Music Post-Ebola: Artist Amaze says Hipco Songs Made Tremendous Impact

Posted September 20th, 2016 at 2:21 pm (UTC-5)
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Music had a big role to play both during and in the aftermath of the West Africa Ebola epidemic. I found that out when I visited Monrovia in August. A lot of artists wrote songs about the personal experiences people had facing the disease. Henry Amazin’ Toe, a.k.a Amaze, is a well-established hipco artist who composed and recorded such songs.

I met Amaze several times during my stay in the Liberian capital. The first time was during a group interview I held in Mamba Point with other artists (Teddy Ride and Margaret Cephus). Then again at our VOA Town Hall at the YMCA. Amaze performed with his female MC counterpart Peaches and answered questions about music and Ebola after his set. I also saw him perform live at the number one hipco music joint in Monrovia, ‘146‘. The club is owned and run by hipco pioneer and revered music legend, Takun J.

img_1455Amaze, who’s is 29 years old, made two important points about music and Ebola during our conversations . First, he said that music impacted Ebola immensely.

“Music is what people listened to. Its what made people wash their hands with chlorine. It was what made people start being hygienic…especially hipco.” And those last two words, “especially hipco,” was Amaze’s second important point.

“Hipco is sub of what they call Hip Hop in America. We borrowed it. Co is Coloquois (or Kolokwa) – our local way of speaking in Liberia. So people listen mostly to hipco mostly because we communicate through hipco easily.”

 

In my earlier post about hipco star Teddy Ride, I’d discovered that for some musicians, like Teddy, Ebola helped them become famous. It boosted the music industry in Liberia. But my encounters with Amaze in Monrovia made it very clear that music made a difference for a lot of terrified, grief and panic-stricken Liberians. Just before I met him outside of the Town Hall on Broad Street, I had a chat with another musician about the impact of music and musicians during the Ebola epidemic in 2014-16. Ebeneezer is the keyboard player and leader of the band who backed up Amaze, Peaches, Teddy Ride and the other featured artists.

 

Amaze composed two songs about Ebola: “Spread the Word” and “Kickback Kick to Ebola.” The first song was released during the height of the outbreak. Its purpose was to sensitize and educate people about the disease. He said, “Every artist back then would contribute. So we had to do everything we could do to sensitize and “conscietize” through music. After the Ebola period, when Ebola subsided fear was still in Liberians so I thought it wise to write a song “Kickback Kick to Ebola.”

“…so we had to make people come back to doing what they used to do because the fear was very in Monrovia and Liberia. As artists who people listen to we had to find a way to make people happy again. Here’s a little more from his performance at the Town Hall with Peaches.”

 

These days Amaze is focusing on the upcoming 2017 national election. He is currently on tour and promoting his new song and music video to engage voters to get involved in the election process now. In his most recent video “Know Who to Vote For,” Amaze teams up with his familiar partner Peaches, plus J-Glo and Hovor. Their message in colorful Coloquois: “Don’t vote on the basis of ethnicity, money, education level, or nepotism. Vote for the common good of Liberia.”

Liberia was declared free of active Ebola transmission on January 14 2016.

 

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Monrovia Music: Introducing Liberia’s Hipco Star Teddy Ride

Posted September 16th, 2016 at 12:28 pm (UTC-5)
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On August 9th, 2016 I visited Liberia, about eight months after it was declared Ebola Free. My VOA colleague Jackson Mvunganyi and I went as a team to learn the role music played during and after the epidemic that ravaged that country in 2014-2015.

We held a Town Hall meeting and over six days met with youths and musicians in Monrovia and neighboring regions.

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I met over a dozen musical artists and interviewed six of them in Monrovia. Each had their own unique experience within their communities during the active Ebola period and its aftermath. Music indeed played a powerful and positive role throughout the crisis, but conversely, the epidemic had a powerful impact on the music industry and the lives of Liberian artists.

In the next few posts, I will focus on several of the artists interviewed. But here its all about 24 year old Teddy Ride.

“I had talent in high school and I was always thinking about how to get started on my songs. Okay so all of a sudden I came up to town and then I saw this engineer. I had money on me. Everybody never wanted to work because it was Ebola time. But I still stay with the whole program with the little money I had. and then people said ‘ okay let’s go to the studio hear what he got. And then when I start there, my very first song was a hit.”

That hit song was “Pretty Mama” . . .

“The Ebola period caused our entertainment industry to grow. Now people don’t often by Nigerian digs: other countries’ movies. Liberian movies are on the rise…and some artists like me have our fame … and we still got thousands and thousands of people who follow our songs all over Liberia. So it now goes to us, even though we came up small, but now its almost like a responsibility…something we need to do.” Teddy Ride.

 

Teddy gives much of the credit for his success to Ebola. “Ebola helped make some of us popular,” he said.  “Back then everybody was glued to the radio. Everybody was listening to the radio.”

People stayed inside their homes during the height of the epidemic for fear of catching the virus. So Teddy enjoyed massive, captive audiences with his new songs. Here’s Teddy alongside Margaret Cephus and Amazin’ after our interview doing a drop for MTIA.

 

Another important thing about Teddy Ride is he’s a hipco artist. What’s Hipco? Teddy described is this way: “Hipco is music that speaks to people’s minds.” In more technical terms, hipco is the Liberian style of Hip Hop. Its been around since the 1980s. Hip is borrowed from American English and –co comes from coloquois (or kolokwa), the most common pidginized form of Liberian English.

 

The Town Hall was well attended by groups of engaged youths, both men and women.

Listen here to the Music Time in Africa radio feature on Ebola and music in Liberia featuring Teddy Ride and also Amazin’ and Quincy B.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Debo Band Revisited

Posted June 15th, 2016 at 12:48 pm (UTC-5)
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On Friday, May 20th the Debo Band performed at Tropicalia in Washington DC. I caught up with the bandleader and saxophonist Danny Mekonnen just before soundcheck. I’d met most of the band four years earlier when they came to DC to promote their debut album Debo Band. I was excited to hear them again. The night was special. For one, it was the day their sophomore album, Ere Gobez, was officially released.

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As Danny says, they were particularly excited about performing in the District because of the metropolitan area’s prodigious Ethiopian diaspora population. With somewhere between 250,000 to 350,000 immigrants and their children, it supports the largest Ethiopian population in the United States. Furthermore he says Debo Band is a product of the Ethiopian-American experience much like DC is. Both represent the beauty of the United States – a mix of cultures, shapes and colors.

Debo Band simply tore the place up! Here we are doing our part to bring in any last minute audience members, who might be trolling my Facebook page for some good, live African music in DC.

The concert performance had the crowd mesmerized and visibly pleased. Smiles were on most every face, mine included. The instrumentation was so rich with the saxophone, trumpet, electric violin, accordion, guitar, electric bass, drums, and most fascinating of all, the sousaphone. I mean, who would ever imagine hearing a tuba pounding out driving dance beats in night club? Let me add that the vocal performance by Bruck Tesfaye was absolutely thrilling. His smooth voice was a beautiful display of agility and sensitivity. Frankly, I was taken away with the whole package.

The new album represents a departure from their previous Debo Band release.Danny describes it as more bold, confident and wild. He says years of playing and interacting with audiences worldwide since 2012, has informed and infused their sound into what it is today.

My favorite track from Ere Gobez is one of their originals, track #10, entitled “Yalanchi.” Listen here to the track and Danny’s description of what makes it unique.

The most exciting moment in their performance at Tropicalia was the live version of the title track, “Ele.” Its driving beat and catchy riffs performed by the violin drove the crowd wild. Danny says the band is developing a concept for their first video that will most likely be based on this piece.

Don’t miss Debo Band if you hear that they’re coming to your town. The live show is every bit as good as their recordings. Experiencing Debo Band music opens the mind, and perhaps the heart, to another beautiful dimension of African music.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Mokoomba

Posted May 6th, 2016 at 4:38 pm (UTC-5)
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Mookomba in Studio 4 April 6, 2016. Studio 4 at the Voice of America in Washington DC.

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In 2012 I discovered Mokoomba through by way of the common internet surf. The young Tongan group from northern Zimbabwe were making a smashing impression on the international music scene.

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They had just released their 2nd album Rising Tide in May 2012 under the musical direction of  Ivorien musician, Manou Gallo and were wrapping up their third European tour.

They showcased at WOMEX (WOrld Music EXpo) in Thessaloniki, Greece that October. The Director of their Brussels-based label at the time, Zig Zag World, described them as “A roller coaster ride of raw Afro fusion energy.”

Now four years later on April 6, 2016 I have the whole group sitting in front of me poised to perform a one-on-one, 30-minute set. This their first time in the US and they had arrived only a few days prior to perform at the Apollo Theater in New York for the 2016 Africa Now showcase.

As you’ll see in the session below Mokoomba’s energy is indeed a thrilling ride; Afro fusion or otherwise. Many Zimbabweans and other African journalists here at VOA who snuck up to Studio 4 to catch a moment of the session, remarked that they their music doesn’t sound typically Zimbabwean.

 

 

Later that night I attended Mokoomba’s concert at The Hill Center.  They venue only seated 100 people but it was packed. The eclectic crowd were enchanted. I was too, even though I’d spent a good part of the afternoon with them. The open stage ignited them because dancing is a fundamental part of their music. In the confines of the VOA studio, they were unable to express themselves to their fullest.  The finale brought the excited crowd to their feet to dance and shout and show off. This clip captures just a fragment of the magic Mokoomba brought to The Hill Center.

 

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Go Get ’em Edem

Posted April 5th, 2016 at 2:42 pm (UTC-5)
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One of West Africa’s most exciting recording artists came to visit me at VOA headquarters. His name is Denning Edem Hotor. This 29-year old, dread-headed rapper from Ghana goes by the stage name Edem. He has a couple of slogans too: “Go get ’em Edem!” and “Special Delivery”.

 

Edem is a force in Ghana and is aiming to push the envelope to the rest of Africa and the globe. I discovered him a little over a year ago during my daily routine of researching good African music. I liked him for his music, that raspy thick quality of his voice, and his music videos especially The One featuring Sway and Koene Remix featuring Ice Queen and Lil Shaker.

On March 8th Edem sat down with  me in Studio 4 for a nice relaxed interview. It is presented here in three parts from beginning to end. In Part 1 Edem describes his special relationship to VOA and explains what brought him to Washington. He also talks about his latest single that’s gone viral, and its connection to Ewe folk music in his native, Volta Region.

 

Next I coax “Special Delivery” into a little freestyle, although it didn’t take much effort on my part. The man clearly loves what he does. He concludes with mentioning more about the importance of mixing languages (English, Pidgin English and Ewe) to balance his music’s appeal to both young, urban audiences and global markets.

 

The interview concludes with a song, a summary of his multi-national awards, his exciting new role as advocate to end early child marriage, and a peak into his bright plans for the future.

 

Since the taping of this interview, Edem has released the music video for Nyedzilo. As usual, Go Get ’em Edem produces another masterpiece.

 

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

AfroJazz Vocalist Loide Jorge

Posted January 29th, 2016 at 1:21 pm (UTC-5)
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Loide Jorge is a true daughter of the Diaspora. She was born in France to parents from Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, and then raised most of her life in the US.  Ms. Jorge’s music and vocal style is an organic confluence of her diverse experiences and influences. Her sound and spirit are unique. Enjoy this 30 minute interview with Loide and her mates Mongezi Ntaka on acoustic guitar and Jordan Ringo on upright bass.

 

Loide Jorge lives in the Washington DC area and performs in select jazz venues throughout the year. By day, Ms. Loide is an immigration attorney. Click below for music excerpts of the interview:  “In Time” and “Mpondo”.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Bado’s modern Taarab from Coastal Kenya

Posted December 15th, 2015 at 12:21 pm (UTC-5)
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Taarab is a Swahili style of traditional music generally associated with Tanzania and Zanzibar.  Coastal Kenya is rocking it today, though. Back in September when I was in Nairobi I had the pleasure of meeting Bado. His real name is Mohammed Said Ngana and he’s from Kilifi County, Malindi District, in the central part of coastal Kenya.

The following session was filmed in the basement practice room of Alliance Francaise. Bado performs and talks about three of his songs, “Pararira” (“Joyful Sounds”), “Jogoo La Ruhe” (“The White Cock”) and “Mzungu Giriama” (“The White Giriama”).

 

Thanks to the Ketebul Music team for local arrangements and filming this interview and to Alliance Francaise de Nairobi. I have more to share from Nairobi in the  coming months including sessions with Makadem, Kidum, Idd Aziz, and the all-female a capella group, The Flower Project.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

An Evening with Msafiri Zawose and the Sauti Band

Posted November 25th, 2015 at 11:04 am (UTC-5)
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Msafiri Zawose with zeze. Nairobi, Kenya. 09/10/15.

In September 2015, I spent five days in Nairobi, Kenya. Our East African music collection needed refreshing so I spent my time hunting down the hotspots for CD outlets and music production and live performance.

The most memorable live performance was by Tanzanian Msafiri Zawose, master of the zeze a 10-string, harp lute. He’s leader and vocalist of his Sauti band, consisting largely of family members. Here they are giving Music Time in Africa a shout out before the show

 

Msafiri comes from a distinguished line of traditional Gogo musicians. His father Hugwe Zawose is a music legend for having introduced Tanzanian traditional music to world music markets by way of Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. Gogo people are known throughout the country for their rich music traditions. Msafiri and his band live in Bagamoyo, a coastal town in central Tanzania..

These pictures were taken during sound check Thursday night on the stage at Choices.

IMG_0007The kayamba, a flat shaker made from millet, dry seeds, and mtopetope wood, is posed on top of the muhumeme drum. (Lower left and below)

IMG_0037The box-resonated marimba rests on a wooden frame (center stage).

All three of these percussion instruments are played by Pendo H. Zawose, the only sister in the group. Ally O. Chacha is playing the jembe (left). Bahati J. Zawose (seated behind) is playing the ngoma Zamkono (tall drums) and drumset. Kennedy P. Matiga and Sajaly Sharif play lead and bass guitars (back left and right) and Barakha H. and Michael J. Zawose both play ilimbas (far right).  Msafiri Zawose plays ilimba (to the right of Pendo) and zeze (lying on the floor). He is also lead vocalist.

IMG_0036These are a few of the variants of the ilimba (thumb piano or mbira).

IMG_0034IMG_0033After sound check we all went downstairs in the musicians’ lounge for the interview and shared a meal before the show. These pictures were taken by a member of the Ketebul Music team that filmed the interview. Msafiri is holding the zeze, amplified by a gourd resonator covered with mountain lizard skin.

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 Listen to the interview to meet Msafiri and get a taste of the majestic zeze and his Sauti Band sound. And a special thanks to Kasiva Mutua and Tabu Osusa for their support.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Eight Days in Cameroon: Part 2

Posted July 28th, 2015 at 11:22 am (UTC-5)
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Poster of guitars on the wall inside Crelicam, Yaounde. June 1 2014. Photo taken by me.

As promised, this post comes as a follow-up to Post 1 chronicling my musical encounters in Cameroon in June of 2014. Part 2 features more musicians I met in Yaounde and also in Buea – the capital of the Southwest Region – nestled at the foothills of the breathtaking Mount Cameroon. It also peeks into the world’s premier ebony mill used to export guitar frets and piano keys around the world.

One artist that opened my eyes to the Anglophone world of Cameroonian music was Francis Ateh Bazore. He is a presenter and host for the national broadcast house CRTV (Cameroon Radio Television), and president of the Association of Cameroon English Speaking Musicians (ACEM). We first met in Yaounde for a live interview on Morning Safari (before the crack of dawn) at CRTV.

 

Two days later, I met Ateh again in Buea, some 160 miles northwest of Yaounde. The U.S. Embassy had organized a gathering of the local area ACEM members and, as president of the association, Ateh had also made the trip from Yaounde. FullSizeRenderHe headed the meeting and expertly facilitated one-on-ones between each musician at the table and me. Most of them brought copies of their music for me to play on my radio show. Once I got back to Washington and had a chance to listen to all of the music from that day, I was most impressed with Ateh’s own CD, Ka Chieh Ma which he also gave me at that meeting. It thrilled me with it’s exciting, punchy rhythms and his matching vocal style. The music is earnestly rooted in the traditional dance style from the Northwest known as “Njang.” Ateh is it’s leading modern champion.

 

Another artist whose music I appreciate from that gathering in Buea is Eliré. This man was not in attendance but his music was given to me by a fellow musician by the name of Agbor Marts.  Eliré comes from the Southwest regional Division of Fako. He is a Bakwere man and sings mostly in Mokpe and Pidjin English. I especially like this track that, for lack of a title, I call “Chop Chop.”

 

While in Buea, I spent one day with the vibrant community of University of Buea music students. UB StudentsWe work shopped together at their campus IMG_1749(1)and they performed a variety of styles such as smooth jazz, traditional, and reggae. They are best known for their choral music. The University of Buea Choir (UB Choir) regularly release CDs of their music. Here is my favorite piece from Vol. 4 entitled “Psaume de la creation”.

 

Back in Yaounde for my final two days before heading home I had the honor of singing the American and Cameroonian national anthems and a jazz set at the U.S. Embassy’s official 4th of July celebration (celebrated one month early). I was accompanied by the U.S. Embassy choir for the anthems and a quartet for the jazz concert. One thing I learned while rehearsing with the choir is that Cameroonians use the movable do solfege system to learn songs.  Here is the sheet music for the National Anthem they gave me at rehearsal.  Cameroon Natl Anthem

The choir rehearses the parts using the do-re-mi syllables and then layer the lyrics on top of the music once they’ve learned the parts.

After the choir performance, I sang a jazz set with a talented and seasoned group of cats: Marcel Tala – sax, Jean-Paul Lietche – bass, Paul Tchounga – drums, and George Essono – keys.

Manuel Wandji also joined me for a few improvisational moments and then he took the microphone and led the quartet from jazz to world music. His classic “C’est pas facile” excited the Cameroonian crowd. The embassy lawn was covered with elegant, colorful dancing dignitaries.

Before sharing my final 8th day’s activities in Cameroon, I diverge in time and place to present a fabulous interview I had with Manuel on March 23, 2015 in Washington DC.  Months after my tour, I learned that he was coming through and would have time for a studio interview in our VOA studios. It was especially great to get this chance because while we performed and work-shopped together on several occasions in Cameroon, I never formally interviewed him.

 

On the day of my departure, I squeezed in one last  music experience in Yaounde. guy at CrelicamI visited Crelicam, an ebony mill located just outside of the city. The place was bustling with activity. Inside, workers were cutting ebony into piano keys and guitar fretboards. Piano keys

 

 

Outside construction trucks were whizzing by everywhere creating trails of red dust. In the office, the director explained how the ebony was harvested in an ecologically responsible way. IMG_2005

Taylor Guitar’s co-founder and President, Bob Taylor, explains the reason he partnered with Madinter Trade and bought this company in Cameroon to harvest ebony for his and most other premium guitars around the world in this YouTube address “The State of Ebony”. Start at 3:06 (if you’re short of time) to get straight to the matter, beginning with Bob’s reference to Madagascar and then Cameroon as the “last frontier” for legally harvesting ebony.

In January 2014, Crelicam won the Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) for its company’s transformative work in the ebony trade and in the lives of the mill employees in Cameroon.

As I said in the opening of Part 1 to this blog series on my eight days in Cameroon in 2014, Cameroon’s musical diversity is nothing short of spectacular.  After only eight days that was obvious but imagine what other musical marvels dwell in that vast, rich country. Fortunately, we now live in the world of the Internet and, though there’s no substitute for actually being there in person, one can still explore and discover Cameroonian music through YouTube, Facebook, Soundcloud…and my radio show Music Time in Africa! I regularly receive messages through social media and email with links to new songs and videos. And for you guitarists or pianists out there, you may just be playing a piece of Cameroon on your fingers.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Eight Days of Music in Cameroon: Part 1

Posted July 10th, 2015 at 5:06 pm (UTC-5)
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IMG_1703 Last June I visited Cameroon for the first time.  My eight-day mission was twofold: Introduce new audiences to Music Time in Africa and other VOA African music programs, and share my brand of American vocal jazz with Cameroonians. Heather US EMbassy Highlights of my performances and workshops were well documented by the Cultural Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde and local newspaper and radio stations. Yet the amazing display of musical talent and diversity that had unfolded before me each and every day, was robbed of its own deserved time to shine. In all of the hustle and bustle of returning back to my regular tempo of life and scheduled programs in Washington DC, most of my documentation of the Cameroon tour got placed on hold. So now’s the time to bring back to life my best photos, video, and music from the world of Cameroonian music as I lived it, even if only too briefly.

The thing that struck me the most about music in Cameroon was its spectacular diversity. After only eight days in two different cities, French-speaking Yaounde and English-speaking Buea, the music I encountered seemed to encompass all of sub-Saharan Africa. Cameroonians are aware of this too, as I was proudly told me time and time again “We have everything in Cameroon!”

Heather Sings YaoundeYaounde Jazz: My first scheduled performance in Yaounde was a short jazz set with a local quartet: keyboard, drums, bass, guitar. The gig was at a swank cabaret called Yao Bà. I forgot to take note of the names of the members of the quartet, unfortunately, so cannot identify them here, but they were tight. I arrived with my U.S. Embassy crew when they were already playing so we didn’t even get the chance to talk through a song list, keys, or arrangements. I took the stage, said Bonjour, and called the song and key to the first song, “All of Me” – G Major. Without delay, the guys just took it away with a nice intro that set me up nicely. Pas de problème. If I’d closed my eyes and listened to that performance, I could have guessed that those musicians were from anywhere in the world where jazz rules: Paris, New York, or Washington DC. That night I also met Manuel Wandji, a Franco-Cameroonian, world music artist who would be assisting me in Yaounde. Affectionately know as Wambo in Cameroon, Manuel made a smash hit with his song “C’est pas Facile” in 2005.

The lyrics to “C’est pas Facile” struck a chord in the hearts of Cameroonians. They tell a sad truth (life is hard) yet offer hope in strength and goodness of friendship.  It opens with “Often I tell myself, money’s not the only thing that can make me happy.” It goes on, “Too often I see friends ruin their friendship over a nice car, jewelry, or shoes. That is so gaou (loser)! If you’re not doing well tomorrow, you’ll be alone like an old macabo (Cameroonian fufu) . If you’re doing well, remember that a friend is the best gift ever.” The refrain, which is sung many times, sings “Give your heart in friendship, life isn’t easy. Know how to love without jealousy, oh, life isn’t easy.
Forgive and forget, my friend, life isn’t easy.” In the final refrain, Wambo changes the lyrics to invoke a positive national identity “We stick together! Listen, that is Cameroon: Solidarity!
Solidarity is not eating alone, solidarity is not eating and cruising alone.”

From Gospel to Hip Hop: On Tuesday I met some thirty local music professionals and artists at the Solomon Tande Muna Foundation. Muna Foundation logoI spoke about VOA’s African music programs and then, many of the artists performed for me live and sought  feedback and advice on how to improve their sound, make it marketable and radio-ready. Several gave me copies of their CDs and DVDs.  Among them were rappers, one reggae duo from Cote d’Ivoire, singer songwriters, one gospel singer, House DJs, and Afro pop artists. I was astonished at the diversity not only in music style and level of artistry, but in age as well. Muna Foundation Jam SessionPictured below is a jam session at Muna with several of the participants and Manual Wandji (far right).

A HipHop star named Big Joe, for example, gave me his single “Tchop et Yamo” which had just blown up all over the Cameroonian airwaves a few months before.

Since last year, Big Joe released a second single “Sirri Bi” and is working toward funding to make his first music video. In a recent phone interview, he explained the messages behind his songs. Both celebrate Cameroonian culture in food and hometown beauties. Listen to “Sirri Bi” on the link below or to the full interview featured on this Music Time in Africa radio show.

Aunty Clo was another colorful artist I met at the Muna Foundation. Heather and Anty CloShe gave me a DVD of her hit gospel song “Africa, Arise and Shine”. Included in the DVD packaging are the lyrics taken from the Christian scripture of Isaiah 60: 1-16 “adopted for Africa” on 12/21/2009.

 

Neo-soul singer songwriter Danielle Eog Makedah performed one song and presented me with her full CD Peace, Love & Light. Here’s track 1 “Dry My Tears.”

 

On Wednesday, now day 3 of my sejour in Cameroon, I made a 7:30 a.m. appearance on the daily TV show  “Hello!”, a live entertainment TV program on the state-owned Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV). Hello set w weathe man and choirThe show’s audience is around 100,000 viewers all over Cameroon, primarily Anglophone working-class adults. The show is a one-stop wonder of weather and news reporting, live infomercials, music entertainment and more. To the right is the news reporter (left) with the host, reading the news to Hello!’s audiences from the daily paper posted on the bulletin board and an acapella gospel choir awaiting their cue to perform. The choir was phenomenal. As “Hello!” is not scripted, we were invited to perform something together while the cameras were rolling. Heather and full choir 2I believe this song was “Amazing Grace.” The choir sang in flawless 4-part harmony. dancing 4The singers moved in a loosely choreographed style that added a beautiful visual component to the sound.  At the conclusion of our collaboration, the women enticed me (and the show host)  to try and match their moves. Amazing Grace has never felt so amazing as it did on the set of “Hello!” in Yaounde.

Later that day I met an assemblage of some thirty student members of dance and music groups at the University of Yaounde 1Manuel Wandji was with me who hadn’t stopped drawing crowds of excited fans since he joined me on Monday night. The students straggled in one by one and appeared to be most drawn toward the snacks and cold drinks at first. Manuel’s presence and the gradual realization that I was from the Voice of America eventually captured their attention. After the formal introductions, Manuel and I talked about singing and performed for them. They politely listened, but really started to show some energy once they started singing for us. Here is some video of this afternoon I put together. It shows the progression of their performance for us, beginning from their somewhat sleepy delivery of traditional choral songs to their more popular numbers with an electric band. The band must have gotten wind that Manuel would to be there because, among the popular tunes they did, they played “C’est Pas Facile.” The clip also shows Manuel joining the band on congas followed by a brief lesson with the drum student on the correct, original rhythm to the song.

 

During the workshop after this performance, the students expressed frustration at the lack of quality instruments and music instruction. None of them were studying music seriously or as a primary academic subject rather, they just get together and play informally when they have time. They perform concerts four to five times a year.

The Mvet: Thursday morning Manuel had arranged an interview with Pantaleon, the uncontested king of mvet. The mvet is a traditional 10-string instrument indigenous to the Eton people from the Central Region of Cameroon. Pantaleon had made the trip on motorcycle from his home in the village of Lekie. We met at the poolside of Mt. Febe Hotel where I was staying and with the help of Manuel’s camera skills we were able to capture Pantaleon’s presentation and performance. I have made this clip of that magical moment and translated the French with English subtitles. Watch and enjoy the music and stay tuned to the end of the clip if you want to learn about the mechanics of the construction and tuning of the mvet.

 

I have only presented four of my eight days of music in Cameroon but this post ends here. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where I’ll share my experiences in Buea, the capital of the English-speaking Southwest Region, and more from Yaounde.

 

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

About

About

Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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