Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Mohombi: By royal command

Mohombi Mohombi Mohombi Mohombi

Born to a Swedish mother and a Congolese King-cum-politician father, 25-year-old singer/songwriter/dancer Mohombi draws naturally from his diverse cultural heritage to create a distinctively fresh, upbeat party sound which he appropriately calls ‘Afro Viking.' Whose combination of African influences with a global pop sensibility is currently in evidence on his new UK single - the instantly-catchy, feelgood midtempo anthem "In Your Head." Which additionally finds him the first signing to 2101 Records - the new, Universal-affiliated label (which goes through Island Records in the UK) formed by Grammy-winning, world-conquering producer-of-the moment RedOne (Lady GaGa; Jennifer Lopez; Usher, etc).

Indeed, with Mohombi widely tipped as a future global superstar, the last 18 months have seen several tracks from his debut album "MoveMeant" take off across mainland Europe with his first international single "Bumpy Ride" charting in no less than 11 countries - including impressive Top Five positions in France, The Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Poland.

All of which makes for interesting conversation. As the real-life African Prince born Mohombi Moupondo in August 1986 in Kinshasa, Zaire takes time out of his hectic UK promo schedule to call up ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis from Liverpool to discuss his sometimes-turbulent, yet ultimately inspiring life-story.

“Well, I grew up the youngest of 15 brothers and sisters. So musically I became a melting-pot of all my siblings!”, begins an instantly-affable Mohombi in identifiable multi-national tones: “You know, because they all had different tastes and different favourite artists, one day I could be listening to Elvis with my brothers, the next Aerosmith with my sisters, then it would be Run DMC... And from being a kid onwards I was always the family entertainer! Whenever we had family dinners or parties, I’d be standing on the table just dancing and singing for EVERYBODY!... So yeah, I did grow up in a very musical environment. But then, once war broke out in the Congo and it wasn’t secure for us to stay in Kinshasa any more, my parents decided to send us to Sweden to continue our schooling. And it was after we got to Stockholm that my brother and I decided to form a group.”

Indeed, having escaped war-torn Congo and moved to Stockholm in 1999, Mohombi would go on to make his stage debut at the age of l7 in the Swedish production of the cult show ‘Wild Side Story’ before going on to form - alongside his local cult DJ brother - the aforementioned duo Avalon.

“Well, while growing up in Kinshasa we were always aware of the latest Western hip hop and R&B that was coming from Europe and America, while also having the local African influences”, he recalls: “You know, I’d always be in the living room with my brothers and sisters making up choreography, where we’d mix the dances of the local African pop superstars with the latest hip hop and street dances we’d been watching on MTV. So when we moved to Europe we basically took all those influences WITH us. And, because studios and producers were more accessible there, we started realising that we could now actually take those musical ideas we had in our heads and finally get them down in the form of a song or a CD! So it was then that my brother and I decided to become the duo ‘Avalon’! We basically had this vision of doing hip hop in French and English, and creating our own style by combining it with what we knew was our own, very different African background.”

Interestingly, by combining the dancehall and hip hop of the day with the distinctive African beats on which they were raised, Avalon - between 2004 and 2008 - would go on to sell over half-a-million records, prestigiously winning the equivalent of an African Grammy along the way: “Well, with our mix of influences and by doing our unique kinda dances onstage, we got our first taste of popularity mostly on the underground scene in Sweden”, remembers Mohombi: “But then a year or so later - after we’d been the opening act for many major artists and even competed to represent Sweden in Eurovision - we sat down and were like ‘Look we’ve done EVERYTHING! We’ve been on over 2,000 stages in Sweden, and we still don’t have a RECORD deal! Let’s try to EXAPND this thing! Let’s try to go somewhere else and try to SPREAD our music!’!”

“So that summer we decided to fly down to Kinshasa and actually release our music there”, he continues: “And that literally led to what I’d call overnight success. Because we did a couple of TV and radio shows one day, and the next day we could barely walk the STREETS! Everyone seemed to already know the songs, and it was just CRAZY! Then a couple of months later, we got a nomination for The Kora Awards - an event that honours musical talent from all over the continent, and is generally known as ‘The African Grammies’!”

Meanwhile, with Mohombi at the time also becoming a prolific songwriter in his own right, it wasn’t long before his ambitions took him to Los Angeles, California - the place where he would eventually meet fellow half-Swede, aforementioned Swedish-Moroccan super-producer RedOne.

“Yeah, I’d been telling my brother for a long time that one day I’d spread my wings and try to do my own thing”, he recounts openly: “Because I had a lot of bigger visions and bigger ambitions... You know, I wanted to make my mark WORLDWIDE! And, with me becoming a successful songwriter for other artists, one day I just said to myself ‘I have a couple of contacts in LA. So why don’t I go out there for a couple of months to network and see who I can meet?’… So I flew to LA, and actually ended up moving into the same building as the RedOne camp! And, with those guys also coming from a Swedish background, straightaway we CONNECTED!... And so, after a couple of weeks of hanging out with them, they were like ‘Mohombi, we want you to meet RedOne, because we genuinely think he’ll like you’... So of course I agreed - and within a couple of weeks RedOne and I were in a STUDIO together!”

… All of which, as we now know, eventually led to Mohombi becoming the first signing to 2101 Records, with his label-head/producer/mentor RedOne determined to make him into the next global superstar! “Yeah, I went to that first meeting with RedOne as a really nervous songwriter!”, he recalls with a smile: “I had no ambitions for him to sign me as an artist. But as soon as I stepped in the studio, he was like ‘Mohombi, I’ve heard about you for so many years! So many friends in Sweden have told me about this young African/Swedish guy who’s trying to make it and even pays to perform sometimes, because he’s so keen to be on that stage! Play me some stuff!’… So I played him a couple of demos I’d written for my songwriting projects... And straightaway he was like ‘Yeah, you’re a good songwriter. But come ON, Mohombi! I’ve heard you’re a natural-born SUPERSTAR! Now is your chance to PROVE that to me! Let me hear some music from your OWN project!’!”

“So I handed him my own demo - and he instantly just GOT it!”, recalls a now-animated Mohombi: “You know, he totally got my vision that I’d had for so many years style-wise, image-wise... He was like ‘Yeah, this is really great! I think the world is ready for this right now! I’m gonna make you a SUPERSTAR!’… And for me to finally find - after all my years of hard work - someone in the music business who didn’t wanna change me, was just AMAZING! You know, he was like ‘I’m gonna create a SOUND for you! We’re gonna do an album, and we’re gonna write it TOGETHER!’... So yeah, today RedOne and I are very good friends, really close - I’m even the Godfather of his SON! It’s just an amazing situation where we’re like FAMILY - just two young guys trying to have fun, enjoy life, and write good MUSIC together!”

The single "In Your Head" is released March 19 through Island Records

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