Q&A with Cameroonian musician Muntu Valdo

He’s completed a 30-date tour of Europe with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, toured with Staff Benda Bilili and released his second album The One & The Many earlier this year. Here Cameroon’s very own Sawa boy, Muntu Valdo tells The Afro News all about the Sawa Blues.
Your music has been described as the “Sawa Blues.” What is “Sawa Blues?”

To be honest with you I’m not the one who said “Sawa Blues” in the first place. It came from journalists in France in early 2000, when I was there to try to sell and promote my first album. They said my music sounds a bit bluesy, a bit jazzy, but different from the Mississippi Delta blues.

When I said I’m from Cameroon, they said my music wasn’t Makossa or Bikutsi, so they asked me where I was from in Cameroon. I told them I’m from the coast, Sawa, I’m a Sawa boy. They said could we call your music Sawa Blues and I said that is it, you found the word, Sawa Blues.

You use pedals as part of your performance right?

I use pedals as a guitarist but also some as loop pedals. We call it ‘the jam session’. They allow me to record myself live on stage, so I can for example record different harmonies. I can record another layer of guitars that allow me to play as if there was a band before your eyes, so when I play it sounds like a band even if I’m alone on stage, and this formula I named The One & The Many.

That’s also the name of your current album.

Yes my current album is called The One & The Many and that is also the name of the formula that I am using on stage.

What sorts of influences come through on the album?

The One & The Many is a philosophy, a concept. Behind that concept you have the notion of us, human beings, nature and how we are all linked together. We are linked because we breathe the same air. We are linked because the same molecules go from one person to the other, so anything people do here has a consequence somewhere else, even if people aren’t conscious of that.

So The One & The Many is then that connection, and is also the notion that everything comes from just one thing. It is like the multiple comes from the single thing, and the single thing if you split it becomes a multiple. So the moral behind that concept and philosophy is that we should care about others even if we have to look after ourselves.

It is also a message because I recorded this album on my own. I produced, arranged and play all the instruments. I also recorded it by myself and do all the vocals, which I also record on stage so it sounds live. I didn’t have a lot of means when I created the album so this is a message to the young people, or those beginning in their career in music. If the talent is there, use whatever you can, you can do it.

But practically The One & The Many like I said earlier is also the formula that I am using on stage, because I am the one but I am surrounded by the many which is all these instruments: my guitar, my harmonica, the pedals and my voices. The audience as well is this because my music is for all the people, because I am not doing my music just for me. I feel that I have something to share, something to say, so the audience are the many and I’m the one, or vice versa.

You’ve toured over here, in France and further a field. How does the reception here compare to when you’ve played internationally?

I would say that everywhere is almost the same. People relate themselves to my music and they connect with me through my music. You mentioned France and I’ve played almost everywhere on the continent where people don’t know the language that I’m singing in. I sing in Douala language, my native language, and you have people in Asia who’ve never heard of Cameroon or that language at least.

People always receive my music positively and this encourages me a lot because I do not sing in English. I can sing in English, I can sing in French, but the songs from this album are all in Douala and people like it.

Most Francophone Cameroonians prefer to live in France. Why did you pick the UK?

Well it’s like anything; you don’t know where you’ll end up being. It might be a job, it might be a relationship, you might be adventurous and travel, but for me it was for the job that I am here. Now I have a life here, I have a family here, but first I came here because of the opportunities of the job.

In Cameroon it is not easy to earn a living as a young musician; there are not even any royalty companies. For what I wanted to do, my ambition and so on, I knew that I had to come to a place where I can do it freely. I don’t believe in those borders. I think we, human beings, the world belongs to all of us.


                                                                                  By Chinwe Ojielo