My family comes from a village called Obala in central Cameroon, but I grew up 40 kilometers away from there, in the country’s capital, Yaoundé. I still live in Yaoundé where I was born, but from time to time I go back to Obala to stay with my grandma.
The Yaoundé community is very diverse. There are many types of houses and many different types of people. Everyone in our community is open-minded and quite joyful. If you were walking down the streets of my community in the early evening you might see children playing together and people hanging out, talking and laughing around a few beers. We love peace and good food!
Our town belongs to the Ewondo tribe, but you can find many other tribes around. I belong to the Eton tribe and we speak the Eton language. I also belong to the Essele clan (a clan is like a huge family), which exists inside the Eton tribe. In Cameroon we have more than 200 tribes. The Eton tribe is a branch of the great family of BETI, which stretches across neighbouring countries like Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. For me, we say I am Eton Essele’s daughter, which describes my tribe and clan.
I’ve been playing music since I was a child. When I was young I would go to church with my mother when she used to rehearse and sing during mass. My mother’s side of the family is made up of artists. Many of my uncles play a traditional instrument, the balafon, and all my aunties sing. At nine I wrote my first lyrics and at 15 I touched my first microphone. After I received my Master’s degree in business law I decided to make music my career, and I must confess I am the first person in my family to be a professional musician!
It was not that difficult to choose between being a lawyer and being a singer, because music is my passion. My mother always said an artist with a background in school is better than one with no such background. In Cameroon many young people have degrees but they don’t have jobs. With my voice I sometimes make more money than a lawyer in one month! I think a career as a musician might sometimes be insecure, but having a Master’s degree doesn’t guarantee a job that provides a lot of money either.
It was not that difficult to choose between being a lawyer or a singer because music is my passion
At first my father was not happy with my decision to pursue music, but once I started travelling and he saw my name in the newspapers, he, like many others, realized that I was serious about it. People must know that music is not something you choose or decide to do when nothing else works out for you.
My career really began in 2004 when I started recording my first album, which unfortunately didn’t see the light. On the bright side, that same year one of my mentors signed me up for MASAO, an international music festival taking place in Cameroon that features only the voices of African women. This was the first time I had ever been on stage in front of people playing live music, and it changed my life.
After that I recorded another album, Akouma, which means “wealth” in Eton. It has eight tracks and it allowed me to travel for performances throughout Africa and Europe. I had a tour in Benin and Holland through a project called Daughters of Africa. In three months we played 90 shows in theaters all across Holland. I’ve also played in many festivals in Cameroon and the rest of Africa and have had the opportunity to sing with great African artists such as Ismaelo from Senegal, Manu Dibango from Cameroon, Amy Koita from Mali and Monique Seka from the Ivory Coast. I love to play music and travel with my band. They are so sweet!
I play what people call “world music,” but I call it “ewanga jazz.” My style is a fusion of jazz with a traditional rhythm called bikutsi . I do not just mix these two genres of music; I am very open to experimenting with many musical styles. Sometimes, I mix bikutsi with soul, salsa, slow, bossa nova, rock, R&B or others depending on how I feel when I am composing. An artist is a kind of social painter. In general, I use my music to express everything I feel, everything I see, and everything I would love to see and realize in my life or in other people’s lives. I am greatly inspired by people’s dreams, tears and sorrows.
My roots are the basis of who I am musically speaking. I see myself as an ambassador for my culture. I use my mother tongue and my traditional rhythms to express myself and to reach my goal of being a great ambassador. What I want to share with the world concerning my culture is the music, the dance and the language I use, even if I will mix it with English sometimes.
Collaborating with Measha was a great experience. I loved her instantly! I especially enjoyed singing with her and helping her tie her hair for the tailor. The song we sang together, “Go Down Moses,” still touches my heart and makes me feel blessed because I can feel the pain of Israel and the determination of Moses. That song is very special.
My family doesn’t have the same history as Measha’s. On the contrary, one of my ancestors, the father of my grandmother’s mother (my great-great-grandfather), was a king, so we had slaves! Kings don’t exist in my tribe anymore, but that’s my family history. Kings and their slaves vanished with colonization, but in the villages everybody still knows who comes from what part of society. Of course we cannot trace everything, so we do not marry someone from the same clan in case we both might have the same ancestor.
I had the chance to see my great grandmother (the daughter of the king) while she was still alive. In my culture, family history is passed on from parent to children in the villages. My grandmother told my mom about our history, who told it to me, and in the future I will tell it to my son.