by JC Gonzo
Hailing from the frigid, urban center of Stockholm, Sweden, Bruno Hibombo’s Battles combines ethereal longing with a direct soulfulness that places his debut far beyond his young age of 22. Reminiscent of Kate Bush and Antony Hegarty, it’s not often a voice as striking as Hibombo’s is heard. The album’s simple arrangement of piano, strings, organ, and occasional drums showcases his uniquely androgynous and ageless sound. Unafraid to utilize his Ugandan descent and sexuality as explorable territory, Hibombo offers a rare perspective on life’s hardships with mature honesty.
BRUNO HIBOMBO – The Lake
Video by George Chamoun & Bruno Hibombo
You’ve covered TLC but also site Diamanda Galas as an inspiration. Where do these worlds intersect for you? What influences you?
BH: It’s very hard to evaluate what examples impact your music. I would say my biggest influence by far is life itself, but I find a lot of inspiration from cinema and photography. One concrete inspiration that is actually tangible is for the track “The Manifesto,” which I wanted to be my take on Ugandan traditional music, since it’s about Uganda. I have this record with traditional Ugandan music that I listened to a lot when I wrote Battles. It’s this song called Etooke, and the rhythm changes in the song and the 7/8 time is an ode to the richness of Ugandan rhythms.
I love Kate Bush, Diamanda Galas, PJ Harvey… strong women. However, I wouldn’t say they’ve influenced me musically, at least not consciously, it’s about their power. I like exploring these energies within my own music – power not rooted in the same old tired, rehashed masculinity. It never interested me. You know, I grew up listening to rnb and hip-hop. Beyonce, that’s a true inspiration. Her voice inspires me so much, it’s a wonder. I love TLC and I found Creep to be quite chilling. This idea of holding onto something that is broken is quite sick. Listening to rnb and everything else on the other side of spectrum is something I got from my father. He always played us everything under the sun, from West African music to rnb to Bjork.
When I wrote this album, I listened to 20th century classical – Ives, Ligeti, Penderecki… a lot of harsh, dissonant, but also grandiose music. Ives is one of the few people I can say has genuinely immediately impacted me on a deep level. He changed how I listened to music and made me think about different avenues to convey complex emotion. It makes me laugh that such a misogynist, nationalistic jerk as him would impact me this much, you know, it is how it is.
Do you feel your Ugandan background and sexuality informs your work?
BH: My Ugandan heritage (from my father) is something in which recent years has unraveled, in a very intense manner, I would say. It’s come to raise questions of identity within myself. What does it mean to have African heritage? What does it mean to have African heritage in the West? What it does it mean to be gay and Ugandan? For me it’s meant heartache and the day-to-day encounters of any gay man, but for others, for those in Uganda, it means torture and death.
I’ve been wearing white makeup on my face, this is something I’ve done for the last year or so. The first time was when playing in an art gallery, where coincidentally, an exhibition about Africa was on display. The white makeup is something many different tribes around Africa wear. For me, it has become many things, a warrior mask. But, at its pith it’s about identity, highlighting the ambitiousness of my heritage. When I sang a song I wrote about homoerotic desires at a human rights event recently, it became an embodied extroverted statement of Africa and homoeroticism.
Back to Ives, I don’t think many artists who incorporate politics look past the politics of others.
BH: I came across Ives when I took a course in Musicology this year. I was introduced to a lot of 20th century classical music. At one point we were played one of his pieces “Central Park in the Dark” and it was literally like time stopped for me. It wasn’t until afterwards I found out what an idiot he actually was on a personal level. But you are right. With me, theres a few examples of people I don’t actually like on a personal level which I still listen to. It doesn’t mean I would ever support that person on a personal level, but for me music, once its written and out there, has a life of its own and can be judged on its own merits.
This is a very intimate album, what was the process like?
BH: It’s like a bedroom album. It wasn’t meant to be an album, it was very much a diary. When I had written them all I’d realized they were all part of the same entity and breathed the same air. I always find it difficult to describe the process, but with this album the starting point was the chords. That’s still how I write most of the time. I will often work independently on the chords for days until I sing a single note. For me that’s the backbone and that needs to tell the story. Then it’s about finding a melody that adds to that story and doesn’t subtract. The lyrics always came last, but it also should be said that a lot of these songs stem from poems and prose I had written which I would go back to and then develop the songs from. So, in a way, the themes were already present and it was just about finding the correct pairings.
Dreams are probably one of my biggest inspirations, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they mean. The track “The Lake” is based on the concept of how the subconscious serves you clues about your life, and you know, not to run away from that fact.
You are recording a second album, correct?
I just finished recording it, we’ve been rehearsing it for about two months and recorded it this week. It’s called Dunes. It’s very different from the last one, which I think is based both on the natural will to progress and on boredom to repeat myself. We recorded everything live in the studio, most of it is one take. I wanted to do something very instant, raw and visceral. It’s based on a trio of bass, drums and piano. but it’s also got guitar (for me that’s a huge thing because I never ever use guitar) and trombone arrangements. At times the album is very loud and brash. I also sing differently. I think with the last album I wanted to make something “beautiful” and floating so my voice was very reserved. This time around my singing is much more raw and I would say, aggressive at times.
Listen to the album here.