Blick Bassy has been one of my greatest finds this year. His latest album, 1958, grounded in both melody and voice, is what happens when making music actually matters. The album, done in Bassy’s native language, Basa’a, is a eulogium for Ruben Um Nyobè. The depth in which he sings is remarkable and so are his compositional skills; a blend of African and Latin musical influences.
Ngwa is a work of memory; it starts with a cello solo before Bassy brings us up to speed with the ghost of Um Nyobè. Both the song and the visuals stimulate a sense of foreboding; something so vivid yet beyond, something perhaps after a war. Maqui and Lipem, both limpid and graceful, remember the freedom fighters (maquisards) and unsung heroes of Cameroonian independence. Certainly, all those who fought to preserve the independence and exclusivity of our nations ought to be revered.
Mpodol happens to be my favourite track on the album. Drawing from Nyobè’s nickname ‘Le mpodol’, I cannot think of a more fitting tribute. Performed with a fine supporting cast; Clément Petit on the cello, Johan Blanc on trombone and Arno de Casanove on the Trumpet and keyboard, mpodol lends a wonderful and compelling story of he who carried the voice of the people.
Alcohol, often misused as a sedative, reduces our anxieties and wills us to forget our worries and fears a while. And yet, what happens when a country is drunk with fear? In Woñi, Bassy talks about the fear and timidity that we still bear following the stark colonial years. Delivered in a style reminiscent of Cesaria Evora (whose birthday we celebrate today), Woñi highlights the volatile influence alcohol has on a community where heavy drinking has become a way of life.
Regardless of whatever virtues they may possess, there is a lot to be said about people who sabotage their countries. In Pochë, Bassy condemns political Judases like president Ahmadou Ahidjo; who protected the interests of the French during the Franco-Cameroonian struggle. In Ngui Yi and Sango Ngando, he criticizes the ignorance and indifference towards our histories. Lamentably, going by how much has culturally changed, Africa’s obsession with the West is likely not abating soon.
Inviting us for a more critical stance, 1958 is a very noteworthy album; not only for the opportunity it affords us to hear the music and history of Cameroon but also for instigating us to look back at our own. There are many lessons to be learned here and much more so, let it be remembered that the past is never really past.