With 21 performances until the end of August in Europe and the United States, the Congolese-Rwandan-Belgian pop phenomenon Lous and the Yakuza (26) represents the summer of truth. A conversation about building hospitals in Africa, her four companies and the management of Jay Z, Roc Nation. “My fearlessness attracts.”
Sunday evening in Botanique in Brussels. We follow Marie-Pierra Kakoma (26) on the run from the rain from the terrace garden to the old library. After the frontwoman of the hip and mega-popular pop project Lous and the Yakuza has slung her pullover over a chair in a smooth motion, she gives us a taste of the snow-white top she will be wearing later tonight for her concert. Enchanted by the surroundings, she turns to the young man with a camera that followed us inside: ‘Wow, what a beautiful library! All the old books! (against us) This is my assistant Joey. He films the interview for my social‘, she says in English, which is crystal clear for someone whose mother tongue is French.
The Congolese-Rwandan-Belgian pop phenomenon with millions of fans and followers on social media and the streaming service Spotify is facing months of great truth. Her debut album ‘Gore’ full of vital French-language Afropop was released in 2020 during the pandemic. You can only perform now, two years later. Her show from a few weeks ago at the Core Festival in Brussels was only the third with her band. No less than 21 performances are planned until the end of August and that is not least. She has performed at major festivals such as Rock Werchter, North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreux Jazz and supports roaring international names such as Coldplay, Gorillaz and Alicia Keys.
Who is Lous and The Yakuza?
It is Marie-Pierra Kakoma’s (26) musical project. She was born in the Congo and grew up in the Congo, Rwanda and Brussels. In addition to being a singer, she is a model, author and interior designer. She was discovered in 2019 via YouTube, where she shared her own music – catchy afro-pop, hip-hop and R&B. Her second album will be released this fall. This summer, Lous and The Yakuza will perform at major summer festivals and as supporting acts for Alicia Keys, Gorillaz and Coldplay.
She thinks it’s amazing that she can share the stage with Alicia Keys: ‘She’s one of the greatest singer-songwriters that has ever existed. as a teenager, I was obsessed with her. ‘ Lous met the American singer in 2019 at Sony’s headquarters, where she had an appointment with the great boss Rob Stringer. “He wanted to see me, even though I did not have an album out yet. It was already incredible. When I opened the door to the waiting room, Alicia suddenly stood in front of me. I freaked out and especially when it turned out that she knew me from my video clips (laughs). Soon I will see her again every day. Has she given me any good advice yet? No, she sees me as her equal. ‘
Lous does not feel any stress until the concerts – ‘soul’ in the long run, the French manner in which syllables or words are reversed – in his own words. Okay, there are some concerns that her voice is marked by a recent corona infection. My team works harder on it than I do. My singing voice still sounds a bit sour from the heavy cough, but it should probably go. Life has taught me not to set high expectations for myself. Every day I say to myself: you are a young woman who wants to have as much fun as possible. I say that to my best friends too. I have worked hard for all the opportunities I get now, so I would also like to see them as something positive. I’ve had my ailment†
I was homeless because I could not take care of myself. Now that I’m finally mature enough for it, I also need to make sure my employees are feeling well.
The latter is the least one can say about the coming star of the Belgian music industry. The story of her childhood sounds like a book full of dark pages. Marie-Pierra Kakoma was born in Lubumbashi, Congo, but due to the civil war she had to flee to Belgium as a child, where she was separated from her parents for a period. Her mother, a pediatrician, ended up in jail in Congo because she is a Rwander. After her release, the family moved to Brussels. Her father became a gynecologist in Rwanda. Between 2005 and 2011, the family was reunited in her father’s country.
It was not a pleasant time for a ten-year-old child. Rwanda was still recovering from the genocide. Marie-Pierra saw people without limbs, house or money. The family lived in poverty, a stark contrast to the luxury of Belgium. As a 15-year-old, she returned to our country because she had a better chance of a music career here. It happened against the wishes of her parents, who wanted their daughter to become a doctor. When, after all, she went after the music, the money tap was closed. Around the age of nineteen, she ended up on the streets and slept at the metro stations in Brussels around the Porte de Namur and Avenue Louise. She developed an eating disorder and came into contact with drugs and crime.
‘Monsters’ by Lous and The Yakuza.
The songs Lous wrote about his experiences in the dark period ended on ‘Gore’. Immediately, her other artistic talents also emerged. She paints and designs interiors. She writes stories in English, which gave her the French translation of the poem Amanda Gorman delivered at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, she can also call herself a model. The slender African with the perfectly symmetrical face has already been seen twice on Louis Vuitton’s catwalk and modeled for Dior.
The profits from these fashion projects go in part to social projects in Africa. She wants to build a hospital in Rwanda and renovate a maternity hospital in Congo. ‘It’s quite a task. (fan) The banks will not give me a loan. But I do not give up. Everyone in Africa deserves the opportunities I have been given here. I accept death – I was born in a war zone, on the streets of Brussels my life hung in a thread. That is why I want to help. Equal opportunities start with good healthcare. ‘
Life has taught me not to set high expectations for myself. Every day I say to myself: you are a young woman who wants to have as much fun as possible.
Two years ago, Marie-Pierra was one of the pioneers of the Black Live Matters demonstration in Brussels. In the United States, they see bread in the rare combination of artistic versatility and social engagement. In December, she signed a contract with entertainment giant Roc Nation, which owns rapper Jay-Z and includes Shakira, Rihanna and Belgian footballers Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. She kept the news quiet for almost five months. “I like to plan things a little. Do I sound like a crazy control freak? (laugh) Maybe I am too. ‘
What does Roc Nation plan to do with her? She spreads her triumphant arms. ‘They support me in my obsession with influencing contemporary culture through as many existing channels as possible. That’s why I’m interested in music, in design, in acting, in Amanda Gorman’s poetry. I’m not afraid to dream. Roc Nation shares my vision. They see my fearlessness and it attracts them. People just want crazy people† Mick Jagger, Otis Redding and Whitney Houston were not ordinary people. We call them crazy, but they are not or were not. They differ. And if you’re different, people are attracted to you. ‘
The people at Roc Nation see Lous as a global superstar. It’s her, she says confidently, but without sounding pedantic, as she strokes her long nails on her smartphone. ‘I’ve never been a Belgian artist, let alone a French project. In Italy I am bigger than here. See: my Spotify numbers from the past week. Milan, Rome, Naples, Turin. Then comes Paris. (swip longer) You already have to go to number 29 to find a third French-speaking city where they listen to them to my music. The global aspect is what companies like Roc Nation and Louis Vuitton find so interesting about me. ‘
If there’s one aspect of her fast-paced fame that is difficult, it’s the pressure to be a good boss to her employees. She has to keep four small businesses afloat. “I was homeless because I could not take care of myself. Now that I’m finally mature enough there, I need to make sure my employees are feeling well. It’s a battle every day. I’m not a businesswoman, I’m an artist. Fortunately, my experiences on the street put things in perspective. At that point in my life, I was really in a state of survival at times. If I fail now, the consequences will be less dramatic. No one wants to die, not even my employees. (laughs broadly) But failure is obviously not an option. ‘
Lous and the Yakuza play at Rock Werchter on July 1 and four times as a supporting act for Coldplay at King Baudouin Stadium in August. Her second album will be released this fall.