He’s not the first rock ’n’ roll tunesmith from Minneapolis to write a song about Winona Ryder, but Bobby Kabeya is probably the first one born this century to do so.
That the 19-year-old singer/guitarist made a muse out of Generation X’s quintessential actress hints at the many ways the Congolese immigrant has absorbed his Middle America environs since moving to Minnesota at age 8.
“I didn’t even know who she was before ‘Stranger Things,’ ” admitted Kabeya, who records as Miloe and fronts a band of the same name.
Miloe’s breezy and buoyant single “Winona” — really about a girlfriend who happens to look a bit like Will’s mom on the hit Netflix sci-fi series — has added to the buzz that Kabeya and his crew built up over the past couple years playing house shows in lieu of underage venues.
That buildup has culminated with Miloe’s charmingly laid-back, sweetly escapist EP “Greenhouse,” dropping Friday, a much needed warm-up as the cold sets in.
The title of the taut five-song collection — recorded with help from members of Hippo Campus — was meant to reflect the challenge of not icing over during winter in Minnesota.
“The Minnesota climate can feel so limiting compared to where I grew up,” Kabeya said, explaining that he wrote a lot of these songs “trying to bottle up the warmth of summer.”
The soft-voiced Minneapolis singer made the hard adjustment to life in the American tundra in 2009. That’s when his mother and her four sons finally reunited with Bobby’s father in Minnesota three years after he fled the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Now an audio-video technician at the University of Minnesota with his own media company, Mike Kabeya was a journalist who helped PBS in America report on corruption surrounding an election in the family’s native central African country.
“The government at the time was very tyrannical and was going after journalists, so he came here to declare asylum,” Bobby explained.
So while Miloe’s music sounds heavily influenced by Hippo Campus and their mutual progenitors Vampire Weekend, Kabeya first heard their type of soukous guitar styles and bubbly Afropop harmonies directly from the African musicians who influenced the American rockers.
He cites Lokua Kanza and Papa Wemba as two of his favorites. He first learned to sing and play piano at age 6 in the church choir with his parents, who were also big enough reggae fans to have named their eldest son after Bob Marley.
“They were as inspired by his music as his political messages,” he said.
‘Peaceful and chill’
While the infectious new acoustic song “Marna” echoes Congolese rumba music, the reggae and African folk music influences on “Greenhouse” show up more in the mellow rhythmic grooves and general sunny disposition than they do specific musical styles. Music blog the Fader aptly called the EP a “blissed-out … shoegaze-pop rumination.”
“I wanted to make music that was peaceful and chill,” Kabeya admitted, citing Argentinian-Swedish indie-folk star Jose Gonzalez as the artist who probably inspired him the most.
“He was kind of the first artist who made me feel I could start writing my own music. It felt effortless, but still beautiful, which is how I wanted my first EP to sound.”
That first EP in 2018 was largely a solo project, which he recorded under the pseudonym Miloe “just to have a name that’s easy and catchy to remember.”
Thanks to a strong social media presence, Kabeya and his equally young band — the lineup of which is currently influx — were able to build up a decent live following in random places: “You kind of have to do it on your own and find people willing to let you play in their basements,” he explained.
When Kabeya and his crew finally started gigging in real venues last year, they were recruited to open for Beach Bunny (budding Chicago indie-popster Lili Trifilio) at 7th St. Entry, which is where the members of Hippo Campus first caught Miloe and offered to work with them.
This second EP was recorded in January with Hippo Campus members Nathan Stocker and Jake Luppen acting as producers alongside their pal Caleb Hinz of the Happy Children.
“It felt validating just to be working with them,” Kabeya said, pointing to how Hippo Campus also first gained buzz as high schoolers. “Now, they’re paying it back and being supportive of the younger generation.”
While he’s also been busy finishing off a liberal arts degree from Minneapolis Community and Technical College — he graduated from Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis a year ahead of schedule — Kabeya made no bones about wanting to hurry up and become a full-time musician.
Of course, that goal turned into a waiting game once the pandemic hit right after recording this EP. Miloe was supposed to head out on a nationwide tour this fall with Beach Bunny, but for now, all shows are off.
To paraphrase the very Gen-X title of one of the worst movies by their song’s namesake: Reality really bites at the moment. But Kabeya is staying positive.
“I bought a computer and have been working on demos a lot,” he said. “And I spent as much time as I could outside this summer, just hanging out at Minnehaha Falls and other parks. You’ve gotta do it, especially this year.”
The kid has indeed gotten used to living in Minnesota.