Congolese-Canadian artists Pierre Kwenders and Ngabonziza Kiroko of ABAKOS borrowed their name from the fraught political history of the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Abakos was originally the Mao-inspired suit which Mobutu Sese Seko made standard for the country in his efforts to counteract European influence in the 70’s. But the reference is tongue-in-cheek, and the project is more informed by the duo’s past than about it.
Despite the shared heritage, the two artists occupy their own distinct musical lanes: Kiroko is best known as the frontman of the acclaimed electronic indie-folk band Dear Denizen, while Kwenders is a boundary-pushing Afro-electric singer and DJ. However, both artists approached ABAKOS with the intention of expanding their range and exploring new ideas. For Kwenders, this meant singing in one language instead of four.
After a few rounds of trading demos in 2015, the pair traveled to Nashville to work with OWSLA-affiliated production trio Basecamp to flesh out the songs. By chance, they also ended up in the studio with British legend and fellow Nashville resident Jamie Lidell, a long-time hero of Kiroko’s.
ABAKOS future soul falls somewhere between TV on the Radio and SBTRKT, folding layered vocals in with lush synths, rousing beats, and low key rock influences. Kiroko and Kwenders have nearly identical voices that intertwine and double each other on the record, and the effect is unique. The influence of Congolese rumba creeps in as well, in the progression and unconventional formatting of some of the songs.