We first featured Jonah Mutono aka Kidepo three years ago when he released his single "Reds." This year, he’s back with a bang, releasing his stunning debut EP Reunion which came out via Good Years (Banks, Francis & the Lights, Lil Silva) on April 28. The EP is a vibrant and intimate exploration into the notion of having, or indeed not having, a place that feels like home.
25 year old Kidepo was born in London before moving to Philadelphia, a professional decision for his parents. Almost a decade later they moved to their native Uganda, sending Jonah to boarding school in the U.K. where he remained until he was 22, when he moved back to Uganda again. Today, we premiere the visual for "Ramada," a beautifully upbeat ode to the positives that can come from feeling lost.
“There’s something in the water, ‘cause it tastes like champagne” he croons. The tone of Kidepo’s voice has a gravelly texture to it across much of Reunion, but on "Ramada" his vocal is weightless, floating above the lush production and building into a euphoric, atmospheric, and groove laced chorus. The video is all dusty hues, dappled sunlight and a hazy nostalgic aesthetic.
Kidepo explains that their brief for the location was to find somewhere “swelteringly hot and a little dated.” Watching the video you can feel the heaviness of the heat in the air, and the colour palette definitely conveys a '70s feel. Regarding the narrative, Kidepo and the director Isaac wanted to create “a fever dream based on memories and experiences, to match the sheer feeling of frenzy in the middle of displacement.”
The solider-like character in the video is an askari, the Ugandan term for a security guard. At times the figure seems like a potentially threatening character in a story which otherwise feels optimistic, so it’s interesting when Jonah explains his role is one of protection, and in reality it’s a case of “figuring out what kind of rapport to strike with them.” In the video too, viewers will interpret the askari’s role in various ways. The video's resulting narrative is dependent the viewer. “It just devolved into what it is now, I couldn’t really tell you what it is” Jonah says, “It’s a choose-your-own adventure.”
Kidepo has been playing and writing songs as long as he can remember. He studied classical music throughout his teens during which time he began to rely on song writing as more of a private outlet, “somewhere to explore and experiment.” His interest and inspiration lyrically is built around a fascination with “the baggage that goes with belonging, either to a relationship, or a place,” and a realization that humans have a tendency to confine themselves to something that “fits” even if they are not happy or secure.
Musically, he explins that he's influenced by a love for the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Nina Simone and New Zealand singer-songwriter Brooke Fraser. Kidepo is driven by a captivation with the “sounds and voices that represent a full and almost spiritual expression of someone." He adds, "I was 14 when I first got that, listening to Kanye. I know, maybe cliché, but he’s so consistently good, it’s frustrating. I don’t want to sound like him musically, but he makes me want to sound like singularly myself, and still be accessible, and care if people understand.”
Overall Reunion is an emotional rollercoaster from the perceived hopelessness of "Throwing Darts" to the optimism and jubilance heard in "Ramada." Kidepo explains that he wanted the release to act as a sonic diary of the years he’s spent moving from one country to another. “Moving quickly and involuntarily from a place you love is such a confusing process," he says. "The dejection of starting over to the excitement of finding new but fleeting ties. You end up constantly reaching for a lasting connection.”
This feeling of clinging to consistent relationships is particularly evident in the lyrics of "One": “Sometimes I make believe someone loves me / no country I love more than the one I leave.” Behind Kidepo’s gravelly baritone vocal is the sound of an organ, portraying a yearning to belong so powerful it’s religious. Listen closely to "One" and in the background there’s also a gentle sound of birdsong which, along with the hum of a hot summer evening, can also be heard across much of Reunion. An ode to Jonah’s native Uganda, he explains he originally recorded the vocal at 6 a.m. in Mbale, “where the birds get startlingly loud and the sun comes up very quickly, it gets humid in a hurry and I wanted the rest of the project to feel like that moment.”
As Reunion was a project born of his deportation back to Uganda, it is significant that it’s his career as a musician that has allowed him to decide for himself to return to the U.K. He’s only recently moved back, for once relocating himself by choice, and admits that while the world is once again open to him, he is experiencing “a new brand of confusion.” Now, with the EP out, his focus is on “building a relationship with this new part of my life, as well as putting out more music before the end of the year and cooking up something for my live show.”
Blaming an antiquated attitude to social media, Kidepo gives out his number for people to contact him directly (+1 (202) 6-JONAH-9). "it contextualizes the rest of the project," he explains. "I’ve made some incredible connections so far through people reaching out. I want people to know I am available to talk.”
Kidepo's 'Reunion' EP is out now. Buy it here.