Eight Days in Cameroon: Part 2

Posted July 28th, 2015 at 11:22 am (UTC-4)

Guitar Poster

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.

8 responses to “Eight Days in Cameroon: Part 2”

  1. Ateh Bazore says:

    Hi Dr Heather. You write-up on your visit to Cameroon whips up memories of the wonderful moments we spent together as you sort to learn more about our music. Most of the ACEM musicians who met with you are still amazed at your outgoing and down-to-earth nature that endeared you to us. We thank you for playing our music on your world renowned program on the VOA and hope se day you shall find time to visit us again. Thanks for all

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Dear Ateh,
      It’s great to hear from you. Thank you for relaying the warm feedback from the ACEM musicians. I miss you all and look forward to a return trip. In the meantime, stay well and stay happy with love, laughter, health and music!

  2. Patrick says:

    Check out Lily Meka on Sound Cloud as well. She is from Northwest Region and sings in Lamnso and English.

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Thanks Patrick. I will listen to Lily.

      • Patrick says:

        She has a second album that was released in June that is not on Soundcloud yet. If you like her music I can send you a copy of her new album.

        • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

          Thank you for the offer to send Lilly’s album. I would love to receive it. Our address here is
          Voice of America – Music Time in Africa
          330 Independence Ave SW
          Washington DC 20237

  3. stella says:

    Hello Dr Heather,
    I am delighted to read your write-up about your eight days experience with Cameroonian music and about our ebony mill-Crelicam. I am a worker at Crelicam, and seeing this blog you wrote about Crelicam and Cameroon’s musical biodiversity, i am filled with joy.
    I am no musician but i am a lover of Cameroonian music, and Europian music too.

    I also wish to know if it is possible for me to receive notifications of news, tips from your radio program; VOA through emails?

    Thank you!

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Dear Stella,
      Great to hear from you. I hope all is well with you and your work at Crelicam. Currently my program doesn’t send tips and news through email. However can you get on Facebook? or Twitter? Both of these social media sites offer that. Let me know. One way or another I’ll get you connected.



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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