Muntu Valdo’s cosmic brew
Album, The One & The Many
With The One & The Many, Cameroonian one-man orchestra Muntu Valdo has concocted some powerful “Sawa Blues” that are ripe with bossa, soul and jazz and convey a captivating, metaphysical edge.
Behind the enigmatic title of his new album, The One and The Many, lies a musical, philosophical and spiritual quest by the Cameroonian Muntu Valdo. At its heart is the one-man band performing alchemy on his guitar, bass, harmonica and vocals, beating the percussion rhythm with the help of rings, pedals, synthesizers and his other “special” instruments. Valdo appropriates all kinds of technological gear and futurist ingredients and uses them to give body to his sensuous, fleshy “roots” music.
Along with this magic spell that transforms a solo musician into a whole band, the artist has developed a metaphysical side to his work: “To get The Many you have to disintegrate The One, and vice versa. We’re unique beings, but we’re also composed of countless particles, many cells, several members, several lives… In our uniqueness, we all breathe the same air and live under the same sky, and together we make up the same whole, mankind, in which each of our acts has repercussions on all of us.”
The cover of his album bears the symbol of a circle filled with infinitely telescoping geometrical shapes: squares, triangles, diamonds and rectangles, and then other circles repeated inside each other, all bearing the same geometrical figures. It’s an image in which nothing ever starts or finishes, and the indivisible generates a never-ending multiplication.
Destiny of The One
To begin with, there was The One: an individual born in 1977 on the Atlantic coast of Cameroon on the Gulf of Guinea. He spent his childhood in Douala and Yaoundé in a musical melting pot fed by Brazil (Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil), Cuba (Compay Secundo), soul (Otis Redding, Sam Cooke), and France (Aznavour, Johnny). He quickly fell in love with the guitar, which he strummed with unremitting passion while his peers dribbled balls around a makeshift football pitch all day.
As a teenager, his enthusiasm remained intact. When it came to looking for work in a country ravaged by unemployment, he found himself a job in Eko Roosevelt’s band. His burgeoning musical career led him to play with some of the greats, like Staff Benda Bilili, Keziah Jones, Tony Allen, Richard Bona, Manu Dibango, Chucho Valdés and Etienne Mbappé. The Many had started to work its way into his destiny. “Those kind of meetings are a fabulous source of enrichment and open up so many perspectives,” he explains.
At times, those same adventures brought him back to The One. When Toumani Diabaté introduced him to Ali Farka Touré, he ventured to tell the blues master that he too made music. The great man’s reply was as banal as it was exceptional: "No one will do what you can do better than you."
And what Muntu can do is produce “Sawa Blues”, the music from his ethnic group, following in the tracks of illustrious predecessors like Francis Bebey, but spiced up with bossa nova, soul, jazz and Cuban music that dialogues with the sounds of his motherland like the rise and fall of the tide.
Yet the ultimate source of Muntu Valdo’s music is Africa. “I play reconciliation, the diaspora’s tune,” he adds. The result is a wonderful sound that blends gentleness with the strength of the wind in ten tracks imbued with the sea, water, voyages, sadness and hope. There is a more down-to-earth side, though, giving that Mantu has been living in London since 2007, “Of course there’s also a bit of the monarchy in my music, and a touch of fish and chips,” he bellows.
Muntu Valdo The One & The Many (Warner Jazz) 2011
Translation by: Anne-Marie Harper