Published Jun 21, 2019Although the two members of ABAKOS — Ngabonziza Kiroko and Pierre Kwenders — grew up in different parts of the Congo, and mostly ran in different musical circles, it was the duo's shared passion for musical exploration that ultimately brought them together a couple of years ago; this week, they'll release their debut album, Solar Soldier.
"I think Ngabo came to Canada a year or two before me," Kwenders, who has released two LPs of Antilles hip-hop-tinged pop, tells Exclaim! in an interview. "But he is more into the indie [rock] people like David Bowie… I love David Bowie, don't get me wrong, but I'm more like a funk guy, more James Brown."
Kiroko, singer/songwriter for French language indie rock band Dear Denizen concurs: "I even got into the Paul Simons, the Tom Waits, the Beatles and the Stones. [Pierre is] more into the funk and the rumba, but it's a really interesting mix to bring into our songs."
After meeting one another at the Pop Montreal festival earlier this decade, the duo nurtured a friendship for years before they decided to collaborate.
"We grew a friendship and I was like, 'We should work on something together just to see how we feel,'" explains Kiroko. "The first thing we actually did together was New Constellation, and from that moment on we were like, 'Let's just have fun.'"
Released in 2016, the three-track New Constellation EP, the first release from Kiroko and Kwenders' ABAKOS, immediately created a buzz with audiences and critics due to the duo's blend of sleek electro, modern day indie and R&B,'80s new wave and Congolese rumba.
"We had all the songs ready, but we just put a few out — then we waited to see how things go." says Kiroko.
Their new album, Solar Soldier, is a 26-minute mini-LP that includes all three tracks from New Constellation, plus four more songs also written back around 2016.
"We just had these other four tracks that cooked for a bit," explains Kwenders. "We've been performing these for a while but never put them out because we wanted to give the fans just a taste of what we are made for."
With the intent of giving their music an even more diverse sound, the duo travelled to Nashville to work with ambient lo-fi trio Basecamp before meeting with British electro soul transplant Jamie Lidell, who would go on to help produce Solar Soldiers.
"We sort of approached this with a very open mind. We wanted to explore different stuff and definitely wanted to try something new and exciting and make something futuristic," says Kiroko about their musical alliance.
Aside from the album's lead-off track — the pulsating and bouncy "Run," which contains the lyrics, "This is not what we signed for, Mr. President" — Solar Soldiers mostly focuses on matters of the heart, as the duo highlight the album with the robotic, sexually-charged "For the Hell of It" and the joyfully soulful "Solar Soldiers."
"It's never intentional for us to be political," says Kwenders. "There might be a song or two in there that would make people think, but we just want people to have fun because there's a lot of shitty stuff going on in the world."
"I feel like, as an artist, it is our responsibility to make a contribution to society," adds Kiroko. "To have a bit of a party but to also have songs like 'Fan Mail' or 'Money to Burn.' Because the most important thing is love."
Solar Soldier is out June 21 courtesy of Moonshine.