Skin in the game: IKOQWE – pele

You can’t beat a good hip-hop origin story — one of the greatest of all was the late MF Doom’s back story as a spurned megalomaniac supervillain, and gangsta rap crime mythology is beyond parody.

Angolan duo IKOQWE get surreal with with it on their Bandcamp bio, revealing that they’re “two (?) beings from a time and space not far away, immune to almost everything, were burned physically and mentally when in contact with normality in force”. Disclaimer: this is Portuguese through the Google Translate mincer, so it’s not exact, but that’s the gist.

The two burned and bandaged renegades are two well-established underground artists — Angola-born and Lisbon-raised electronic producer Batida, and Angolan rapper and activist Luaty Beirão, aka Ikonoklasta — who introduced the project in 2020 with the single VaiVai. Their debut album The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite is due in March on Crammed Discs, and promises to be a pile-up of old-school hip-hop and “drum machines, vocals in Angolan slang, Umbundu, Portuguese & English, discussions about neocolonialism, iniquities & falsified history, radio sounds, utopian solutions, and much more”. There’s a lot going on behind the mummified faces and ‘antennae’ fashioned out of toilet brushes and drumsticks.

Lead single ‘Pele’ (‘Skin’) seems to be a double celebration — of the thing that covers our body and traditional African anima skin drums (“Each snap, each note it utters… tanned, scorched, stretched, it’s tuned… the skin resounds… your feet bounce.”) It lurches along on a slithery beat and some dextrous wordplay that’s handily translated in the video, with slow-mo footage of their first gig — check out those laps of the stage like a surreal take on David Byrne’s jogging in Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense concert film.

The single features two remixes — a more echoey dubby redo by Afrohouse veteran Boddhi Satva and a loose-limbed !!!-style version by UK crew MADMADMAD. The message stays the same, though — “The skin is to be felt.”