There was a time in Cameroon when artists went abroad to enhance their careers. Many Makossa legends went to France where they had access to better production environments and networks that got some of them major label deals.
Many artists from the glory days of Makossa actually started their careers while in France. They left Cameroon to study abroad and started doing music while in France. Back then things were different. Traveling abroad meant going to expand your world; but today, traveling abroad mostly means running away from suffering. That is why many people who traveled abroad back then would come back home to work and today people only come back when they have a stable career abroad.
At 22, Richard Bona left Cameroon to study music in Germany. He later moved to France where he got immersed in the Jazz music scene. Today, leaving Cameroon to study music abroad is not a thing to think of in this era. When people leave Cameroon today, it is usually to abandon all artistic dreams and settle for what is guaranteed to pay the bills and send some money back home.
Looking at the history of the likes of Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, Fela Kuti,Sally Nyolo, we can see that music had a different meaning back then; the industry was different. Now things have changed. Going abroad with a music dream in mind is not something one should be doing. It doesn’t seem to work well for people who are in career development. In fact, looking at the most successful artists in Africa right now, the opposite seems to be thing to do. Don Jazzy and D’banj left London for Lagos and the rest is history.
The poster child for traveling kills careers in this era is Gasha. Just when her career was about to take off, Gasha left Cameroon for the U.S. and ended up spending a year there. On her return to Cameroon, what was left of her name in the Cameroonian urban music space could only spell ash – pun intended.
Many think the industry moved on without her but that can’t be true. We are talking of an industry where the same 10 artists have been on top for the past decade. This is not an industry with high mobility. In fact the industry couldn’t move any faster without her. However, by the time she came she had changed in a way that did not help her career.
Artist should avoid staying abroad for the following reasons:-
– You become unproductive. Staying away from your primary place of work is not a good thing. Access to studios while abroad is difficult. At best you’ll have access to a studio in the basement of someone who doesn’t do music for a living and most likely does not master anything in music. The talent is now back home unlike back in the days when the talent was all abroad because that’s where you could find the instruments and people worked to live and not work to survive like they do now. Most artists still in development cannot afford the good studios abroad not to talk of the producers. The artist – producer bond is also a relationship that take long to build.
– It kills your morale. The worst part about being unproductive is that it kills your morale. Yes you can be writing songs but you’re not doing so with other people who are also in the same shoes as you. You are writing songs in a house where everyone wakes up and goes out to work. Usually they even take care of your feeding and most of the time, you cannot even move when they are not free. You leave from being a boss to being a child. Your self esteem is easily compromised.
– It makes your life harder when you do return. What a producer used to do for you for free will hardly be for free again or at least they’ll now do it while grumbling. Cameroonians have this problem of thinking people who have been abroad have more money and owe them more. Even the local man on the street will try to sell you a SIM card for 5k if he thinks you’re coming from America.
Tzy Panchak understands these things better than anyone else in the industry. When you are out, it has to be for work and that work must all be done within a short time frame; not one show this month and another one four weeks later. When you’re out you must be busy and you must have people paying your bills because you’re working and not paying your bills because they just want to have you around to say ‘e di stay na for my house.’
Talking of North American and European tours; artists need to stop playing themselves. Many announce international tours then they release flyers with open dates. Are you going on a tour or are you a tourist asking for nice places you can visit? Such tours take a year to plan. Burna Boy before filling up those venues has tickets up for sale at least 8 months before the date and there is a constant promotional campaign going on for those 8 months.
At which we have our industry, we need to do just one annual summer tour for 5-10 artists. We can have three cities in the U.S, 1 in Canada, and 4 in Europe. This will create more impact and be more profitable than the individual njangi house tours our artists are having. All artists can prepare in Cameroon with one band and then travel out to perform.
Author: Norbert K Foy