Words by:
Photography: Michelle Helena Janssen
Styling: Gloria Iyare
Makeup: Blessing Kambanga
Hair: Karla Q Leon
Hair assistant: Cheryl Basko

Lous and the Yakuza builds worlds with her music.

The sprawling sounds that the Congolese-Rwandan artist draws from – including trap, pop and skittering R&B – reflect both her colourful inner landscape and the many lives she’s lived at just 26. “I feel like I’ve been born, grown, gone back to the earth, and been born again,” Lous, real name Marie-Pierra Kakoma, tells me animatedly over a Zoom call from her Brussels home, fresh from supporting Gorillaz that week.

As far as their usual pool of collaborators goes, Lous fits right in. A trailblazing artist with a genre-free sound and impassioned spirit, her scope is as vast as her creative vision. Kakoma’s boundary-pushing debut Gore, released in 2020, is just one sheath of the Lous tapestry, and her forthcoming second album unveils an increasingly fantastical aesthetic through a more hopeful worldview. “I realised so much out there on me is about my traumatic experience. That’s not all I am,” she says. “I want to show my multitudes. My dreamy side. The first album is my trauma and pain. The second is healing and love.”

As a child, Kakoma faced displacement amid the Second Congo War, the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda, and a period of homelessness when she told her parents she wanted to pursue music over medicine. To transcend this tumultuous reality, she laid herself bare on Gore, facing the darkness head-on while flowing between pummeling trap hi-hats, euphoric 80s pop, and honeyed soul. Her vocals are intricate and light as lace, a hypnotic veil of French language and diaristic lyrics that speak of the horrors she’s witnessed.

Dress: Oscar Oy, Shoes: Masha Popova


“Escaping a warzone at an early age created an urge to speak my truth,” she asserts. At seven years old, she was writing songs and poetry every day. “I was keen to destroy my own childhood with the schedules I set for myself!” she laughs. The artistic hustle paid off. Gore – produced by Rosalía collaborator El Guincho – is visceral and disruptive with stark, cinematic music videos to match. In Tout est Gore, dark rivers of blood flow around her stoic figure. For breakout tune Dilemme – an exploration of Blackness and the need for both community and solitude when processing pain – the video uses choreography to express emotions that are impossible to articulate. There are references to the French Romantic art pioneer Géricault, and styling by Nathan Klein marries streetwear and haute couture to create a striking visual contrast.

The moniker Lous and the Yakuza melds together an anagram for ‘soul’ and the Japanese word for ‘loser’. “It speaks to my sense of resilience,” she explains, “my love for those who don’t conform.” This gutsy nature is reflected in Kakoma’s engagement with the world around her: the politics that shaped her childhood, the Mozart played by her parents, pop divas and Prince, and manga comics she has pored over since she was four years old. As a result, her taste is varied and ever-expanding. “I discovered I was messy when I started expressing myself publicly,” she explains with widened eyes. “Picasso inspires me as much as Virgil Abloh and Kanye West. I am their student. How can I be as deserving of a place in history, as they are? I want to be J. Cole as much as Kate Bush. The messy makes sense to me.”

Head piece: Kristin Son, Knitted dress: Justine Janot, Bodysuit: Justine Janot, Shoes: Masha Popova

Kakoma is especially inspired by anime and Japanese culture: Studio Ghibli, the iconic animation house, and the universes dreamed up by Hayao Miyazaki. The music video for Monsters – a slinky bop about confronting the demons in your head – playfully references My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. The video for Kise – a fierce, bass-driven song about the delirium of love – is inspired by the psychedelic visuals of Paprika director Satoshi Kon, with trippy, lysergic cuts from parties and late-night corner shops. Working with her frequent collaborator and stylist Elena Mottola, Kakoma dons a plush blue skirt and furry headdress (like a high-fashion Totoro) for Monsters. In Kise, she leans into maximalism with multiple costume changes: a blood-red bob, stacked Kawaii-style rings, and platform orange Crocs with floral jibbitz.

Shirt: Tia Tanaka Skirt: Masha Popova, Tights: Kristin Son, Gloves: Kristin Son, Rings: Sara Chyan, Dosisg6c

Style, she says, is a vital element of Congolese identity, where the performance of individuality and “looking fly” is a joyful outlet in the face of war. Kakoma’s pride in her heritage plays out in a boundaryless style. “I like to play with colours and silhouettes. I like baggy pants, cargos and crop tops,” she says, citing FKA twigs, Banks and Erykah Badu as sartorial inspirations, enthralled by their singularity and how garments move with their bodies on stage. Deftly pulling from luxury and emerging designers, Kakoma’s show outfits incorporate the avant-garde of Margiela and the everyday casual style of Adidas alike, as well as the feminine designs of Dilara Findikoglu and utility chic of Dion Lee.

The fashion industry, in turn, has welcomed her in. Kakoma has starred in a campaign for Chloé, while Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière has made her a muse: she’s fronted multiple campaigns for the brand and opened the Louis Vuitton Cruise 2023 show in a sculptural metallic dress. She cultivated her taste thrift-shopping around Europe, but sees her aesthetic as more “mood and energy”. Though, when we speak, she excitedly models a vintage LV bag – one of five in her collection – QVC-style. “I hang them all over the house!” she says, whirling her phone around to show me.

However, a painted symbol on her forehead is the most striking element of her image, present at live shows, artwork and music videos. She designed the symbol herself, described as ‘les mains levées vers le ciel’ (or, hands lifted toward the sky). It’s a “symbol of acceptance” – the ‘Y’ shape resembling a person spreading their arms skywards. Body movement is a defining feature in her work, even if her relationship with her own keeps evolving. “Right now, I’m not totally comfortable with my body,” Kakoma shares. “I’ve lost a lot of weight touring, so I wear things to feel comfortable. It’s better for dancing anyway. I’m, like, entirely from the streets. G! I tried to be girly, but I haven’t learned how to join up my feminine and super gangster sides. I wanna be Aaliyah!”

Jumpsuit: Xixi Tong, Gloves: Rose Sweeney, Shoes: Oscar Oy, Ring: Sara Chyan, Earring: Dosisg6c

This duality extends to her approach to the fashion industry. “I’m a young Black woman plucked from the unknown to represent Louis Vuitton,” she says humbly. “Nicolas believed in my cracked energy. That I can give hope and a sense of being seen in that world to so many Black women? God, it’s a strong feeling.”

Kakoma hopes to harness this visibility and explore a multidisciplinary creative future. She’s got big aspirations to collaborate with an interiors brand and is set on designing accessory ranges that include watches and shoes. “I want my career to make sense to people, so many of my creative sides will come out later,” she says assuredly. “I have to situate myself in these music, art and fashion worlds in a way that’s genuine. I have to build my Lous universe.”

Gore is out now via Sony Music