By Innocent Chia
It was after office hours, with a couple staff rounding off for the day, that I popped in the CD I had just received in the mail earlier that morning. As I rushed for the mouse to reduce the volume that came blasting from the desktop speakers, one of the two ladies that stayed back late couldn’t help herself: “that’s the kind of relaxation music that I want to be listening to on my balcony or by the beach with a drink in hand”. It was useless at this point, I thought to myself, if I reduced the volume on Wanaku’s latest multilingual release, Indigenous People.
Yet, the befitting opening piece, ‘Welcome’ or ‘Gvi ajung’- in Wanaku’s vernacular Bekom – has a tinge of some of the best music that has come from Cameroon in the last decade and half. There is this ripping guitar that the Bikutsi connoisseurs will immediately identify and feel like jumping up to dance to. But just as fast as he ups the tempo, the next beat is different and familiar in more ways than one: ‘Do Good’ has been here before in a previous album, yet the message can never grow old on humanity.
Beyond this adeptness at mixing and matching sounds and producing beautiful rhythm from instruments that are not always known to be bedfellows, Wanaku serves as a tour guide of African and International music. He brings the past to the present with snapshots of Fela’s Highlife music from Nigeria. In fact, the second lady in the office came out with a leap to her step and asked “Is that Fela”? If she listened to the rest of it like you should, you’d be amazed by tints of gospel and jazz and so many other eclectic influences.
I would argue, however, that the power of the lyrics and the themes that are explored are introspective, timeless and dare say I, a clarion call to action on an array of urgent matters. Beginning with the CD itself, there is the beautiful bird, the Bannerman’s Turaco, which is “endangered specie of bird in Kom kingdom, West Africa”.
True to character, Wanaku’s music is agency of advocacy for environmental concerns here, as he has been for other causes such as freedom and independence for the annexed people of Southern Cameroons by neighboring Republique of Cameroon. It is also agency for another major cause that he holds dearly at heart – education - and for which he makes correlation to the environment.
“We want to sound an alarm that it is great to save this bird, but on the same token we want remind everyone who can help that the real endangered species in Kom Kindgom today is: Youth with no access to higher education.”
The mutation of the artist into an activist is done in seamless fashion. Buying the work of art inevitably creates another agency where the buyer, you and me, become sponsors of these causes – the endangered specie and education of the Kom youth that desperately need a college or University education. It is a CD to buy, not to burn, because somewhere we are all indigenous people wanting the best for ourselves, community and environment.