Miloe: Minnesota-based indie-pop star paying tribute to his Congolese heritage – and Coldplay
Bob Kabeya, AKA Miloe, has been getting lost in music from a young age. The 21-year-old bedroom pop artist, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, grew up attending the church where his parents were in the choir, and the Congolese gospel music he would hear there would stay in his brain for hours afterwards.
“I remember coming home and the songs would still be playing in my head. I could still hear them really vividly, and I could recreate them with my mouth,” he recalls to NME. “One of the biggest things that still sticks with me is all these people coming together to create this huge, beautiful sound. Whenever I’m in a musical context that I’m sharing with a bunch of people who are all singing together, that’s super-amazing. A lot of my favourite bands are the ones that can get a crowd singing [to] create a unifying experience. That’s always the goal.”
While making the latest Miloe EP ‘Gaps’ (due September 16), Kabeya — who moved from the DRC to Minneapolis aged eight and has been there ever since — decided to dig deeper into the Congolese music of his upbringing. “Moving [to the US], there’s pressure to assimilate and catch up on everything so that you can connect with people around you. But as I’m getting older, I’ve been appreciating old Congolese music that I grew up on that my grandparents liked,” he says, naming artists like Tabu Ley Rochereau and Lokua Kanza.
On lead single ‘Where U Are’, he uses a Fender Acoustasonic guitar to create a sound like a marimba, while employing gospel-esque vocal harmonies and ad-libs — both call-backs to his childhood church. “I hope other African kids that grew up in similar contexts to me can hear those influences in my music and connect with it,” he says. “That’s really my biggest hope, and the people I wanna connect to the most.”
Kabeya began learning every instrument that he could get his hands on when he first moved to the US — partly as a way to channel his fidgety, nervous energy, and partly as a means to connect with new friends while still learning to speak English. Early on, he loved the radio pop music that he hadn’t been familiar with in the DRC, like Justin Bieber and Jason Derulo. A little later he discovered Coldplay, whose 2011 album ‘Mylo Xyloto’ is the inspiration for his stage name. Once he got to high school, he became enamoured with the folkier sounds of José González: “He was really minimalist and grounded; his music made me feel like I could start to make stuff on my own.”
Kabeya struggles with insomnia, and, when he began making music as Miloe, his initial aim was to create soothing music that he could fall asleep to. As he began playing live shows around the Minneapolis indie scene, though, his scope grew. “The city is small enough that things are really interconnected and can gather support, but it’s big enough where there’s infrastructure to really boost local art,” he says. “It’s very energising and inspiring.” While opening for Chicago indie-poppers Beach Bunny he impressed Hippo Campus frontman Jake Luppen, who worked with Kabeya to produce his breakout 2020 EP ‘Greenhouse’.
Work on ‘Gaps’ started during the pandemic, a period when Kabeya was going through a break-up along with moving out of his parents’ house for the first time. He preferred working on GarageBand, letting its simplicity and limitations encourage him to focus harder on the craft of songs. On top of his Congolese influences, he deliberately drew on a wide range of sounds, from the grainy folk of Big Thief to the dance-y pop of Toro y Moi. “I try to gather influences from wherever I can, ‘cause it helps keep my mind moving,” he explains.
As he’s advanced in the music industry — going to LA for the first time to work with The Neighbourhood producer Lars Stalfors, for instance — he’s begun to feel some pressure to create. “It’s a struggle to balance the things that you’re making with the pressures of commerciality,” he says. “But it’s important to know what success means to me. I just try to focus on making things I’m proud of.”
The music on ‘Gaps’ is a warm, joyful mish-mash of indie and pop sounds, which mingle authentically over layered, rich production. “Whenever I make something and I feel the need to just listen to it over and over and over, I know I’m doing good,” he says. “I get into spaces where I’ll listen to the same few seconds of a song for a couple hours. I love that, when I just lose half a day to a small section of the song.
“That’s kind of why it’s called ‘Gaps’: it’s another word for the flow state, zoning into something, going into a realm where you lose sense of time. That’s the feeling I chase.”
Miloe’s new EP ‘Gaps’ is out on September 16 via Loma Vista Recordings