News

Meet Moken, The Cameroonian Balladeer With The Biggest Voice You've Heard This Year

Cameroonian singer Moken on his sudden migration to America, living out of his car and his new album 'Chapters of My Life.'

Chapters Of My Life album cover.


Moken's voice is a recognizable deep baritone whether he’s singing or answering the phone. During his early years in Limbe, Cameroon, the artist ran a do-it-all art space where he simultaneously worked on clothes, songs, drawings and everything in-between. A sudden migration to the U.S. saw Moken land in Detroit, where he lived in his car while spending stints in-and-out of college and trying to acclimate to American life.

All of these experiences shape Moken's debut Chapters of My Life, an album whose main focal point is the Cameroonian singer's resonating baritone voice. We caught up with Moken—who describes himself as an "avant-garde afro pop artist and balladeer"—over the phone to talk about his youth in Limbe, his tumultuous move to the U.S., and his new album. Read our chat and hear our premiere of Chapters of My Life's "Wild Wild Ways" below.

So you started out as a fashion designer in Cameroon?

Moken: I had an art studio, so not like a confined fashion designer. In my studio I did people's commercial signs, screen printing, just created stuff. Some people would come with their jeans and I would just draw little caricatures like Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse on them. It was also my music studio. I was there with my guitar all the time so friends and musicians would pass by.

You then moved to the U.S., how did that come about?

One afternoon, I'm coming back to the studio with my guitar from a bar and somebody tells me that there's a call from America. It was my sister. She's like, "You've won the Green Card lottery, get ready you have to come to America in 6 months." I hadn't even dreamt of going to America in the next 10 or 15 years then, all of a sudden, I'm preparing to head there. It was a complete turn around. It was almost surreal.

I found myself in the big commercial city of Detroit. There was this art college that my sister knew—the reason for her putting me in that Green Card lottery was because she knew that my life in Cameroon was all about art—and I think the next week after I came to the States I was going to that school for registration.

During that time I had to work full-time and go to school full-time. It was a very demanding so I dropped out of school for a little to focus on my music. When I eventually decided to go back to school, the fees had skyrocketed to almost $20,000 a year. I was like, "what should I do here?" There was no way I could afford that.

So my car became my home. I was living in it. When I picked books from the library I would arrange them in the backseat. Nobody in school knew that my car that was parked by the playground was my where I lived. I wrote a lot of the songs for the album while living in my car, it's where I came up with all my best ideas. It was almost like a kind of blessing.

Can tell us about the background of "Wild Wild Ways"?

"Wild Wild Ways" is a very serious song. The core message is about those who dominate our world. In the wilderness, the lion is the king of the wild wild ways. The wilderness is this world and the lion is those who make the rules in life—the presidents, the U.N., all the big organizations, the bankers, those who give loans to people. It's a serious message to the rulers of the world: what you give is what you get.

Who inspires your songwriting and singing?

The inspirations on my singing begin with Francis Bebey, most of his songs were like poetry to me, they really affected my spirit. Then there was Manu Dibango, he has this kind of poetic way of talk-singing and I picked up some of that desire. That and a little bit of Felahe did a lot of talk-singing too. There's also Miriam Makeba and Van Morrison, whose voice invokes some out-of-this-world imaginary lines in my mind. I noticed that Francis Bebey had this baritone and people like Nina Simone had this kind of high-pitched resonating voice. So when I started my singing, I tried to sing like them, with a high baritone thats ends on a high-pitch or falsetto.

What Cameroonian styles are reflected in your songs?

My style's more of a melting pot. The Cameroonian style that I think is in my music is classical makossa and then a little bit of afrobeat. It's makossa but with a very jazzy, rhythmic touch. When I write a song, I feel like an African drum is beating in my head and then I just mix that feeling with any influences, even Western influences from James Brown and Nat King Cole to Detroit rock.

Moken's 'Chapters of My Life' is out April 6 on Bantu Records.

Culture

The Best African Memes of 2018

Laugh with us into 2019 with OkayAfrica's best African memes of 2018.

Meme culture has become a mainstay on these internet streets. It's essentially an alternate form of communicating, of commentary and of simple laughter. 2018 had its fair share of highs and lows, and young Africans continue to utilize memes to celebrate or to cope with the nonsense.

To reflect on the African memes that broke the internet this year, we tapped contributors and African meme tastemakers to list the best African memes of 2018.

Laugh away below.

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popular

The Black Women Who Made Big Strides in France in 2018

Yes, this was a bad year for many reasons, but we can still celebrate the black women who rose to prominence

Back in 2015, a group of Black women activists appeared in the French media: les afrofems. They were and still are, fighting against police brutality, for better inclusion in the media and to destroy harmful sexual stereotypes surrounding black women among other worthy goals. Since then, more influential Black women have gained a bigger representation in the media. And, even better, some of the afrofems activists, like Laura Nsafou and Amandine Gay, have made films and written books to bring more diversity to the entertainment industry.

2018 has, in many ways, been a year where black women made strides in France, at least in terms of culture. From winning Nobel prizes, to having best selling books and being on top of the charts, Black French women have showed that, no matter how much France wants to keep them under the radar, they're making moves. And, no matter the tragedies and terrible events that have shaped the year, it is something worth celebrating.

France's New Queen of Pop Music

We begin with Aya Nakamura, France's new queen of pop music. Her song Djadja was a summer hit. Everyone from Rihanna, to the French football team who successfully won their second world cup, sang it. Her sophomore album "Nakamura" has been certified gold in France and is still on top of the charts. She is the first French singer to have a number one album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1961. The last time a black woman was as visible in pop music was in 2004, with Lynsha's single "Hommes...Femmes".

Nakamura has received a huge backlash, mostly due to misogynoir—misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles. From a French presenter butchering her African first name despite the fact that he can easily pronounce words like "Aliagas", to online trolls calling her ugly and manly when a picture of her wearing no makeup surfaced, to people complaining that she is bringing down the quality of the entire French pop music industry, Nakamura responds to her critics gracefully. Her music is not groundbreaking but her album is full of catchy songs with lyrics using French slang she masters so well that she came up with her own words like "en catchana" (aka doggy style sex). And most importantly, many black girls and women can finally see someone like them in the media getting the success she deserves.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another Black French woman has broken records this year: the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, a prize meant to replace the Nobel Prize in Literature, after the scandal that the Swedish Academy of Literature faced last year. Condé wrote her first novel at only 11 years old and has been prolific ever since. A former professor of French literature at Columbia University, she has published more than 20 books since the 1970s, exploring the complex relationships within the African diaspora. "Segu", her most famous novel, is about the impact of the slave trade and Abrahamic religion on the Bambara empire in Mali in the 19th century. Condé's work is radical and she remains committed to writing feminist texts exploring the link between gender, race and class, as well as exploring the impact of colonialism. Condé is a pillar of Caribbean literature and it's taken long enough for her work has been acknowledged by the Nobel prize committee.

The Children's Books Writers

From Comme un Million de Papillon Noir

And finally, 2018 has been the year where France's children's literature industry has finally understood how important, for the public, writers and publishers, being inclusive and diverse was. From Laura Nsafou's Comme un Million de Papillon Noir, a best selling book about a young black girl learning to love her natural hair which sold more than 6000 copies, to Neiba Je-sais-tout: Un Portable dans le Cartable, the second book of Madina Guissé published this year after a successful crowdfunding campaign, there are more and more children's and young adult books with non white protagonists. In France, there are still no stats about how diversity is doing, but in America, in 2017, only 7 percent of writers of children's literature were either Black, Latino or Native American.

There's still much to accomplish in France for the Black community to have better representation in the media, politics and all walks of life, but important strides have been accomplished this year, and it make me hopeful for what 2019 and the following years have in store.

News

J Hus Has Been Sentenced to Eight Months in Jail for Knife Possession

The rapper has been convicted following an arrest in June.

Gambian-Biritish grime rapper J Hus has been sentenced to eight months in prison for knife possesion, reports BBC News.

The artist, neé Momodou Jallow, was arrested in Stratford London in June when police pulled him over near a shopping center, claming that they smelled cannabis. Police officers asked Hus if he was carrying anything illegal, to which the rapper admitted that he had a 10cm folding knife in his possession. When asked why, he responded: "You know, it's Westfield."

Hus pleaded guilty at a hearing in October after initially pleading not guilty.

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