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Bikôkô

Apartamento x LOEWE

Apartamento and LOEWE are pleased to bring you TO CRAFT A LIFE, an editorial collaboration for Apartamento magazine issue #28, featuring conversations that explore the lives of three Spanish artists, Ouka Leele, Carlota Guerrero, and Bikôkô, all captured in the intimacy of their homes by a fourth, Seville-born photographer Coco Capitán. United by uncompromising artistic visions, all four women have at some point in their respective journeys embarked on the road less travelled, sidestepping conventional narratives to craft a life of their own. With a shared desire to celebrate today’s craftsmanship, we’ve come together from our respective homes in Barcelona and Madrid to tell the stories of artists mastering their own crafts.

Bikôkô | Apartamento Magazine

Interview by Aïda Camprubí
Photography by Coco Capitán

Apartamento Magazine - Bikôkô
Apartamento magazine Issue #28

‘You know my music likes to be listened by you’, says the Instagram bio of Neï Lydia Kibol Bikôkô Pineda—a nod to the book Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, which her mother gave her before she travelled to New York. It was there that Neï, finally free of her student routine, began her music project. One evening at sunset, while reading over her lyrics in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Bikôkô—which also means ‘sunset’ in the Basaa language of Cameroon—envisioned an album on which each song would represent a moment of the day. Have you picked up on the synchronicities? If so, repeat after me: Aura Aura. The title of Bikôkô’s debut album is an African call and response that demands your attention. Have you been paying attention? If so, repeat Aura Aura, and we’ll materialise in an apartment on Carrer Princesa in the epicentre of Barcelona, to talk with Bikôkô.

Neï lives in an open and luminous space, where sounds circulate restlessly from end to end. Any place is conducive to sitting down and talking, so almost without thinking about it we choose the kitchen while her father makes us coffee and then disappears. I’d be lying if I said that we started the conversation there, because we began sharing ideas as soon as we greeted each other at the door. She’d already told me about her fondness for yoga and Ayurveda; her constitution, according to this practice, is Pitta-Vata, where fire and water dominate, but air and space also exert a strong influence. We have to start somewhere though, so come and sit down with us. Bikôkô senior will pour you some coffee and Neï, Bikôkô junior, will welcome you with a smile that’s more than contagious. And given her album is ordered by the phases of the day, we decided that we’d do exactly the same with the interview.

Bikôkô | Apartamento Magazine

[07:00–09:30] GET UP

Playing: ‘Rise’, Solange

Following this structural thread, I’d like to know your daily routine. Has it changed in the different stages between your native Barcelona, Paris, New York, and London?

I’ve only spent a few summers visiting relatives in Paris. My father was born in Cameroon but moved to France when he was very young. Before I was born, he and my mother came to Barcelona, where I’ve spent most of my life. When I moved to New York for a few months in September 2019, it was the first time I’d ever lived on my own. Until then, I’d followed the student routine. It was clear to me that I wanted to dedicate myself to music, but I always cared about getting good grades, so I spent a lot of time studying.

The student routine is highly institutionalised.

Exactly! I was finishing the last year of a double diploma: the French high school baccalaureate and the Spanish technological baccalaureate.

Technological?

Yes, no one expects it, but I love maths. It’s very precise. Whenever I see an equation I know there’s an answer. My mind is all over the place, and the exercises helped me focus.

Do you see any relationship between music and maths? The pianist Laura Farré Rozada has degrees in both, for example, and is developing a mathematical technique for memorising scores.

Maybe insofar as I easily discover the rhythm and metre of songs, but I don’t enjoy writing lyrics as much; I prefer if they come out naturally. Music has always communicated more to me through other elements. I can listen to songs in languages that I don’t understand or instrumental jazz pieces. I love melodies, harmonies, and rhythm much more than the textual code.

How did you balance the need to make music with your last year of high school?

It was tough, because it was clear to me that I wanted to dedicate myself to music, but I also wanted to make an effort at school. I decided that once I was done I would go to New York, because most of my influences are from the US. I was driven by the urge to finish and be free to configure my own routine. But when I got to New York I thought, ‘Where do I start?’ I’d worked as a model since I was 16 to be able to save for the trip. So once there, I’d leave the house as early as possible to get to know the city, check out exhibitions, concerts. I took piano lessons. I’d spend the whole day out and enjoyed it a lot; those were three very intense months. But just when it started to become familiar, my visa ran out and I had to come back.

Bikôkô | Apartamento Magazine

[09:30–14:00] I KNOW

Playing: ‘Hey Ya!’, Outkast

And once back in Barcelona?

I decided to go to London to study music, but the pandemic started and I had to confine myself here, at home. The lockdown was a transformative moment. I began my music project in New York but hadn’t found the space or inspiration to keep going. I’d romanticised work and having a very active life. With the lockdown I found the time I needed to dedicate myself to it. I produced, recorded, and finished my EP in lockdown.

You found your ideal moment of creative inspiration at that time?

Inspiration comes to me when I practise; ideas can even come from mistakes. My dad showed me a sound library called West Africa that works with recordings of real African percussion, and I was able to replicate the rhythms on my keyboard. I’ve also learnt to give myself down time, with nothing to do. The brain needs space to generate ideas. We stimulate our senses all day and go to bed without having had a single moment without mental occupation. Getting bored is frowned upon, as if it’s something unproductive.

They’ve capitalised on our boredom with so many streaming platforms for films, series, etc.

Totally, and even more so during lockdown!

Do you have a favourite place to record here?

No, this house is full of noise. You can hear the construction work, the tourists, the protests, the drunk people. Every time I start recording I feel interrupted; the sounds filter through. It’s most noticeable on ‘Stolen’. When I recorded it, the windows were open because of the heat; you can hear a car go by, people singing. I hear it a lot on the last track, but no one else notices it.

‘We’ve been restricted by very strong genres for a long time, and this generation takes a little of each to create something new’.
Bikôkô | Apartamento Magazine

[14:00–19:00] FEEL LIKE

Playing: ‘On & On’, Erykah Badu

You sing and play the guitar, piano, and djembe. How do you express yourself through each?

I only use the guitar to accompany my voice with a few chords; I don’t consider it my instrument. The piano is more intuitive to me because you can see the notes and semitones. My first instrument was the voice, the one that made me realise I like music and with which I express myself in a genuine way. I started the djembe last year when my father gave me one for my birthday. The djembe has three tones—the treble or slap, the tone or mid, and the bass or low end—and they have the peculiarity that they can all be sung. It’s a language of its own.

In addition to being musical, the role of the djembe is also communicative?

Exactly. Originally, the drum rhythms were calls to notify the village and accompany people in their activities. For example, the Kassa call from Ghana is for the harvest and it was played while that action was being performed, to maintain the rhythm. Births, weddings, funerals all have their specific rhythms.

Apartamento Magazine - Bikôkô

On your album you also revive the Aura Aura call and response.

It’s one of the traditional African techniques that storytellers adapted to capture the audience’s attention. The first time I heard it was when my aunt told me the tale of the mosquito and the eardrum, which opens and closes the EP.

How did you record it?

I asked her to send me an audio message via WhatsApp; it was very organic and DIY. It’s about an eardrum and a mosquito that share a palm oil plantation. The eardrum steals it and hides in a person’s ear; the mosquito searches for it for the rest of eternity, and that’s why we always hear the buzzing of mosquitoes close to our ears. Ear wax is the stolen palm oil, leaking from our ears.

[19:00–21:00] BIKÔKÔ

Playing: ‘Kalabancoro’, Richard Bona

Do you feel that you’ve somehow had to transform the musical hegemony to find your own style?

Yes, I think that’s happening. We’ve been restricted by very strong genres for a long time, and this generation takes a little of each to create something new—in my case, from traditional music to pop or digital production. I’ve been labelled neo-R&B, which is what I’ve listened to the most, but I feel like there’s more to it.

By changing musical structures, ways of listening and understanding are also modified, and society is influenced. Do you think there’s any political message in the way you compose?

Not for now, but one of my biggest influences is Fela Kuti, who, along with being a musician, was also a revolutionary. When he released his album Zombie in 1977, the Nigerian government sent the army to his house to arrest him. From him I’ve learnt how a society can be organised through music. After Nigeria became independent, the government was left with complete control of the country’s wealth. Unfortunately, the people who’d been slaves continued to be deprived of it.

[21:00–00:00] STOLEN

Playing: ‘Stand Still’, Sabrina Claudio

Has the fact that your father is a musician influenced your process in any way?

My father’s been a huge influence, not only because we share a profession, but because of his life maxims. He always tells me not to stress out, that it’s useless. People think that by having a musician father everything’s set, but I’ve gone through my own process and produced and recorded myself.

People think that talent is transmitted by magic, and it just doesn’t work that way.

You have to learn it too. My dad plays bass in my live shows now, which is a coincidence because the bassist I’d contacted couldn’t come. He offered to accompany me and my djembe teachers. It helped, because even though I was clear about how I wanted to prepare the live set, I’m not used to playing live. For my first concert, he helped me structure the songs and make them more dynamic and intuitive for the rest of the musicians. He taught me to understand how they worked and how to hold the audience’s attention. But I would’ve loved for him to be a part of the audience and enjoy everything I’d prepared on my own.

Bikôkô | Apartamento Magazine

[00:00–07:00] NIGHT

Playing: ‘Sing to the Moon’, Laura Mvula

And yet, it was hard for you to sing in front of your parents. Were you afraid that they’d crush the dream of dedicating yourself to singing?

I’ve never figured out why I was so afraid of it, maybe because I’d realise that singing wasn’t my thing. If I didn’t sing in front of other people, no one could tell me that I wasn’t good at it. But even if I like maths, I can’t imagine dedicating myself to anything other than music. 

Is there a difference between Neï and Bikôkô?

Yes and no. Neï has accompanied me from birth and is more difficult to explain because you can’t describe a person through attributes alone. She’s a more dispersed entity. Bikôkô is the part of me reserved for artistic creation. Within that, there’s a phase where I actively search for a sound and record it, but in every song there’s also a moment when I stop thinking and the subconscious comes into play. The ideas come out on their own, as if the songs were already made in my head, and my body were just the vehicle through which they come out. That part of me is Bikôkô.

Bikôkô | Apartamento Magazine

 

 

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