One on One with talented Innoss’B, Akon’s mentee and teenage prodigy from DRC


INNOSsB4jpg
Innoss’B

“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.”  ―Johnny Depp

It was back in June 2013 when I was searching for new songs to listen to when I bumped into Akon’s new album track list, and one of the titles caught my eyes; ‘Akon: Anyway ft Innoss’B’. I had never heard of such a name before. Curiosity made me to find out who it was. From the YouTube videos, I saw a young boy playing soccer on a beach, singing to amazing reggae tunes in the car with the family he was visiting, performing on stage to an audience-all in the USA; Miami and Atlanta. He is now a mature artist on his own. It is all about learning and making it practical.

What impressed me is that he stuck to his African rhythm. One year later after my discovery, I am still enjoying the song ‘Anyway’ which features urban pop beats and a rap verse by Akon. Innoss’B is consistent in delivering a really awesome vocal performance throughout the track. You should definitely listen to it! I was impressed even more when I watched his YouTube videos and saw him hanging out with some of the biggest names in the global music scene. It was a morning and he was taking tea, in the background there was a red Rolls Royce Phantom parked. Rapper Nelly, T-Pain and his mentor Akon were there, taking pictures with him.

Innocent Didace Balume “Innoss’B” is a Congolese Singer and Rapper, born 16 years ago in Goma, North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent his childhood in Bierre, one of the districts in Goma. His was a humble background. His childhood inspiration is late Pop Star Michael Jackson. But he inherited his taste for music from his dad, a former pop dancer, his mum a cantor at the local church, and his three eldest siblings who were musicians. With the influence of his mother, he joined the choir and sang hymns to the glory of God. He subsequently joined Maisha Soul, previously known as Dji-Life, a musical group that went on the Revelation 2007 Award during the Goma Tourism Fair for their single, ‘Another Way.’

He is also a talented player for the djembe (African Percussion) as well as a comedian, a talent he discovered through school competitions, but still maintained high academic performance.

2010 was the transformational year as US-based Senegalese singer Akon came to his country searching for talent, through his full service entertainment company, Akonic Entertainment, which ‘focuses on finding exceptional talent and stories from around the world to deliver and produce original content for the world’s audience.’

Innoss'B with Akon, Ladu Nadia, friends and family
Innoss’B with Akon, Ladu Nadia, friends and family

Akon is a world-celebrated R&B-HipHop artist. He is an inspiration to many, having made Africa proud by representing the continent in the global entertainment scene. He has achieved success as a singer, songwriter, record producer, collaborator, businessman and philanthropist. He has nominated for the Grammy Awards 5 times and has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson (Hold my Hand), Eminem, Gwen Stefani, Pitbull, T-Pain, Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston (Like I never left) , Coldy O’Donis (Beautiful), David Guetta, Lil Wayne (I’m so paid), Nigerian duo P-Square, Leona Lewis and many others. His recent project is the ‘Akon Lightng Africa’ initiative to bring electricity to one million households in Africa by the end of 2014. More than 85 percent of those in rural areas lack access. In an interview with CNN’s Isha Sesay and Jessica Mills one year ago (March 13 1013), he said, “I’m investing in Africa’ and he has kept true to his words.

CNN's Isha Sesay
CNN’s Isha Sesay
Akon being interviewed on African Voices, CNN
Akon being interviewed on African Voices, CNN

Recalling his collaboration with Michael Jackson, “We snuck off to go to the movies, he had a disguise on,” he said. “It was me and his three kids and we were on the escalator and the people were like ‘Akon, oh my God, Akon,’ and I am signing autographs and laughing, thinking ‘you don’t even know who is beside me’—the whole time, he (Michael) is standing there laughing.’

Akon partnered with a local telecom company Vodacom to host the first ever national music competition. Despite the tight competition from older guys, he impressively won the competition at such a tender age. He had garnered more than 1.3 million votes by SMS from his supporters. He won a $25,000 cash prize, a portion of which he gave back to his school.  This was such a warm gesture, giving back to the community that has supported him all this time.

During the competition, Innoss’B met Lady Nadia, who went on to be his manager. She is a young, ambitious business woman. After the win, Akon took him to the South African World Cup and afterwards, to Zimbabwe where he held a concert with Dancehall Artist Sean Paul. During the concert, Akon sang a duet with Innocent, titled ‘Mama Africa.’ Since then, he has released songs that have topped African charts. He is passionate about spreading the message of the need for peace, especially in this country known to have had war in the recent past.  In January 2012, Innoss’B performed at the 70th Golden Globes Cinema for Peace Gala for Humanity honoring actor Ben Affleck, for his Eastern Congo Initiatives. His latest effort is an album titled Innocent available on iTunes for downloads. Some of the tracks are ‘Follow me’, ‘Lost’ and Abibi.’

I talked to Innocent and here is our conversation!

Me: Tell us about who Innoss’B is

INNOSS’B: Innoss’B is a young artist singer/rapper from the DRC.

Me: When did you discover your singing talent?

INNOSS’B: When I was about 4 I started singing in church, where everything started.

Me: How did winning the Vodacom Superstars competition change your life?

INNOSS’B: Winning the competition was a great thing that’s where I got my strong fan base from. My face gets recognized by so many people, not like before.

Me: You have met Quincy Jones and actor Ben Affleck, best known for his role in Armageddon (1998), Argo (2012) and as Bruce Wayne or Batman in 2013 Man of Steel, what did you learn from him and the others you’ve met because of them recognizing your amazing talent?

Innoss'B with actor Ben Affleck and elder brother Agha Khan Balume
Innoss’B with actor Ben Affleck and elder brother Agha Khan Balume

INNOSS’B: I’ve learned how to humble myself, they are so big but approaching them was like approaching good friends I knew.

Me: How has working with Akon, being under his mentorship and guidance helped you grow? Do you think every talented youth out there needs an experienced person to nurture their talent?

INNOSS’B: Understand that after working with Akon and see how he creates made me become a writer of many of my own songs. It was a blessing to work with him. If they get that chance it can help them, if not, there is always another option. Only God knows.

Me: Tell us about the experience meeting with Fast and Furious actor and rapper Ludacris in Feb 15 2013

Innoss'B with Rapper-Actor Ludacris
Innoss’B with Rapper-Actor Ludacris

INNOSS’B: It happened so fast that I can’t explain it, cool guy you been seeing on tv for years right in front of you. It’s Crazy man.

Me: How was the experience recording the single ‘Anyway’ with Akon and where can people get the song?

INNOSS’B: Great experience, good vibe in the studio. Akon will let you give ideas, also as I’m as old as his kids, he was like a father, very humble guy.
Well the song with Akon wasn’t officially released that’s why I recommend you to listen to the audio on youtube.

Me: What are you working on currently in terms of music and other projects?

INNOSS’B: I’m working on videos I’m gonna be dropping soon for some songs on my debut album “INNOCENT” available on iTunes;writing new songs.

Innoss'B's album 'Big Afrika' is now available on iTunes!
Innoss’B’s album ‘Innocent” is now available on iTunes!

Me: Here in Kenya there we speak Swahili as a national language. I understand in Congo there is Swahili, Lingala and French, have you considered reaching out for the African audience by making more Swahili and English songs?

INNOSS’B: That’s what I do, I’m in congo but understand that being raised in the east side, I’m more influenced by English and Swahili, many of my songs are written in English and Swahili, and I can’t wait to work with Kenyan and many more African artists, starting with my sister from another mother that you might know, can’t say her name now. Stay tuned.

Me: Which is your favourite movie and book?

INNOSS’B: My favourite movie is “Bad boys” with my two favourite actors, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. I don’t read that much but I’m the dictionary guy.

Me: After winning the Vodacom Superstars competition you and Akon went to Zimbabwe where you held a concert with ‘She doesn’t mind’ singer Sean Paul, how was the experience performing with one of the most celebrated Dance Hall artists on the planet?

Artist Sean Paul, known for hits like 'Got 2 Luv U ft Alexis Jordan' and 'She Doesn't Mind'
Artist Sean Paul, known for hits like ‘Got 2 Luv U ft Alexis Jordan’ and ‘She Doesn’t Mind’

INNOSS’B: It was exceptional to just be there, see Akon and Sean Paul from the hotel to backstage to the stage, and even getting to go on stage and perform with them in front of a big crowd.

Me: Man, when I learnt about your gesture of charity I was so inspired! When you donated a portion of the monetary prize you won to your school for supplies and some hardware for expansion. What has inspired you to give back to your society?

INNOSS’B: I’m trying to make my people proud of who they took and still taking care of. I dream of a better environment for my people so I will do anything to pull the umbrella on their side.

Me: How has it been balancing life in the studio and school?

INNOSS’B: It all goes with a right timing, when it’s school, it’s school, studio time, it’s studio time.

Me: What do you think should be done by parents, leaders, teachers, public figure and the youth themselves in empowering the youth, giving them opportunities to make a living from their talent, be it dancing, writing, acting and change the society as well?

INNOSS’B: I will just ask them to listen the young voice, help young people do what they love, encourage them cuz they need your support.

Innoss'B
Innoss’B

We are very excited to see his future projects. With the success of Afrobeats singers D’banj, Davido, Akon-supported P-Square, Wizkid (Signed to UK star Tinie Tempah’s company), our very own Kenyan Dancehall artist Wyre who has been recently nominated for the World Music Awards in the same category as Jay Z, Chris Brown and Kanye West, we’re bound to see major musical breakthrough from this young guy! Lady Gaga and T-Pain were discovered and signed by Akon, and they have been amazingly successful. With hits like ‘Got Money’ ft Lil Wayne, ‘Bartender’ ft Akon, ‘Kiss Kiss’ ft Chris Brown, ‘Black & Yellow  remix by Wiz Khalifa’. T-Pain hasn’t been a let down. Lady Gaga with ‘Just Dance’ ft Akon and Colby O’Donis’ and ‘Poker Face’ show how Akon is a great mentor.

Innoss’B having such a great mentor is a really cool thing. With the fabulous team behind him, he is set to achieve greater heights, which from the way I know his hard work and humility he will surely hack. You can follow Innoss’B on Twitter @Innossb (THE AFRICAN BOY), like his Facebook Page here and watch his YouTube videos here (Together As One Music Video) and ‘Everybody loves Innoss’B) here

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