to find a replacement, or ask the festival team to help us in finding them. At the end of the day, we make the show and everyone is happy.

Despite Covid, quarantines, and lockdowns, you succeeded in working on your album and launching your Euro tour. How did you deal with these mad times and how much did they affect your project?

Covid times were really hard, but also inspiring in this way, we have to move from open venues to being locked in our bedrooms, and it’s from this time when we worked on our EP called Ngbaka, which is coming out on 12 November. We are working with a great booking agency, doing their best to get us out there, and together we’ve managed to get it done, and there’s lots more coming next year. 

We already mentioned the EP and the tour… Do you already have any other plans for the future?

We are talking about visions in fashion, we are working toward that, us being designers; of something unique and Congolese at the same time. Because our costumes mean a lot. 

We usually close our interview with a question… How would you introduce your music to someone who has never listened to it before? 

We usually don’t like to put ourselves in a box, but let’s just say, afro-punk.