Aspiring young Cameroonian singer Kareyce Fotso has made it to the finals of RFI’s “Découvertes” award (to be held in the Togolese capital, Lomé, on 25 November.) After honing her performance skills touring with the group Korongo Jam, Kareyce has now launched a promising solo career. RFI Musique profiles the rising new star of Afro-folk.
Kareyce Fotso’s voice has a soothing quality to it, enveloping the room in a sense of calm the minute she starts to speak. Kareyce famously worked her charm on the jury at the 6th “Jeux de la Francophonie” contest organised in the Lebanese capital in October 2009, her soft, velvet tones winning her the silver medal in Beirut’s prestigious “chanson” contest. Too nervous to wait up front with the rest of the audience for the results that night, the Cameroonian singer fled backstage to her dressing-room. “People kept coming and knocking on my door,” she remembers, “but I couldn’t bring myself to go out. When they announced the winners my first reaction was to break down in tears. At that moment all I wanted was to be back home with my family and friends, sharing my happiness with everyone who’d believed in me. I wanted to let them know they’d backed the right horse, after all!”
Although Kareyce was pleased as punch with her silver medal, she nearly did not make the trip to Beirut for “Les Jeux de la Francophonie.” To earn her place on the Cameroonian delegation, she was required to qualify at a preliminary contest organised by the Ministry of Culture in her homeland at the end of 2008. Kareyce did not fancy her chances too much and it was only after much insistence from a sculptor friend that she agreed to put her name down in the first place. On the morning of the competition Kareyce turned up late and got roundly ticked off by the jury. What’s more, unlike her rival candidates, she turned up to perform alone, accompanying herself on stage on guitar. “I never made a deliberate decision to perform solo,” she says,” That’s just the way it happened. I didn’t want to call my musicians to go with me because I was feeling a bit rushed into things, a bit pressurised to put in an appearance. But I got a standing ovation after my solo performance and it was at that point that I started thinking maybe I didn’t need a backing band on stage.”
From biochemistry to musical chemistry
A few weeks after the national heat for the “Jeux de la Francophonie”, Kareyce applied to take part in the “Visas pour la création” programme organised by CulturesFrance. Her dossier was accepted and the young Cameroonian singer won a grant to come to France and take up a three-month residency in Bourges in May 2009. Here, Kareyce got to work with the French percussionist François Kokelaere (renowned for forming a number of groups including Les Percussions de Guinée) who took on the role of her artistic director. “François got me to look in the mirror and see myself as I really am,” Kareyce recalls, “That experience helped me avoid falling into any sort of caricature. And it went way beyond music, too. I felt as though I’d truly discovered myself for the first time in my life.”
Prior to her arrival in Bourges, Kareyce spent six years honing her performance skills as a dancer and backing singer with Korongo Jam (a Cameroonian group to whom François Kokelaere also acted as an advisor.) Her talent was originally spotted while she was still a student at the University of Yaoundé. Here, she started out studying biochemistry which she describes as “the worst time of my life – I was literally bored to tears!” Kareyce eventually swapped to do a course in audiovisual communication but music remained the great love of her life. Her father, a professional sculptor all too familiar with the precariousness of the artistic life, had banned his children from pursuing a career in the arts. But Kareyce’s brother, who was sent to boarding school to get him away from the music scene, finally persuaded his parents to let his sister follow her dreams. Kareyce was allowed to indulge her passion for music so long as she got good grades at school and the talented youngster managed to do both at the same time, keeping her classmates amused in school by performing her own versions of cartoon theme tunes.
Kareyce, who grew up listening to traditional lullabies sung by her mother (a Bamileke “weeper” hired to mourn at funerals), also claims the Cameroonian bikutsi singer Anne-Marie Nzié as one of her greatest mentors. “Anne-Marie Nzié has one of the greatest voices in the world,” Kareyce declares, “She was the one who taught me to sing. I never came into personal contact with her, but I listened to her music all the time.” Kareyce also cites Miriam Makeba, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu, Ismaël Lo, Cesaria Evora and the famous Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona as formative influences. After six years with Korongo Jam, Kareyce says she felt “psychologically and emotionally ready” to embark upon a solo career, even if that meant financing the recording of her debut album herself. Her acoustic Afro-folk sound took shape in the studio with Mulato, an album recently released in Cameroon. “‘Mulato’ means someone of mixed origin like myself!” Kareyce says, “I’m a Bamileke, but I was born and grew up with the Beti. What I wanted to do on my album was express how incredibly rich life becomes when you can draw on both cultures at once!”
Translation : Julie Street