Kareyce Fotso, gentle force
New album, Mokte
For her third album, Mokte, mostly recorded at the Moto Records studio in Yaoundé, Kareyce Fotso takes on the languages and rhythms of eight regions in Cameroon. From Yaoundé, she champions a deep, cultural revolution to spur individual and collective destinies.
RFI Musique: Did you have an overall idea before you recorded this album, or did the songs string together one by one?
Kareyce Fotso: To start with, I wanted to do an album entitled The Traveller, because my travels have led me to meet other musicians and learn other sounds. Then one day, I’d just got back to Cameroon and I got a shock. I grew up in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Yaoundé, Mvog Ada. Most of the inhabitants are Beti people, it’s their village. I come from western Cameroon, but I was born in Yaoundé. That’s where I grew up, I speak the language fluently. And then all of a sudden, I get told that it’s not my home and I should go back to where I come from… It’s absurd! Just because my parents are from the West! That really got me thinking. So I decided to pick up a pen and write about the current situation in Cameroon. It was important, because it’s a slippery slope when you start hearing that kind of thing. Let’s not wait until Cameroon becomes like the Central African Republic, where people are tearing each other apart because of religion. So I said to myself, “I want to be a nation, I am Cameroon.” I decided to conjure up the country’s cultural diversity in an album called Mokte, which means, “believe”. Because I believe that all these ethnic groups can unite and live in harmony. The proof: I sang in eight languages from my country and for me, it’s my best album so far.
How did you learn about the different regions in your country?
It goes right back to my childhood and the neighbourhood where I grew up, Mvog Ada, which as I said, is very cosmopolitan. It’s a big cultural melting pot, with people from Cameroon, the North, South, East and the West. So from a very early age, I was surrounded by a whole range of languages. For my album, I went to see musicians who spoke the language I wanted to use, like Bamileke, Fula, Duala, and they all provided me with some ingredients from their region and a little of their talent.
When you were younger, you toured through different regions of the country. What did that teach you?
My travels inland made me aware of the great wealth abounding in my country – three hundred ethnic groups. It would take more than a lifetime to share Cameroon’s cultural wealth with the world. I realised that my mission was to raise awareness of this diversity. At the moment, like in many African countries, foreign music blares out everywhere. The West has got Africa dreaming, but you need to go there to see how it really is. Africa needs to be able to create its own dream, and young people need to be proud of our colours and traditions. Eighty per cent of Cameroonian young people want to leave. I understand their worries because they think it’s better elsewhere, but we can decide what we want to build at home. It’s up to us to invent our own development.
When you say this to your compatriots of the same generation, how do they react?
Some say, “It’s easy for you to talk like that because you were lucky enough to go to Europe.” Yet everything I do today, I’ve earned it through hard work. It took me ten years, working day in day out, from morning to night! I spent two years singing every day in a cabaret, Chez Frédo, opposite the Omnisport. We used to start at 8 pm and finish in the early hours, for next to nothing! For years, I went to rehearse with Korongo Jam. We didn’t know what the next day would bring, but we believed in it. We used to say to ourselves: the work you put in at the beginning can change things further down the line. I trudged miles to find little ways to sing better. It’s true I was a theif, I’d go and see the big guys to get them to show me where to place the music notes. We don’t have any music schools back home. I did that for years! I mean that everything you achieve comes from doing it over and again. That’s the only way to change things, for yourself and for others.