What happens when you can't go home? For 21-year-old drum & bass producer Nico Mpunga, aka Kimyan Law, that was the case when his family was forced to leave his homeland of Congo due to a civil war. His Congolese father and his Austrian mother moved to Vienna, where he is a citizen and has been based since. Throughout his youth, he was often the only black kid in an all-white environment, and was subjected to racism and prejudice.
Rather than dwell on the negative, however, Mpunga is a glass-half-full kind of guy. "I think I am and should be grateful for millions of things," he tells THUMP over email. "My family, friends, listeners, all the love and appreciation for my music that I've received and still get, nature, the list goes on... if you're thankful for the people or things you've got, you grow, and there's absolutely nothing negative about that." This optimistic attitude lays the foundation for his second studio album, Zawadi, which in Swahili is loosely translated to "gifts." As Mpunga tells THUMP, the LP is "mostly about dreams," which is a fitting description for its deep, almost meditative sound.
Mpunga, a multi-instrumentalist (he's learned to play the drums, piano, marimba, and flute), is also multi-sensory with his work, envisioning tracks as images, fragrances, and colors. He describes album cut "Yore Dub," which THUMP is exclusively premiering today, as "fruity, almost tangy." Listen to it below ahead of Zawadi's release on November 13 via Blu Mar Ten, and keep scrolling for a Q&A.
THUMP: Your family are from Congo, which has suffered badly from its civil war. How has finally being able to return there influenced your music?
Kimyan Law: The last time I went there was a couple years ago. Being in the city and suburbs and seeing this part of my family, some for the first time, was very exciting. I think that the nature, the landscapes and the environment definitely refreshed my African-influenced sounds. Also the familiar food, fruits and colors I came across played their part. The African side in some of the pieces of Zawadi is represented more strongly than on the first album.
You're a multi-instrumentalist, though you seem to favor drums above all. When you make music, is percussion the first thing you lay down before painting in the rest, or vice versa?
It varies depending on what idea or sketch I have at the beginning. Sometimes I start with the melody, sometimes with the outro. I don't really have a standard scheme or process, although most of the ingredients are percussive anyway. I focused mainly on playing drumset, African drums and percussion since I was a child and it's definitely stuck with my approach to making music.
When you last spoke with THUMP, you mentioned that your debut album Coeur Calme "evolved with the reflection on my childhood, thoughts about which issues affected me and how." Does Zawadi see you find a sense of resolution or peace regarding any of these issues?
Good question. I think my first album helped me develop myself—not just in terms of music or sound—and during the time from finishing the first one until beginning to roughly sketch the second album I'd resolved and reflected a lot. I guess Zawadi doesn't really relate to the first one except that I've also written it. It's my first concept album, in which I tried to incorporate many other corners of music as well as drum and bass. Zawadi is mostly about dreams, in every sense.
Zawadi is Swahili for "gifts." What significance does this word have to you, having dealt with situations such as racism and exile? Do you consider yourself someone who finds the upside/silver lining in everything?
In our case the word is translated to 'gift from above', more loosely translated 'gift' or 'gifts'. It has a lot to do with being thankful. Not that it's solely based on the fact that I had difficulties in my childhood but more on the fact that I think I am and should be grateful for millions of things. My family, friends, listeners, all the love and appreciation for my music that I've received and still get, nature, the list goes on.. Anyway, in my opinion I think if you're thankful for the people or things you've got, you grow, and there's absolutely nothing negative about that.
Your bio mentions that you refer to your music as "portraits" and as having fragrances. In that context, how would you describe the imagery and smell of album cut "Yore Dub"?
Portraits or pieces, yes. "Yore Dub" is my take on the influence that jungle music has had on me, merged with my cloud of sounds. If I were to describe it in terms of fragrance or color I'd say it has a very fruity, almost tangy, scent to it—mango, plum, papaya, maybe kiwi? Simultaneously having a very rough, bassy type of color, something like sese wood.