If you streamed her music online or looked at the CD cover of her album, the label will tell you her name is Vagabon. However this young lady was born Laetitia Tamka in Yaoundé, in October of 1992. At the age of 13 she moved with her parents to the U.S after her mother obtained a visa to attend law school there.
To describe her voice… well, if Corinne Bailey Rae, Sade and Tracy Chapman had a baby, it would be her. Her voice is sultry, voluptuous and deep. A perfect combination for this eccentric, 25 year old woman who has delved into the world of rock music.
She really caught the music fever at the age of 17 when her father bought her a guitar. And like a true artiste, she became an autodidact. She taught herself to play the guitar via instructional DVDs.
Meanwhile she graduated from high school and went to enrol in the City University of New York to study Engineering. She graduated with a degree in Engineering, but she never really enjoyed school whilst she was at it. In her own words, she was “dying in physics and math.”
So it was no surprise that at 21, a year before she graduated, she realised that music was really what she wanted to do after watching her performance from her very first live show. Her parents were never really OK with her pursuing a musical career, and so hitherto she had been singing mostly in the underground rock scene in New York City. A passage which shaped her musical finesse and made her fine herself musically.
Vagabon released her first album “Infinite Worlds” in 2017, an album that was recorded in the apartments of a few friends in New York and that has been acclaimed by many critics.
I got attracted to her story for two reasons; one, this is the first I am hearing of a Cameroonian Indie rock artiste and secondly she is (to put it like the white man) a woman of colour doing rock. Those don’t come by easily. Try as I can, the only black woman I know doing rock is the lead singer of “Alabama Shakes.”
I really wanted to write this article because rock is not a genre which many people I know and by extension in Cameroon really follow up. I think it’s more for lack of exposure than taste or any other reason. If anything most people know of the famous rock bands like Cold Play and Kings of Leon. They might know maybe just their famous songs like “paradise” and “Sex On fire” respectively and not much more.
I am myself a bit of a rock fan. I became one after listening to Red Hot Chili’s “Californication” for the very first time back in 1999. The guitar solo on that song got me.
And even though I am more of a pop rock and glam rock fan, I have dabbled in some Indie rock music; my favourite Indie rock band being ‘London Grammar.’
For those who don’t know, Indie rock from a purely technical perspective refers to rock music that has been released via an independent label and not through a major like Sony records.
But just like in the hip-hop community there has been ongoing battle in the rock community between mainstream rock artistes and the others; the others being mainly Indie rock groups.
Indie Rock (from a non-technical perspective) has now been associated with a more purist approach to the music. This is simply because Independent labels leave their musicians to feel free with their art and their creation and not succumb to mainstream appeal. They have accused the more popular rock groups to produce ‘bubble gum’ music that has a mass appeal but has been stripped of most elements of the core essence of rock.
Although, ironically, many Indie rock bands have gone to achieve mainstream fame and have been accused of selling out. Some, have refused to be signed by major record companies.
Rock is pretty huge in America and the rock genre has so many different niches from grunge to punk to acid rock to metal rock. And there is a wide audience for each genre across the world.
For Indie rock artistes there is a certain charm to making your own music with DIY approach in a garage, and singing in bars and college campuses, playing at obscure rock festivals and having a cult following while being able to live decently, and without being corporate pressure and mainstream appeal.
I find it very refreshing to see our sister taking this path and making her own music.
For those of who don’t know, or don’t really like rock, give yourself a chance to listen to her latest release and maybe who knows….
– Wandji Wilfred.