Exclusive: The Cameroonian singer-songwriter reveals his latest video on Nataal

Nataal presents the exclusive preview of Blick Bassy’s new video Woni, the first single from his album 1958 - released today. Following his success with Akö in 2015, 1958 is a beautiful and mourning sonic lament to the life of the murdered anti-colonialist Ruben Um Nyobe and “a defiant tribute to the heroes who fought and died for independence” in Bassy’s home country. Nataal caught up with the Cameroonian singer and musician to discuss his new work, which are sure to haunt your playlists for much of the year to come.

The face of Ruben Um Nyobe is very present within the video for Woni. Why did you decide to place such emphasis on his image?
I wanted to make my message clear enough to everyone who knows or has heard about this story. It was also an opportunity to recall the importance of introducing value symbols in place of the commercial products often found in videos through product placement. I hope the audience will understand and recognise Um Nyobe’s, [and comrades] Félix- Roland Moumié’s and Ernest Ouandié's pictures, or will at least wonder who they are. I know many will be proud to see those symbols finally and officially out in the public consciousness.

There's a feminine emphasis to the video. Why did you feel these were the figures to tell the story?
Women carry the basis of African culture - we use the phrase ‘the mother tongue’ because they are the ones who transmit tradition through education and instilling the basic values of our community to our kids. Therefore for me they are the best storytellers in our society.

The lyrics to the song are concerned with alcoholism and the current state of Cameroon. How does alcohol (dis)function within the country?
I am trying to show how my people are hiding themselves behind alcohol. Currently they are scared to face their reality and instead live in an imaginary world, totally disconnected to their traditions, their history and their roots.

The song is written in Bassa, which you have always predominantly sung in. How does this relate to recent divisions within Cameroon surrounding language use?
I actually think the problem is the tribalism in Cameroon, not the language; we have a generation who doesn’t speak or understand the language, but sticks to tribalism. It’s also nonsense to create a division based on the languages’ differences, as all those languages have the same roots. In reality, the Cameroonians speaking English are not fighting because others speak French, but because they want and need to improve their living conditions. It's important to show that speaking our mother tongues is not the problem - it’s one of the important elements that build our imagination. Poverty and the lack of a real education are what create tribalism.

You shot the video in South Africa with the photographer & video director Justice Mukheli (of Bomb Commercials), whose work similarly works to rewrite narratives surrounding the continent. Why do you particularly relate to him?
Justice created an organisation with his brother called I See A Different You to show Africa through an African perspective - to build a positive African story through their own eyes. I adhere to their approach, which - alongside other African producers, directors and photographers - is helping to build a beautiful African story. For me it’s really important to see and show Africa from different viewpoints. Until recent years, Africa was shown mostly in the worst light, so it’s really important to break the cliché and build a new African story that will help the upcoming generation to love and trust the space in which they are living in.

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Photography Justice Mukheli
Published on 07/03/2019