Name: Kiazi Malonga
Occupation: musician / artist
Current Release: Tembo Kia Ngoma on Redtone Records
Recommendations: Kevin Mfinka, a recording artist
To keep in touch with the work of Kiazi, find him on Facebook and Instagram
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing/producing (primarily for performances) at 16 when I became lead drummer of Fua Dia Congo (est. in 1977 by Malonga Casquelourd). One of my main influence was the African diaspora community that my father was instrumental in creating as well as my teachers Malonga Casquelourd, Ferdinand Batantou, Constant Massengo and Hyacinte Massamba). My musical inspirations (outside of my culture) was listening to all types of music, 2pac, Los Van Van, Koffi Olomide, and James Brown (each of these artists representing genre of music that I love). Music was always tied to spirit and ritual, as it was my primary connection to the Congo growing up in the Bay Area. So, of course music drew me in because it was a way for me to learn about my heritage. It also served as a means of expression, healing and bridging the gap between disconnected communities.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
When one is initiated into Ngoma music, you learn by emulating which is almost polar opposites from how it is approached in western culture. Ngoma music is a language and as with most of us, we are constantly learning new words, phrases and figures of speech, so in short my development will never be complete. Speaking more directly regarding my specific steps to developing my own voice, my father Malonga was my connection and helped me develop a love of my culture and this instrument, Batantou gave me the fire and spirit required to play, Massengo transitioned me from an accompanist drummer to a soloist and Hyacinte taught me the art of composing and showman ship. My own musical journey has started with a huge amount of emulating and I was later able to add my own stamp in the music. I believe copying and learning happens at the same stage, which helps solidify the skillset. Once a certain comfort level and understanding is achieved, exploration within the confines of the music can begin.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I do suffer from writer’s block so my solution to that was to take small breaks away but always circle back with different inspirations. Be a perfectionist as the composition is never finished, it’s always missing something. I got past it by realizing that the composition represents a moment in time which I can always grow and improve from without the first the step regardless of where you start the journey will never start. The always looming thought of, “is this good enough?” because my fellow peers, cross-over audiences and students enjoy this. I got past this by deciding to stop second-guessing myself.
Are these compositions good enough to be adopting, copied and interwoven into familiarities in Ngoma and drumming culture? One of the signs of a great piece is if its emulated. As for Production challenges, I am pretty sure all musicians can attest to this…being a great recording musician and performing musician are completely different. I had to learn how to translate my talent from real time playing to recording so that the skill and impact would be captured in the records. Lots of coaching and trial and error with Justin Phipps.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I don’t have my own studio and this whole project has been done in Redtone studio. This is my first album. Redtone studio is set up in a basement. The studio is a hybrid of vintage gear and digital. For me there is not one most important piece of gear.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Humans have spirit and soul, we create art and sound out of emotion, technology can capture, reproduce and make it shareable with the world.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
These tools allow me to produce my best material pulling out all of the highest quality sound, reducing the imperfections and ultimately creating a sound that gives you all the excitement of a live performance and the finished qualities of a refined engineered song.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Outside of featuring Justin Phipps on strings, balafon and drums, I did not have any features on this project. As my first project, I felt it important to do a solo project to establish my name and art form.
More generally, I love collaborating. For me, the best ways are to go off a vibe or a riff that can be either explained verbally or through the music. I have done all of the above, file shares, following a concept explained to me and improvising on stage with other musicians/percussionists which is my personal favorite.