JamRoom Diaries: Young Paris on Paying Homage to His Heritage With ‘AFROBEATS’
In a time when identity of self dominates the social and political conversations of today’s youth, Young Paris, AKA Milandou Badila, is fiercely using his own personal identity to enlighten, advocate, educate, and—perhaps most noticeably—make art. He adorns his addictive dance sound with a complex cultural heritage and family history. The result is a style so unique, it’s been decidedly set apart as a new wave of music entitled “Afrobeats”.
After creating an electric buzz with his first project, African Vogue, Young Paris’ new album—titled AFROBEATS—dropped last Friday, March 24th. It was promised to “make you dance but also groove and chill and will take you on a joyride.” We’re here to say it delivered, and then some. We sat down with Young Paris for a JamRoom session just before the drop; check the full interview, below.
Tell us about the genesis of Young Paris.
So I come from a family of performing artists and basically arts all around. Both of my parents were performers. My father had started his career in the Congo, starting the National Ballet, and my mother was also dancer in New York. They met in Paris through dance studios and they fell in love. Ten kids later, ended up moving to New York when I was about seven-years old or so. I was born in Paris and then raised in New York by way of Congo. The Young Paris project is really about captivating the ambience I was raised around; around the arts and dabbling in fashion and music and touching many different points and combining them all together. So, you see, all of my visuals and Young Paris musically, you get all these elements of style and music and culture. It’s those dynamics that create real power and engage and push the world of arts and entertainment, and I feel beyond fortunate enough to have these experiences with all these different styles. For me, it’s really about captivating the experiences I have been exposed to and using them as content and tools for how I want to create my art. It’s a whirlwind about what’s happening around the world and how I can tell that story.
The colors and layered textures you produce through your sound and movement have real power behind them. What are some specific references and icons of yours that inspire you?
It really starts with my father. Again, he was co-founder of the National Ballet in Congo, and he was a big choreographer and created the company with his friends when he was only thirteen-years old. He also traveled the world at thirteen; so just imagine this African kid from a village being so talented that they were able to unify a troupe and travel the world at a very young age and experience, what we know as, the contemporary world from a entirely different lifestyle. For me, growing up with a father who was such a strong figure, who had this experience and this mindset, became heavily influential, not just as a dancer but also as a painter. And then mother being a dancer and a playwright. Growing up as a kid, we had these parents that exposed us to so much art: words and movement and colors and palettes and paintings. That’s why I’ve never really had a business mindset and never wanted to be a doctor or lawyer. Artist. It was always the arts.
Exactly. Growing up with African music, in an African household and fully embracing being African, really shaped everything. Also, living in New York and getting to go to music festivals and experiencing electronic music at like Bonnaroo or ones in Montreal where I got to be witness to crowds of people connecting to the music and basically going crazy to these dubstep sounds, made me very attracted to the sound. Also, growing up in New York neighborhoods and like, hip-hop…all my friends were rappers, and I was putting the bars and locks together. I just wanted to rap, dance and involve my culture, so I started this sort of spiral and started trying to figure out how to create in the most organic way. And it wasn’t until after my father died in 2012 that it became more clearer.
Before, my music was more socially aware and had some African influence and undertones, but my brother was the one who actually told me, “People want to dance, man. We come from a dance culture.” And since my father passed, I lost a lot of my spirit to create art but simultaneously I had this insane drive to make the most art I could, and so I just started making it all. I started taking these African drum beats and combining them with the electronic ambiance I was exposed to during festivals and began fine-tuning the sound. In the beginning, it was all over the place, but as time moved on it just kept getting better and better.
The Young Paris project is really about captivating the ambience I was raised around; around the arts and dabbling in fashion and music and touching many different points and combining them all together.
There’s this other sound that is starting to come over to our angle called “Afrobeats” that is very strong in Nigeria, and the other tones come from Congolese music, which made me realize that these guys are also mastering this ‘feel-good-tropical-electronic-dance’ music that you can either sing or rap over. I was sold because it was being done very well, and that’s when I started to collaborate with more producers on that angle. My last project, African Vogue, was showing my journey into that style and captivating the African influence in music and fashion, and when people think about fashion, they think about Vogue. Also, for me, it’s important to add socially conscious awareness within my projects, and that paves a way for my music to contribute and educate people. A lot of people have this general perspective of Africa, you know, like there are flies and lions and tigers running around everyone’s household and for me, my music is trying to show people the beauty that Africa offers and the talent that comes from Africa, and introducing what’s being called the New Africa.
Dope. Your style also includes face paint. How does this intersect with your music and persona of Young Paris?
So the traditional paint that we wear was given to us when we were very young, and goes all the way back to when my father was creating the National Ballet with his friends and these markings would signify them as a dance troupe, which came from African culture that goes back thousands of years, and there are actually different colors with different meanings to represent the ambiance of Congo to share this culture with the rest of the world. So the white we wear for those that we’ve lost, and when I lost my father, it was my way of carrying on his tradition and keeping this marking that he put on me, which we eventually began wearing for performances. But for me, it’s about keeping the tradition I was given, and no matter where my career goes, it’s important to stay rooted to my origins. It’s obviously beautiful and so as I began wearing it more frequently; people became more attracted to the look.
Tell me more about your look. Do you style yourself?
The thing about the Young Paris project and why I think it’s so well curated is because I’m very involved in every aspect behind it, and nothing moves forward without an intense, fully-thought out approval by me. I would say 90% of what I’m wearing comes from my ideas, whether it’s pulling pieces or researching designers I would dream about pulling from, I’ll reach out or have my stylist seek something out. I’m very hands on and it’s part of my personal taste to style myself, but I love collaboration and bringing in other artists to help out as well.
So, your new album is about to drop.
Can you give any hints of what we can expect?
I’m hoping my album AFROBEATS really educates people about what is happening and evolving in the African music scene. There’s so much going on throughout the album with the New African sound, so you’ll have some tracks that are dance-y and very powerful, which recalls the African house-music that’s happening in South Africa; some sounds are from Mongola, and then there’s a Nigerian vibe that’s going on with some feels of techno. My goal was to collect and produce the sounds that are happening in contemporary African music and translate it in my own way. It kind of takes you on this journey from lower melodic sounds to really high-end upbeat sounds that’ll make you dance but also groove and chill and will take you on a joyride. What’s happening overseas is amazing and it’s time for the New African sound to be understood and heard.