After a six-year break, US-based Cameroonian artist, Wanaku a.k.a The Tribal Monk has released his third album, Afrikan Guitarstrophy, in collaboration with his band, Sunplug’d. In this album, Wanaku shuns the “World Music” genre with its the over-reliance on technology and heavy (in)fusion of Western pop sounds. Instead, he unapologetically uses the acoustic guitar as the main conduit for what he calls “Sweet Afrikan Kontry Muziki”. This is not “afro-pop” byany stretch of the imagination; it is afro beat in its pure and unadulterated state.
Afrikan Guitarstrophy is an exotic and eclectic album in which Wanaku plays the role of the seasoned chef, carefully choosing and mixing his spices in measured doses, as he prepares a delicious and sumptuous dish full of flavor and color. The result is a relentless assault of sweet sounds from the motherland - Sweet Afrikan Kontry Muziki indeed!
The album begins with Danz of the Bumblebeez, a tune which most critics have described as “African jazz”. While the Jazz influence in Danz of the Bumblebeez is undeniable, the song nonetheless echoes traditional West African sounds with a frisson of Highlife.
The next song, Wake up, is laced with Congolese Soukous – not the fast-paced and furious Kwassa Kwassa/Ndomobolo of Olomide, Awilo, etc., which is reflective of the chaos and violence in the two Congos, but the more sedate Rumba-influenced variety made popular by the likes of Franco, Rochereau, and Zaiko Langa Langa.
In Fire on the Mountain, the album veers farther south of the continent. A reggae-influenced number, Fire is reminiscent of the old South African township sounds from groups such as the Dark City Sisters.
The fourth song on the album is a remix of Malaika, the legendary East African tune made popular by Miriam Makeba. In this remix, Wanaku displays the audacity, creativity and innovation that characterize his style. When I first saw Malaika listed on the album cover, I wondered if Wanaku was not biting off more than he could chew by trying to follow on the footsteps of scores of artists who have tried their hand –usually with limited success - at this song. However, from the opening notes of the SUNplug’d version, Wanaku quickly erases those concerns. The artist has masterfully crafted a new and timeless song while maintaining the feel of the original.
Some will describe Long Time No See, the sixth song on the album, as a Zouk number. However, folks from an era long gone will insist that this tune, which is so full of nostalgia and longing, is a throwback to the great Haitian artist Coupe Cloué (Gesner Henri) whose languorous Kompa sound was the precursor of Zouk.
In Strangers in this World, Wanaku returns to that haunting West African sound, so full of melancholy, and angst. It is a soothing piece that transports the listener to an Africa that exists only in our imiaginations. This is definitely “African Jazz” at its best.
If you grew up listening to legendary African salseros such as Tchana Pierre and Gnonnas Pedro, then Moskito Danz is for you. This upbeat song with very catchy lyrics is unarguably the most danceable song on the Album. And its refrain, “Danz, danz, danz moskito danz”, will keep on playing in your head long after you have left the dance floor.
Ou le le!, the 8th song on the album can best be described as an audio postcard whose lyrics and melody vividly conjure mental images of the sounds and sights of the African countryside. It has an effect similar to Manu Dibango’s legendary le soir au village.
In Bakassi Chant, the most militant song on the album, Wanaku who is a celebrated protest poet, waxes lyrically and philosophically about freedom.
everybody wants to be free
Let no man take your precious freedom away
Freedom is the right to be wrong
and not to be right to do wrong
The album wraps up with a soothing instrumental version of Danz of the Bumblebeez.
As mentioned earlier, Wanaku's band is called SUNplug'd, which is the short form of "Serengeti UNplugged". The name, according to Wanaku, stems "from a desire to use acoustic instruments (unplugged) on stage when performing Afrikan rhythms and melodies through a public address system (PA)."
The Serengeti, it should be recalled, are the vast plains of East Africa noted for their rich and diverse wildlife.
If Afrikan Guitarstrophy is a musical Serengeti, then Wanaku is a powerful wildebeest roaming freely but purposefully across these vast African plains, unearthing pure indigenous sounds and serving them to a delighted public as an exquisitely packaged fantasia.
Wanaku at a glance
According to the SUNplug’d website,
“Wanaku was born in the British Cameroons. A descendant from the Kom Kingdom, he grew up in the coffee farms that sprawl the grassfield highlands of this West Afrikan tribal kingdom. It is a region densely populated by several tribes. Wanaku was exposed to the culture of many of these tribes through ceremonial music, dance and arts events.”
Those who were fans of Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) during its glorious days in the mid to late eighties and early nineties should know Wanaku, albeit under a different name – Kenneth Komtanghi. During his time at CRTV, Wanaku produced some of the most stunning music videos and television programs of that long-gone era of great television in Cameroon, and he also worked on major Cameroonian movies of the time. For example, he was the Director of Production on Jean-Pierre Bekolo's Quartier Mozart which won the Prix Afrique en Creation at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.
Wanaku has three albums under his belt. His debut album, AfrikaWanda, was produced in Cameroon in 1991, while Save Afrika (2000) and Afrikan GuitarStrophy (2006) were produced in the US with his band SUNplud'd.
This album is definitely a must-buy for the holiday season.
Click here to listen to a review of Afrikan Guitarstrophy on Radio Singapore International (mp3 format).
Click here to visit Wanaku’s official website.
Click here to buy CD online.