Kimyan Law (AKA Nico Mpunga) is just 19 years old, but there's a heaviness to him that seems far beyond his years. The son of a Congolese father and Austrian mother, Mpunga is currently exiled in Vienna, unable to return to his homeland because of the Congolese Civil War. The separation from many of his family members, who still reside in Africa, has been painful for Mpunga. "Due to several civil war conflicts and the overall situation, we couldn't get there until very recently—of course that was awful," he says.
Frequently the only black youth in an all-white environment, Mpunga has experienced racism and prejudice at the hands of some school mates. While many would fold inwards in such a situation, Mpunga chose to find solace in music. He started creating improvised instruments from scraps of wood and glass as a kid, before moving on to the drums, piano, marimba and flute. At age 12, he moved into electronic music, experimenting with primitive looping on a PSP. "Let's say I was really sad, I just played the drums for hours," remembers Mpunga. After that, he found inspiration in the classics: Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, and Bob Marley. He even credits MJ for instigating his lifelong passion for percussion.
Songs from Kimyan Law's debut album Coeur Calme
In school, Mpunga furthered his love for electronic music through audio-engineering courses. "We had one subject where we mixed the tracks and channels we had recorded earlier—all my classmates did that on computers—but a friend and I instead sampled the 808 library up and down," he says. An ongoing passion for creative sampling soon followed. "The library of sequencers was a good base to start off, but nothing reached the sound I wanted to craft. [So] I built my own library of sounds from our kitchen, bathroom, paper-bins, and I soon had some pieces of music."
Mpunga's explorations into his African roots shine through in his debut album Coeur Calme, released this week on London's Blu Mar Ten. A breathtaking medley of sonic deviations, the LP blends traditional African instrumentations with chopped vocals and experimental drum-focused tones. I asked Mpunga how he would describe his complex sound, and he jokingly replied, "Melancholy-Cinematic-African-Ethnic-Calme-Dream-Drum and Bass." But on a more serious note, he told me that the entire album "evolved with the reflection on my childhood, thoughts about which issues affected me and how. Everything that bothered me and still does, hides behind the album. Some understand the stories and some don't. but when the listener can relate to it, the album has emotional impact, and that's magic."
Kimyan Law's debut album Coeur Calme is out now on Blu Mar Ten. Get it here.