Pop from brussels: research in the red light milieu

Lous and the Yakuza from Brussels is shaking up the Francophone pop scene with their brilliant debut album "Gore".

Marie-Pierra Kakoma aka Lous and the Yakuza Photo: Laura Marie Cieplik

Marie-Pierra Kakoma aka Lous and the Yakuza talks willingly about her life. The singer, who was born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, explains, for example, the background of her casually grooving hip-hop track "Courant d’Air" with a story: "There was a time when I was burned down and homeless. At that time, quite a few people advised me that I should hook up." The 24-year-old never seriously considered this suggestion. Nevertheless, she decided to research the red-light milieu. To pursue the question: How do women who sell their bodies actually live?

She eventually developed "Courant d’Air" from this research. In the song, Lous and the Yakuza tells the story from the perspective of a child whose mother is a sex worker: "Who likes to say to their classmates, ‘Mama’s a whore’? It’s hard for kids."

Lous and the Yakuza: "Gore" (Epic/Sony).

The musician appreciates all the more that her parents are doctors. Still, her family didn’t have it easy. When Lous was just one year old, her mother fled with her younger sister from Congo to Belgium: "Because she was born in Rwanda, she had to leave the country. Otherwise she would have gone to prison." The father stayed in Congo with the three other children. When she was four, Marie-Pierra moved to Europe to live with her mother, in 2000.

Nowhere really at home

It was a culture shock, she recalls. Not only because of the language barrier: "I had a hard time suddenly living in a Brussels ghetto. Since my mother was not allowed to practice medicine in Belgium, we couldn’t afford to live in a better neighborhood."

In 2005, the entire family moved to Rwanda, but Marie-Pierra never really felt at home there: "Although the Hutu genocide against the Tutsi had already taken place more than ten years ago, the people were still traumatized. It was not a nice time." So she persuaded her parents to let her return to Belgium. After graduating from a boarding school, she wanted to build a career as a musician in Brussels. Things didn’t work out for her at first: she was mugged and even lost her apartment. For months she lived on the street – until she found shelter in a recording studio.

There she recorded the first tracks of her now released debut album "Gore" – it interweaves hip hop with jazz, soul, R&B and pop to create an idiosyncratic sound. Marie-Pierra became Lous and the Yakuza.

Not for nothing did the singer choose this stage name. On the one hand, Yakuza means extreme way, on the other hand, this term stands for the Japanese gangster organization Yakuza: "For me, this term symbolizes power above all. Yakuza is to make my fans understand that we blacks are not losers, but people with potential."

Injuries and loneliness

In any case, Marie-Pierra Kakoma is proud of her skin color. She likes to stage it like a chameleon – sometimes with red hair, sometimes with an Afro wig. Her appearance may be eccentric, her music is straightforward. In her songs, she brings her experiences dramatically to the point. On the melancholy "Dilemme," catchy R&B caresses her spoken word vocals: "If I could, I’d live alone – far away from the people I love." Loneliness has its appeal for her: "I’ve been hurt a lot. That’s what shaped me."

However, Lous and the Yakuza is no longer a hermit. At least she celebrates the community with "Tout est gore", at times a vocal distortion gives her singing more room for atmosphere: "In this song I celebrate the black community." "Amigo" stands out with its euphoria including a booming beat. The result is a tribute to friendship.

When Lous and the Yakuza closes this song with the phrase "Life is not a gift," it doesn’t come across as contrived at all. One senses that Lous never simply says something along, but always reflects a piece of migrant life reality in her music.