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Valérie Ekoumè's Afro-pop from Cameroon

By Alison Hird

Singer-songwriter Valérie Ekoumè made her mark as a vocalist for some of Africa's big names in music, notably Cameroon superstar Manu Dibango. Now she's carving out a solo career with a second album Kwin Na Kingué. After a recent concert in Paris she talks to RFI about bringing a message of love through her music and why it's about time we gave more value to African history.

Ekoumè cut her teeth working with the likes of Manu Dibango, Youssou Ndour, Maceo Parker, MC Solaar, Coco Mbassi, Papa Wemba, Rokia Traoré, Kofi Olomide and others.

“Africa is huge and I’d like to represent Africa," she says, "so working with all these people gave me a broad knowledge of my continent."

The eight years spent with "Uncle" Dibango as part of the Soul Makossa Gang were particularly formative. "He's very strict [...] very learned. He taught me to be self-disciplined”, she continues.

Dibango lent his saxophone skills to her debut album Djaale (2015)  but her latest release Kwin Na Kingué is more electric and features a range of Cameroon dance rhythms like Ambassey (Mulemo Mo), Bikutsi (O Bia E), Essewé.

All eight songs are in duala, the language of her native Sawa culture.

“It’s a challenge because I grew up in France so my duala is bad," she laughs, "but it was important for me to represent my roots.”

Valérie Ekoumè in Cameroon where she spent part of her childhood ©Yannick Leconte

'You cannot rise when your history isn't valued'

The title track Kwin Na Kingué (Queen and King in duala) is "makossa mixed with Congolese guitar” and is designed to get people on the dancefloor.

“I wanted to express the colour, the joy, the life in Cameroon,” she explains.

But the song was borne out of sense of frustration over Africa's place in the history of humanity.

“It’s like we only went through colonisation and slavery […] there's no trace of all the greatness of the kingdoms and great stories, the things that black people brought to humanity,” she regrets.

Ekoumè feels there's much more to be talked about and wants her three year old daughter to be proud of her roots.

“I’m raising a little girl so I want her to know there is a history. She’ll almost certainly be told her skin isn’t good, her history isn’t interesting. [...] She has to know it’s not true, that her history is rich whether she’s here [in France] or back in Africa. You cannot rise when your history is not valued.”

At her recent concert at the Comedy Club in Paris, Ekoumè dedicated the song Kwin Na Kingué to African migrants sold as slaves in Libya.

“For me [what] happened in Libya is not a surprise, because when people don’t have the right representation in history, there is a sort of devaluation of the people.
I’m very sad because I think you cannot be happy as a human being when there is those things happening in the world.”

On stage, however, Ekoumè is radiant, even joking she may be smiling too much.

“When I look back at the video of the concert I think ‘why am I smiling all the time’ but I can’t help it. I’m just so happy to be on stage.”

She admits that having spent most of her professional life in the background, taking front stage was "disturbing" in the beginning. But she seems to connect very naturally with audiences.

“I think we’re all related in a way but we don’t find the way. I want on stage to try and connect with people, to [have] a great time and to share what is for me the most important thing… which is love.”

Follow Valérie Ekoumè on facebook.

Valérie Ekoumè describes her music as 'Afro-pop' from Cameroon © Yannick Leconte

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