"Augur", Baloji is the new voice of cinema and in the running for the Oscars

Run for it! His first feature film Augure is released this Wednesday, November 29 in theaters in France and the New Voice award at the Cannes Film Festival was well deserved. The Belgian-Congolese artist Baloji stands out with his courage and creativity to tell this story of a sorcerer like no other.

Excerpt from the film "Augure" by Belgian-Congolese director Baloji. © "Augur" / Baloji "Augur" / Baloji ©

By: Siegfried Forster Follow


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Watch out for the ceiling! "Don't worry, this is the story of my life. On his way to the recording studio, Baloji gently makes us understand that he has mastered the art of dealing with obstacles. The many difficulties in his life, he transformed into peculiarities and advantages.

Congolese born in Lubumbashi in 1979, he became a Belgian living in Liège and has just entered the history of cinema, of Congo and of Belgium please. Last May, he was acclaimed as the first Congolese in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival with a fiction film. And with the same film, Augure, his first feature film (!), he is currently representing Belgium in the race for the 2024 Oscars. The artist's humble reaction: "When we were selected, it was a fabulous reward for the project.


Baloji: "Peau de Chagrin x Bleu de Nuit" (2018), photo from the exhibition "Augurism" dedicated to Baloji at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp. © Photo: Kristin-Lee Moolman Photo: Kristin-Lee Moolman ©

"Clothing is an extension of oneself"

In fact, its dazzling appearance is already part of its ability to attract attention. Thanks to his spectacular attire, every appearance of Baloji is an event, staged by this elegant giant of more than two meters. To top it all off, he loves to wear big hats, as if he can more easily oversee all his talents as a wildly creative filmmaker, performer, rapper, composer and stylist. So much so, that the Fashion Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, is currently dedicating an exhibition (Augurism) to the sets and costumes of his films.


"My aura of clothing?" he repeats the question, searching for words. It's not very complicated. I really come from the tag. And from tagging, I came to graffiti and graphic design. Then I was interested in materials, factories, and then I started working with professors at the Antwerp Fashion Academy. They taught me to uninhibit myself from my desires in terms of clothing, to think about men's wardrobes, to think about the materials we could use.


And this stuff of dreams is found throughout the film. "For example, we reworked lace, which is a fairly noble material to begin with, and where we discovered that it had been imported to the Congo during the years of colonialism. Except, they had replaced the lace with raffia. All of this becomes a material that we work on in the film and at the same time that dresses me in my performances or in my representations. There's always a playful aspect to clothes and a way to decompartmentalize, to deconstruct the way we wear them. Because I think clothing is an extension of oneself as well. »

[Video] Baloji in a word, a gesture and a silence


Filmmaker, rapper and artist Baloji in a word, a gesture and a silence. © Siegfried FORSTER / RFI

"Augure", a cinematic manifesto against the assignment

At Baloji, in creation, nothing is incidental, everything is at the center. He abolished the boundary between reality and dream. He thinks it's normal to compose four albums of music to tell the film crew the world and point of view of the four main characters. His Africa is a futuristic present and a fantasized future to faith. At the same time, his crazy ideas have long struggled to convince the world of cinema. "Oberhausen changed my life," he admits of the major international short film festival in Germany, where he won the main prize in 2019 for his short film Zombies, a hallucinatory stroll through Kinshasa.

Augure tells the story of a Congolese man's return to the country to introduce his wife, a white woman, to the family. But the real story at the heart of the film is Koffi's assignment as a sorcerer, because he was born with a wine stain. To do this, he, the hero of the film, must share his status as the lead role with three other characters, who are also considered wizards, even if it is for other reasons. And Baloji, born with a first name that also means "sorcerer" in Swahili, does not hide the fact that the problem of subpoena has remained omnipresent since he has been living in Belgium:

« Oh, the number of assignments I face on a daily basis as a black man... They are numerous, they are unspeakable. I couldn't name just one, because, in fact, I'm constantly confronted with structural racism, class contempt... »

Excerpt from the film "Augure" by Belgian-Congolese director Baloji. © "Augur" / Baloji "Augur" / Baloji ©

Lubumbashi to Liège

To resist attacks and stay upright, Baloji has always had to rely on himself. At the age of 4, his father kidnapped him in Belgium, without saying a word to his mother, who remained in Lubumbashi. The little boy Baloji Tshiani is forced to learn French the hard way, in a boarding school with the Jesuits. After the shock of uprooting follows the shock of downgrading. His father, a businessman, went bankrupt. The family moved to public housing. Baloji dropped out of school and left home at the age of 15. He revolted through music, became MC Balo, a member of the group Starflam, at the time the sensation of rap in Belgium. But he refuses to see music as a savior or a miracle cure.


I really did things just out of will. After that, yes, it's quite violent to live in a family structure where you go from a certain comfort to radical poverty. It's not easy. For him, the decisive element "is rather human relationships. It's making music with people who had a different background than mine and who allowed me to have other perspectives.


And yet, it is certainly not insignificant that he has composed and sung lyrics such as "As long as the music temporizes me / I will never be this criminal that I could have been". An excerpt from his first solo album Hôtel Impala, awarded in 2008 with two Octaves [Victoires] of Belgian music, including Artist of the Year. Indeed, before he succeeded, he almost went wrong in his youth. Ironically, today, at the age of 44, with his great talent for investing and connecting the arts, his sense of innovation, social justice and humanism, and endowed with immense perseverance, Baloji could very well serve as a role model for young people who do not want to be forced to choose between two countries: "I am at the crossroads of these two identities and other identities, by extension. I don't know if we have to choose. I have a mixed-race daughter and I don't think she should choose.


Excerpt from the film "Augure" by Belgian-Congolese director Baloji. © "Augur" / Baloji "Augur" / Baloji ©

Congo, an inspiration and an obsession

Since finding his way in life and in the arts, Baloji is also increasingly returning to his homeland. In his creations, the Congo often appears as an inspiration and an obsession. From his hit song Tout ceci ne vous render pas le Congo, through Le jour d'après/Indépendance Cha-cha, to imaginary Africa in Augure, he tackles the continent where he was born with saturated colours, striking lyrics and surprising tones. On the other hand, when asked what he, the artist, wants to change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he replies:

« There are elections [in the DRC] that will take place at the end of December and I think we are powerless in the face of the issues that are taking effect today. Because the political and geopolitical stakes actually go beyond the desire for emancipation that artists can carry. Unfortunately, it's beyond us. »

Excerpt from the film "Augure" by Belgian-Congolese director Baloji. © "Augur" / Baloji "Augur" / Baloji ©

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