In Conversation With: Miles From Kinshasa
After confidently addressing him by the name ‘Miles’ when the Zoom call connects, I soon learnt that this is in fact not his name at all. Born Vivien Kongolo, he explains that the stage name ‘Miles From Kinshasa’ doesn’t literally mean that he’s a Miles who is from Kinshasa, but more an ode to existing miles away from a place he considers home. “There’s two explanations to it, there’s one where it’s like…I just wanted it to be striking innit, I just wanted it to be a thing where you hear my name and it’s like who is he? But on the flipside I was just trying to be smart with it as well. So it’s like, I was born in Congo and Kinshasa is the capital of Congo [but] I live in London, which is miles away from Kinshasa…and I think at the time I was going through an existential crisis. I think I was like 24 or 25 when I was like yo I need to go back to my country, I need to see where I’m from so it all just coincided at the right time and yeah…it just stuck ever since.” I expressed my apologies through an embarrassed chuckle and he equally responds with laughter, “You know what it’s cool, a lot of people always say to me 'you lowkey look like a Miles'.”
My first listen of the self-produced EP Beloved felt like I was listening to the opening score to a black coming of age film I’m yet to see. The first track Wearing Smiles immediately introduces you to the genre of alternative music that Miles From Kinshasa uniquely delivers to the UK music scene. From the moment the song opens with drums and whistles right to the closing number, the project refuses to be boxed into genre boundaries the music industry tries so hard to put artists in; especially black ones. Miles From Kinshasa navigates alternative sounds, mixing and blending inspiration from across music to create something that sounds so vivid- you can almost see it. Visuals are clearly something he puts at the forefront of his creative process as he tells me how grateful he is to be able to release music again now that lockdown restrictions have eased. “When I’m making the song I can always see the visual. So even with this project…I can literally see the visual to every song…I’m very conscious of the way we receive music nowadays and I’m very conscious of being an up and coming artist and understanding that as much as the music can be amazing, people sort of need an explanation of what the music is. It’s a very very important part of the process. I feel like even for myself as a consumer, the music can be amazing but if I don’t get some kind of translation through a visual or even the artwork then it’s just not gonna connect.”
Photo by Anna Lowry (@annashotme)
His 2017 debut project LIMBO sits in a completely different section of alternative music to Beloved, being far more experimental in sound and structure in comparison. “I think I’ve just improved. For me personally when I listen to it I just feel like I got better as a songwriter, I got better as a producer and I think I got a bit clearer with what I’m tryna say. I think LIMBO sounds the way it does because it’s just me tryna figure out what I wanna do with ‘Miles From Kinshasa’, whereas with this project it’s more me doing what I’m really good at as opposed to tryna show the tools I have. I just wanted this project to feel like I’ve gotten better.” There is a notable difference in production value between the two projects; one that he’s attributed to a growth in his skill as well as assistance from his long-time collaborator and close friend Kadiata. “That’s my guy, that’s my bro. He sort of executive produced it as well. I might send him a song and be like yo this is ready to mix and then he’ll hear something and be like are you alright with me just adding this? He’ll do it and it’s always amazing.”
Being the producer, songwriter and performer for majority of his music, I was curious as to which came first for him in the creation process. “It’s always production first because I think that’s just the hat I put on first in order to create the bed. Then that’s when I get into trying to write an amazing song before adding on the things that sort of make it sound more like a score or soundtrack. Again referring back to Kadiata, both of us are film buffs and we can kinda appreciate when you can watch a film and there’s a cohesiveness in the music.” As much as cinema is a big influence for him, I can’t help but notice how Miles’ sound seems derived from a combination of music types. Beloved just like his previous art doesn’t exist within a particular genre. “It’s a large melting pot I can’t lie. I think the base of it I would say comes from pop. Pop is my favourite genre and I actually think pop might be the best way to refer to my music. I reckon one of the only reasons it’s not referred to as that is…I don’t know…I would say in the UK it’s probably because I’m black. That’s usually how it is, you’re kind of put into the R&B or the soul kinda thing and funnily enough those two genres aren’t the ones I listen to the most so I couldn’t even come out here and say I’m an R&B and soul guy. Someone would finish me in a debate.”
As light-heartedly as he sees this, it’s alarming how little freedom there is in mainstream music for black artists that aren’t creating music that fits the perceived mould of blackness. But Miles stays true to what he knows, feeling most at home in Pop as a genre, perhaps because its a genre that does not demand a specific description. “With Miles from Kinshasa that was the turning point for me. I was like I’m just gonna do whatever I feel… I’m not gonna think about all the boxes that are supposed to be ticked, I’m just gonna do something completely new. And I think so far it’s been working for me, I’m not big or anything but I feel like the people who connect with my music connect for that very reason.” Beloved, with a very high repeatability factor, is full of fluid sounds that blend into something very unique, leaving a beautifully mellow aftertaste with the listener. His intentions for the EP translate effortlessly into melody as we travel with him on a journey through his thoughts, the music serving as a soundtrack to the road trip.
Photo by Anna Lowry (@annashotme)
“You know what, I just wanted to drop a project that was singular. I feel like projects will come and go this year but nothing will sound like mine and that’s good for me but also I just wanted people to take a bit of vulnerability from my project really, that’s like the most important thing. Us as men, that’s something we really need to work on so that was just the most important thing, just being as honest as possible. I wouldn’t have been able to drop a song like ‘Wearing Smiles’ two or three years ago because I wasn’t in that place. But now I can say…this is how I feel, I know you might feel like this as well so hey…let’s share it and let’s go through this together.”
‘Beloved’ EP is available on all streaming platforms now.