Home is a slippery concept for Jonah Mutono. The 25-year-old musician who records as Kidepo was born in London before his parents moved to Philadelphia to pursue their career; the family returned to their native Uganda nine years later after struggling to find a sense of belonging in the United States. When he was 13, Mutono was shipped off to attend school in England, where he stayed until he was 22. “When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t know what to tell them,” he sincerely states regarding his upbringing.
Mutono’s return to Uganda served as the main focal point of inspiration behind Kidepo’s debut EP, Reunion. He returned after falling ill at school and, in failing to keep up with his studies while in England, being deported back to his home country. “Everyone was telling me I’m not Ugandan,” he explains, “and that I should learn to tolerate being in Uganda now because I don’t belong in the West anymore.” That sense of displacement and transience marks the five songs collecte d on Reunion, a musical document so intimate it practically leaves a mark.
Mutono started playing music at the age of 4 through piano lessons and began writing his own songs at 10 years old; his work as Kidepo, which takes its name from the Kidepo Valley national park in Northeast Uganda, draws from influences as disparate as Michael Jackson, the Congolese style of Soukous, TLC’s “No Scrubs,” and Sufjan Stevens’ spectral songwriting approach. Ac cordingly, Reunion sounds unbeholden to no specific sound, a full-bodied mix of electronic and acoustic components employing a sonic palette of purples and blues that amplify the purity of Mutono’s own soul-searching.
Mutono’s previous release as Kidepo, the kaleidoscopic single “Reds,” was inspired by the titular color’s ubiquity in England, and London in particular (double-decker buses; phon e booths), and Reunion takes similar cues from his own experiences. Opening track “One” was written on a car ride back from the Kidepo Valley, and it’s a skeletal hymnal showcasing Mutono’s gorgeously soft-hued vocals as he wistfully intones, “Sometimes I make believe/ This soil belongs to me.”
Finding your place in the world—geographically and spiritually—is a central theme on Reunion, as Mutono perfectly sums up his mission while talking about the shifting sonic unease that makes up standout “Little Soul Little City”: “Since I don’t belong anywhere, it’s about finding someone or something that you can call home—that one thing that you know is responsible for you belonging somewhere. And even if he hasn’ t found that place yet, Reunion is proof that this promising young talent is more than willing to take his listeners on his journey with music that’s as inviting as it is thought-provoking.