Ndifor Achu, better known as Achu Normad, was born on April 10, 1988 in Cameroon. He grew up in the village of Mankon in Bamenda, Cameroon, Achu Normad, always felt his heartbeat synchronizing with the drumbeats played by the village dance groups around him.
The son of a guitarist, Achu soon picked up the guitar and started playing to these African rhythms. Soon after, jazz music caught his attention and the harmonic minor swing feel captivated him. He started experimenting by combining the African rhythm guitar playing style with Latin American influences and a dash of jazz. All these, coupled with his soulful voice, have enabled him to be able to tell his story to the world.
In the fall of 2014, he emigrated to the United States, where he was finally able to put into motion what he had been grooming. He created a band in Lexington, Kentucky where he worked on mixing the West African rhythms of Makossa and Bikutsi with Cuban jazz and soulful vocals. Two years after, he released his debut album Alieh, released under the record label Akumba Music.
Achu Normad currently resides in Kentucky, United States and tours the United States and Europe.
Gino Sitson is a singer with a vocal range of four octaves. He soars while others crawl. As a high-flying acrobat, he glides from one place to another in an instant, reminiscent of Bobby McFerrin. He sings jazz; he sings classical; he sings traditional African music. And he mixes them together in a spicy gumbo. His vocal flexibility far exceeds most of his contemporaries. He has a distinct voice that listeners know is his. He often taps his face and chest in percussive accompaniment as he improvises. But he doesn’t just fill the air with endless notes. He understands the necessity of silence.
In March this year, Gino released “Echo Chamber.” It is his eighth and most ambitious album. As its title hints, he performs with a chamber group of Western musicians, who play violin, cello, clarinet, and viola. The Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango also makes a guest appearance on the album playing marimba. An echo chamber reflects the sounds put into it – it’s a symbol of conformity. But, Gino does not conform to one way of playing music. He is a musical explorer, seeking to innovate. But, he comes from a people – the Bamileke of Western Cameroon – with a strong musical tradition. And his music reflects their powerful percussive rhythms. He marries them with European counterpoint.
Astor Piazzolla combined the classical tradition with the Argentinian tango. Gino weaves the same classical tradition in chamber music with jazz, his ancestral African rhythms and melodies. After years of being aware of his music, I decided it was time to interview him about his life and his gift.
DJL: What music inspired you as a young person?
GS: As a child, I was fascinated by sounds, the sounds in our local environment in Buea, Limbe (Victoria), and Duala, Cameroon. As a teenager, it was soul and Motown, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie, and George Benson. I grew up playing music with my siblings. But back then, nobody knew that being a musician could be a full-time job. My brother Teo Sitchet-Kanda was the first to lead the way, to play music as a professional. He inspired us. It was also important that our parents did not forbid us from playing music.
DJL: I read that your mother was a Director of a Church choir. Is she a powerful singer? Has her singing influenced you?
GS: Oh yes, very much so. My mom has always been a huge influence on my singing through her knowledge of our language, Medumba that I sing in, and particularly her phrasing, in addition to the joy that emanated from her while she sang.
DJL: Did you sing as a child?
GS: I explored singing without knowing I was exploring it. I would hear an instrument and try to mimic that sound with my voice.
DJL: Later, you moved to France.
GS: I pursued several degrees in Musicology, Educational Sciences, Littérature at Paris VIII- St Denis and Sorbonne Universities. I was interested in how music is transmitted, for example, from one generation to the next or from one person to another. Bobby McFerrin invited me to be a part of the PBS program, “Music Instinct: Science and Song.” Listening to the scientist Daniel Levitin talk about his research on music fascinated me. I decided to pursue a PhD in Musicology.
DJL: For your PhD you went to Guadeloupe, an island with roots in Africa, where you studied the Gwoka, a genre that encompasses traditional dance, drumming, and song.
GS: Yes, I enjoy the sentiment, the eloquence of that music. People may improvise vocally out of the blue in the Gwoka.
DJL: You work as an academic and researcher, but you also teach vocal workshops, is that something you enjoy?
GS: Yes, so much, I like helping people to feel confident in their voices, to enable them to let go and to be free. I have a passion for the voice, for exploring and sharing music. If you think about it, we all improvise everyday.
DJL: To explore in music requires confidence. Are you more confident as a singer than when you first started out?
GS: Yes, I remember once, I was doing an audition in France, I had a guitar with me, I was a bit shy. The person in charge of the auditions told me to put down the guitar. At first, I did not understand why he wanted me to do that. Then, I realized it was because he wanted to hear my voice really come through alone.
DJL: You also help young Cameroonian children with music as an Ambassador for UNICEF. Are you trying to build confidence in them too?
GS: Yes I am. I work with street children in Yaunde. I am planning to return to them this year. I try to encourage their musical skills, to teach them a bit about music production, to empower them in a way that they may not have been before.
DJL: And now, how is your current CD, “Echo Chamber,” different from your earlier ones?
GS: It is a chamber ensemble with ingredients from New York, Cameroon and Europe. I am telling my story in my own way. The music reflects my thoughts and feelings. The listener is hearing someone who is able to encompass diverse sounds, but who is more at peace.
DJL: Is this CD more classical than some of your earlier ones?
GS: Yes it is. But if you listen to a high energy track like Upper East Side, you can hear the Bikutsi that is an up tempo rhythm from Cameroon.
DJL: How do you compose?
GS: Sometimes a note will come and then I let it evolve in an organic way. I compose on several instruments: guitar, piano or double bass. It all depends on the moment.
DJL: But the choice of the musicians on this album sounds very deliberate, for example, Maria João’s vocal alongside yours on the track “Night in Molyko.” This is a playful, upbeat song. There is a magical interplay created between the two vocals with the strings playing under them.
GS: Yes, you are right. How did you know that? (He chuckles). I am careful about the specific instruments that go on the album. I want the instruments to sound right together. This is a chamber group. My band persuaded me that the instruments would be recorded all together in one room. Only the vocals were recorded separately. I think it sounds better that way.
DJL: Are you trying to create a new sound that has not been heard before?
GS: I’m following my path by being true to myself. As you know, I’m an Associate Researcher at IReMus (Institut de recherche en Musicologie: Paris-Sorbonne University, CNRS, BnF, Ministère de la culture), in addition to being a musician. I’m an explorer… it is a quest.
Sally Nyolo was born in a small village called Eyen-Meyong, in southern Cameroon. At the age of thirteen, she moved to France and lived in Paris for many years. A former member of Zap Mama, Sally established herself from 1982 to 1994 as a respected session vocalist by performing and recording with many artists such as Jacques Higelin, Sixun, Nicole Croisille, Toni Childs, Princess Erika, Toure Kunda and many others.
Sally began her solo career by composing the music for a radio series for ‘France Culture’ National Public Radio called “Le Jeune Joseph,” which was an adaptation by Jacques Taroni of Thomas Mann’s novel. The following year she was asked to work on French producer Gerard Louvain’s movie soundtrack Ashakara. She delivered an original composition which she recorded for the soundtrack called “Semengue.” By 1993, Sally had her own ensemble and had gained a tremendous reputation for her performances in and around Paris.Around that time she was invited to bring her band to England for the WOMAD Festival, one of the most prestigious venues for world music artists.
After WOMAD, Sally’s career began to develop rapidly. She recorded four songs for Peter Gabriel’s label Real World, including “Djini Djome” which was produced by Dave Bottril. The tracks were released on Around The World In Twenty Tracks (RealWorld) and Strictly Worldwide (Piranha). Soon after the Real World sessions, Sally met up with Zap Mama lead singer Marie Daulne. Marie claimed that Sally was “her roots,” feeling a cultural bond that led her to ask Sally to join the group. The two immediately became friends and launched into an adventurous new level of success. Sally joined Zap Mama in 1993.
Sally’s composition “The Mamas of the Mamas” appeared on Zap Mama’s second recording Sabsylma (Luaka Bop). The result of that release was a world tour which took them to the U.S. three times. With this new exposure, Sally added a song of her own to Paul Aster & Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face in 1995. Sally’s song “To My Baby” was a superb contribution to the film score. The movie featured Harvey Keitel, Madonna, Michael J. Fox, Lou Reed, Roseanne and Jim Jarmush.
In 1996, in the midst of a heavy touring schedule, Sally recorded her first solo album Tribu for label Lusafrica, which was released in 1997 and received the RFI World Music Award.
Nyolo returned to Cameroon, where she opened a studio, with the intention to produce and promote Cameroonian music. She produced Studio Cameroon, released in 2006 by World Music Network.
Nyolo sings in various languages, including French, Arabic, English, Spanish, and her native Eton.
Bona Pinder Yayumayalolo, better known as Richard Bona, was born October 28, 1967 in Minta, a village in central Cameroon. From the moment of Richard Bona’s birth, music has been the center of his world. He is the grandson of a famous percussionist and singer.
Beginning with the music his mother and four sisters sang in church every Sunday, Bona gained an early passion for sounds and harmony. He joined the choir at age 5, and soon Bona’s family realized they had a musical prodigy among them. Richard has a highly unusual gift — he only has to look intently at someone playing, and he can learn the instrument.
Not blessed with traditional instruments, Bona found creative ways of making instruments for himself, including reed flutes, a large balafon, wooden percussion instruments and a 12-string guitar. “I hung around the workshops where they repaired bicycles,” Bona recalls, “and as soon as the guys turned their backs, I’d put brake-cables in my pocket for my prototype.”
Rehearsing for eight to 12 hours per day, Bona honed his skills. He performed as a singer and a multi-instrumentalist in a range of religious ceremonies, and soon he became known beyond his village for his musical virtuosity. At age 11, Bona went with his father to Duala, sea-port city with nearly 2 million residents. Bona quickly found his first job, as a guitarist with a dance group.
In 1980, the French owner of a local club gave him the task of setting up a small, jazz-inspired group (with soul-jazz and jazz-rock leanings). Meanwhile, he entrusted Bona with a collection of some 500 vinyl albums. Through these albums, Bona discovered the essence of jazz -the freedom, complexity and virtuosity of the music invented by the American descendants of his forebears. “That’s how I came across the Jaco Pastorius album, the first one, the one with his name on it (Jaco Pastorius, Columbia, 1976), and I never looked back,” Bona says. “When I started listening to it, I wondered for a moment if I’d got the speed wrong – I thought I was playing it at 45 rpm instead, and I even took a look. Before Jaco, I’d never thought of playing bass.”
Cleary, the influence was strong enough to hold. In 1989, when Bona was 22, he left Africa for Paris, where he quickly built a solid reputation. He played with Didier Lockwood, Marc Fosset and Andre Ceccarelli, and took part in studio sessions with leading musicians such as Manu Dibango, Salif Keita and Joe Zawinul (My People, 1992.)
In 1995, Bona followed the footsteps of singer Angelique Kidjo, whom he also accompanied, by crossing the ocean and settling in New York. He quickly hooked up with Zawinul again, and he was invited to accompany Zawinul on a world tour. Bona’s talents continue to gain notice in the world music community. The list of musicians who have played with Bona looks like the roster from the musicians’ hall of fame.
Bona also joined forces with Zawinul again in 1998, when he sang and played bass and percussion on Zawinul’s world tour; and when Bona played the same role on Zawinul’s album, Faces & Places. In addition, Branford Marsalis recommended Bona to play on the first compact disc by Frank McComb, the singer from the Buckshot Le Fonque group (the funk side of the elder of the Marsalis Brothers). The album was produced by Columbia, and a few months later, the label gave Richard the chance to create his first album as the leader.
Bona’s first three albums – Scenes from My Life, Reverence and Munia – allowed listeners to discover a great storyteller and musician. His style blends a horde of influences, including jazz, bossa nova, pop, afro-beat, traditional song and funk. Munia (The Tale) features Malian star Salif Keita as a guest. Keita cowrote the track “Kalabankoro.”
This unique combination has given Bona’s music a new dimension, one that is unexplored yet genuinely universal. As Bona says, “I play the bass, but I am not just a jazz bass player.” Bona’s fans around the world have their own moniker derived from his unique style, referring to him as “The African ‘Sting.’ ”
On Tiki (2006), recorded in Rio de Janeiro, Bona surrounded himself with old friends and special guests, including ATN Stadwijk, Vinnie Colauita, Susheela Raman, Djavan, Mike Stern and Gil Goldstein.
The collaboration Toto Bona Lokua features Richard Bona along with Gerald Toto and Lokua Kanza. They have released two albums.
Born in Paris and raised in Eseka in Cameroon, Kristo Numpuby plays assiko music, the traditional rhythm of the southern Cameroon forests, using a guitar, knives, forks and spoons and empty bottles for the percussion. Singer, bassist and guitarist, the Afro-Parisian draws on the rhythms of the forest as inspiration for his compositions.
At the age of 8, he began composing songs for children, and took an interest in percussion. “In the village, there were always evenings with musicians, either baptisms, marriages or wakes,” he said. They became opportunities for me to admire the percussionists, playing bare-chested with their big muscles.? The education that his musician-grandmother gave him made Kristo a boy with a great interest in anything musical. “My grandmother, Ngueba, ran a bar in Eseka, he explains. “We listened to lots of different music all day long?classical, jazz, rhythm and blues, James Brown, Afro-Cuban, rumba from Zaire, highlife, makossa and biguine. You could say that I was totally immersed in a very colorful music world.”
Kristo received his first guitar at age 12. He began playing all the hits he heard on the radio. Two years later, he was a guitarist in one of the four groups in his school. At 18, he formed a trio that played only his own compositions. The three musicians constantly played each other?s instruments during their concerts. He was the lead singer in a group that mostly played assiko music, which no young people usually played.
Kristo says, “My buddies didn’t understand how a guy like me who spent his vacations in Paris was still interested in village music. Even though I liked disco and all the music in fashion, that music still fascinated me. Why? I can’t tell you. But I found real pleasure in playing Jean Bikoko, Medjo Me Nsom and Dikoum Bernard, and to finger the guitar strings like them in an unusual way. The assiko musicians and dancers have a special knowledge and a particular technique. I liked their style of music because it was different. But I was just as interested in classical technique as in that of the forest guitarists.”
In 1990, Kristo Numpuby got back into the music he had somewhat left behind. “After finishing high school in Duala, I went to the University of Yaunde, before heading off to Paris in 1986. I wanted to be a TV director. There were such beautiful posters in the metro and TV ads that left you breathless: “Generation Mitterrand, Citroen cars, Dim stockings?I was completely subjugated. There were advertising schools everywhere. I got a technical qualification and then for your years I was an advertising wonder kid. This is how I wound up in the studio to oversee the recording of advertisements that I was responsible for. We had a problem finding musicians. I reacted quickly, and Morning Limbe, a blues piece composed in 1982, became the soundtrack.”
Eventually, music replaced advertising. Kristo began hanging out in recording and rehearsal studios, and became a studio bass player. “In December of 94, I was touring in Ghana with an African star for the Panafest. At the hotel, I ran into Stevie Wonder. I had about 20 of his records at home. When we finished talking, he asked me if I had some work of mine he could listen to. I had nothing to show him from what I had been doing musically. That’s when I understood that I had to record my compositions.”
After his first album, Assiko City (Lon Yes/Night & Day) in 1997, Kristo Numpuby developed a faithful following in Paris, and played the prestigious New Morning venue that December. The following year, in 1998, he played on the radio and television show, ?Africa Live,? and took part in the Afro-Pfingsten Festival in Winterthur, in Switzerland. A number of his instrumental cuts were used as soundtracks for radio and television clips.
On stage, Kristo varies in style from sharp traditional African rhythms to the folk sounds of African-Americans, played on acoustic instruments. This singer-guitarist, accompanied by a percussionist bottle player and two other musicians, is one of those artists who excites and surprises his audience at every concert.
Henri Dikongue was born December 6, 1967 in Duala, Cameroon. Henri Dikongué grew up as part of a family of musicians. He was raised in the capital city, Yaunde, where he learned acoustic guitar from his uncle. His grandmother brought him to a Protestant choir where he first learned to sing. Like all young people in Cameroon, Dikongué was surrounded by the vibrant sound of makossa, a bubbling dance rhythm that blends guitar lines with unstoppable percussion.
It took years of soul searching before he was willing to devote himself to a life in music. After going to Switzerland to live with his sister, who had emigrated there, he soon became disenchanted with the Swiss system and moved to Bensacon, a French city near the Swiss border, where he began to study law. Dikongué obtained a law degree, but soon discovered that music was his true passion, so he joined the pan-African music and Theater Company Masques & Tam-Tam. There he met singer Alfred M’Bongo and percussionist Manuel Wandji, both of whom would become very influential in his career. He then joined Banthu Marantha, a South African vocal group for which he composed several songs. Dikongué moved to Paris in 1989 where he became a devout student of classical guitar. All the while he maintained strong connections with the creative African music scene in Paris. His first album, “Wa,” was praised by critics who saw him as a representative of the new generation of African musicians, creating melodic music that is intelligent, poetic and innovative.
A native of Cameroon, Francis Mbappe is a talented bassist who has graced the stage with musical greats such as Herbie Hancock, Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Ashanti Tokoto, Francois Louga, and Ernesto Djedje.
By the age of nineteen Mbappe was bass player and musical director for Manu Dibango’s band, with whom he toured extensively from 1982 until 1990. He appears on the albums Surtension, Abele Dance, Baobab Sunset and the renowned Wakafrika release which also featured Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, and King Sunny Ade.
Upon arrival to New York City in the 1990s, Francis started the band FM Tribe with some of the most exciting, innovative players around. With funk in the conception, rock in the attitude, swing in the movement and soul in the spirit, Francis Mbappe led his band FM Tribe through the New York City music circuit and recorded a stylistically revolutionary album entitled Need Somebody.
Before becoming one of New York’s most sought after bass players, Francis also co-produced and arranged the album Guido Vittale for Koning Plank, featuring Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, as well as working on music for the film Young Maestro, featuring Elizabeth Taylor and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
Francis Mbappe also runs his music production company FM Groove Inc., bringing people of different races, educations and backgrounds together in an attempt to unify people through acts of artistic expression.
Need Somebody (FM Groove, 2000) Celebration (FM Groove, 2005)
Seeds of Djuke (liveWired Music, 2009)
Peace is Freedom (FM Groove, 2010)
Cameroonian bassist and singer-songwriter Richard Bona has a new album titled Heritage, scheduled for release on September 16 in the United States. To promote the album he will be touring the United States in September 2016.
Heritage, Bona’s eighth, is the first with the Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano. This recording follows the roots of Afro-Cuban music back to its origins in the Mandekan Empire of the 15th century and earlier. The music explores the alchemy of African rhythms in Cuba.
Njacko Backo is a percussionist and singer. He was born in 1958 in the hillside village of Bazu, Cameroon. After studying under his village elders for many years, Njacko Backo left his life and family in Bazu at the age of sixteen, in order to investigate the world beyond. He traveled through over 15 African countries, learning, playing and performing with musicians from the diaspora. He arrived in Amsterdam, ten years later, and it was there that he began to record the sounds he had gleaned from his diverse experiences in Africa.
Njacko put two albums to press during a four-year stint in Holland. He recorded an album entitled Le Destin, as well as a 45” single called Bamileke Reggae, at Amsterdam’s Weekland Studios. These recordings gave him the inspiration and the desire to seek out North American possibilities.
In 1989, Njacko arrived in Montreal, where he collaborated with Canadian and Afro-Canadian artists. In 1992, he recorded Aventure au Desert with his group, Kalimba! Kalimba! In 1996, he released his first CD titled “Nkoni,” followed by the newly released compilation CD, Resurrection, which came out in November 1998. All of his Montreal recordings were produced in Morris Appelbaum’s Silent Sound Studios. Njacko lived in Montreal for a few years and then he moved to Toronto with his family.
Njacko Backo is one of the rare Kalimba players in the western world. Poet, writer, composer, performer and accomplished choreographer, Njacko Backo makes his own instruments, including the Kalimba, the Zaa Koua (African harp) as well as a wide variety of drums and small percussion instruments.
Emmanuel Dibango N’Djoké was born on December 12 of 1933 in Duala, Cameroon. Manu Dibango arrived to Europe as a young student. With his extraordinary musical talent and burgeoning love of jazz, the young Manu soon opted for a life devoted to adventure for the musical kind.
With jazz blaring in its every nook and cranny, Paris was the perfect place for Manu to mix, mingle, listen and learn. Manu was introduced to the music of Armstrong, Ellington, Young and Parker and all the multifaceted life of the Parisian jazz-scene.
His first stay in the French capital turned out to be relatively brief. It was a time when African nations were being born, either violently or more or less peacefully and words like “independence” and “afro centricity” were common currency.
The great Kabasele invited Manu to join his band, the African Jazz, to play Congolese music. The invitation was accepted and Manu returned to Africa. A love of jazz on the one hand and traditional African music on the other prompted Manu to experiment by combining various different styles of music to create his own unique blend.
With his inherent curiosity and sensitivity Manu has always been interested in widely divergent and different styles of music. A cursory listen to his output bears this out: jazz, reggae, rap… all these and more are in full effect.
In 1972 Manu scored his first international hit with the million selling “Soul Makossa”, which fared particularly well in the United States of America where it helped to create considerable awareness of African music and break down some prevailing musical prejudices.
Manu discovered a secret pleasure in going against the grain of entrenched ideas about musical purism and traditionalism. His purpose was and still is to build bridges between the continents.
Manu was the fist-mover in what became a deep-rooted relationship between the music of francophone Africa and Paris. He has recorded and released numerous albums. Today, as well as touring in the world, he spends considerable time supporting and encouraging young musicians and fighting humanitarian causes.
Soul Makossa (Fiesta Records, 1972)
O Boso (London/PolyGram Records, 1973)
Makossa Man (Atlantic Records, 1974)
Makossa Music (Creole Records, 1975)
Manu 76 (Decca Records, 1976)
Super Kumba (Decca Records, 1976)
The World of Manu Dibango (Decca Records, 1976)
Ceddo O.S.T (Fiesta Records, 1977)
A l’Olympia (Fiesta Records, 1978)
Afrovision (Mango/Island Records, 1978) Sun Explosion (Decca Records, 1978) Gone Clear (Mango/Island Records, 1980)
Ambassador (Mango/Island Records, 1981)
Waka Juju (Polydor/PolyGram Records, 1982)
Mboa (Sonodisc/Afrovision, 1982) Electric Africa (Celluloid, 1985) Afrijazzy (Soul Paris, 1986)
Deliverance (Afro Rhythmes, 1989)
Happy Feeling (Stern’s Music, 1989)
Rasta Souvenir (Disque Esperance, 1989) Polysonik (1992)
Live ’91 (Stern’s Music, 1994) Wakafrika (Giant/Warner Bros. Records, 1994)
Lamastabastani (Soul Paris, 1994)
Bao Bao (Movieplay, 1996)
African Soul – The Very Best Of (Mercury, 1997)
CubAfrica, with Eliades Ochoa (Corason Records, 1998)
Africavision, Vol. 3: The Cinema of Manu Dibango (Buda Musique, 2003)
The Rough Guide to Manu Dibango (World Music Network, 2004) African Woodoo (2008)
Afro Funk (2010) Afro Soul Machine (2011)
Past Present Future (2011)
Ballad Emotion (2011)
Africa Boogie (2013)
Aloko Party (2013)
Lagos Go Slow (2013)
Balade En Saxo (2013)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion