“I am a little fly trying to provoke elephants,” shares singer-songwriter Marius Billgobenson. “Music is my tool to passionately affect change worldwide”
Marius is an award-winning anthropologist, a fiery advocate, and something of an ethnomusicologist and a curator of cultures. With his words, his music, and his life, he’s telling the world stories they need hear about marginalized people, environmental issues, and human rights.
Marius’s invigorating blend of jazz instrumentation with indigenous African music seeks to bring awareness to disenfranchised communities. His passion and purpose are sharing the culture and concerns of his native land of the Congo River Basin—particularly, the plight of the Forest People, sometimes referred to as the “Pygmies” who reside in the Congo rainforest—but his message reverberates universally. Today, the Stockholm, Sweden-based artist announces a stunning pair of singles, “Tribes in Mind” and “Tears in the Ground.”
Marius has become one of the most powerful voices of the Congolese community. He’s been recognized for his humanitarian work by ACNU (the UN Association for the Promotion of Human Rights in Congo), the French Cultural Center, Regional Cultural Minister in Pointe-Noire, and Congolese Art and Cultural Minister. With the organization Afrique Profonde, he’s worked tirelessly to promote cross-cultural dialogue, and understanding and education through artistic exchanges with individuals and groups within Africa and beyond.
Marius powerfully uses music to bridge cultural divides, taking inspiration from Louis Armstrong whose glorious trumpet playing could unite the world. Like Louis, Marius has chosen the jazz vernacular to express his message.
“I use jazz as an umbrella to bring about intellectual dialogues. Jazz creates a platform for people and leads them to the right decision. Additionally, jazz can be used as a weapon to fight for civil rights, which will salvage the forest groups by calling for political actions on the marginalized communities. Overall, jazz always leaves the humanity better than it was yesterday,” he says.
Marius’s jazz is a vibrant and personal music bursting forth with universal appeal. His personal take on jazz weaves in blues, pop, R&B, and indigenous African traditions, specifically taking inspiration from the Pygmies’ stunning polyphonic singing. “In my music, native beliefs and customs and music from around the world are intertwined with memories and life experience weave together into a groovy tapestry,” he says.
Previously, Marius issued the critically-acclaimed debut Sum Of My Pardon which garnered favorable coverage from All About Jazz, No Depression, and JazzCorner, among other outlets.
The elegantly earthy single “Tears On The Ground” opens with dreamy vocals, a-songbird-singing sax, warmly sophisticated acoustic guitar, and honeyed raspy vocals. Conceptually, this is a song of love and rememberance. Marius says: “Sometimes you can’t explain what you see in a person you love. It’s just the way they take you to a place where no one else can.”
With “Tribes In Mind” Marius gets autobiographical, discussing his own journey from the Congo to being a man of the world that will forever remember his roots. The song floats forward on a foundation of heavenly harmony vocals breezy sax touches, and an African rhythmic lilt that recalls Paul Simon’s Graceland album.
The track opens with the stirring lines: He left all behind/Carrying away his tribes in mind/Never to return again
Silenced by the storm/Claiming his home through crazy crazy longing/Never change your world in mind. The song brims with positivity. Marius says: “It is about sharing the stars when you’re going through a nighttime in life verses sharing the darkness. I want to bring people a fire of joy with this song.”
Marius was born Marius Billy in the Congolese Swedish Mission Station “Ingoumina.” He later took his father’s nickname “Goben” and added “son” for his music career. Marius grew up with profound experiences of Congo culture; early on sensing the community’s needs and struggles.
Music was always around when he was growing up, as Marius’ father was a gospel choir instructor at the local mission church. As a young boy, Marius can recall fumbling around on his father’s accordion when he was away, and surprising his dad by playing music on the squeezebox. The missionaries in Marius’s young life further shaped his musicality through teaching him guitar. Soon, he was singing in his father’s choir ,and performing bass and guitar with the church’s youth group. These moments and experiencing the breathtaking polyphonic singing from the native Congo communities made indelible impressions on young Marius.
Marius would pursue music throughout his life, even as he followed through on a pull into academics. As a young man, Marius decided to formally study anthropology to further his passion for disenfranchised cultures. During one fieldwork trip to Scandinavia, he stayed with Swedish renowned pianist, Peter Sandwall.
At the time, Marius was performing a repertoire of jazz and gospel music with a group, but Peter encouraged Marius to add traditional songs to their performance catalog. The melding of modern instrumentation and jazz and gospel with traditional Congo and African music traditions became Marius’s calling. Not only did this blend satisfy Marius’s artistic cravings, but when the band performed this musical marriage of cultures and traditions, audiences responded overwhelming in favor of this new sound. One highlight from this transformative time was performing alongside jazz tenor titan Pharaoh Sanders who expressed his love of Pygmy musical contributions.
With his invigorating music, his accomplished platform, and his bottomless passion, Marius is on the cusp of creating a movement. Reflecting on his journey he says: “You know, there are times, when you aspire to achieve something, and it feels as if all the forces are against you. Sometimes, though, those same forces touch you so hard that you become someone you never imagined. It’s never what happens to us in life that defines us, it’s the meaning we chose to give those powerful moments that shape us.”