Blick Bassy: Keeping Cameroon Tradition Alive In a tiny village in central Cameroon, musician Blick Bassy discovered his sound. Bassy now lives in Paris, but he continues to sing in his native language, Bassa. Bassa is one of the 250 or so languages spoken in Cameroon, and Bassy fears it is dying out.

Blick Bassy: Keeping Cameroon Tradition Alive

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GUY RAZ, host:

In a tiny village in central Cameroon, musician Blick Bassy discovered his sound.

(Soundbite of song, "Africa")

Mr. BLICK BASSY (Musician): (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: This is the first track of Blick Bassy's debut solo album "Leman." Bassy sings in his native, Bassa; it's on one of the 250 or so languages spoken in Cameroon. And it's a language, as he'll explain in a moment, in danger of dying out.

(Soundbite of song, "Africa")

Mr. BASSY: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: For the past decade, Blick Bassy has lived in Paris where he's performed with the legendary Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango, among others. But now, at age 35, he's decided to make his mark as a solo artist.

And Blick Bassy joins me from Paris. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BASSY: Hello.

RAZ: This song that we're listening to, it's called "Africa."

Mr. BASSY: Yeah.

RAZ: Can you talk about it?

Mr. BASSY: Yes, yes. You know, on the history of Africa, we have - it's just that the (unintelligible) was wrote by people coming from others' countries, you know?

RAZ: From European countries.

Mr. BASSY: Yeah, yeah. We don't have the one wrote by people coming from our country. That's why there are so many young people in Cameroon, where I'm coming from, there are so many young people who don't know to speak our languages. And I think it's very, very dangerous. That's why I'm calling them to go back to learn the history and to learn all traditions we have there and rewrite our history by ourself.

(Soundbite of song, "Africa")

Mr. BASSY: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: This album, this record, is in your native language, in Bassa.

Mr. BASSY: Yes.

RAZ: You didn't sing in English or French, which are actually the official languages of Cameroon. Why did you decide to record this album in Bassa?

Mr. BASSY: There are so many reasons. The first and the most important one is that if you lose your language, you lose everything. You lose your tradition. Your everything. Because in French, there are so many things I can't say in French or in English. I have to say in Bassa.

RAZ: There's a track on this album, it's called "Mintaba."

Mr. BASSY: Yes.

RAZ: And I want to listen to some of it for a moment.

(Soundbite of song, "Mintaba")

Mr. BASSY: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Mintaba is a village in central Cameroon where you spent part of your childhood. Describe the kind of music you heard in Mintaba as a child.

Mr. BASSY: When I was in Mintaba, when my father sent me there to have the real Bassa and the real education from my tribes, I were with my grandparents.

RAZ: You were sent to live with your grandparents.

Mr. BASSY: Yes. And you know, every weekend we have - you know, in the village there are nothing. People - it's the same life every day. Wake up every day. Go into the forest, deep in the forest, and going back at 6 o'clock every day. It's the same thing. There is no cinema, no nothing, you know?

And so all the event we can have there is just sometimes wedding, sometimes maybe a big, big feast. For every event, we have a different kind of music. We have, for example, N'go, Bolobo, Mokume, Dingoma, and Aseko. Aseko is a national traditional music coming from my tribe.

RAZ: Hmm.

Mr. BASSY: And Aseko is with a guitar. And the legend is of this music is that when Portuguese - people from Portuguese was in Cameroon, they left a guitar because it's not a traditional guitar. It's a normal guitar, acoustic guitar.

RAZ: Hmm

Mr. BASSY: And there is one guy of my village who find this guitar and…

RAZ: He found a guitar.

Mr. BASSY: Yes. And he began to play differently.

RAZ: And you decided to play the guitar sort continuing that tradition. Let's hear you playing in the Aseko style. This song is called "Masse." Am I pronouncing it right, "Masse?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BASSY: Yes, "Masse."

RAZ: Let's here it.

(Soundbite of song, "Masse")

Mr. BASSY: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Why did you decide to leave Cameroon and move to Paris?

Mr. BASSY: It's just because it's not possible if you really want to do music. To stay in Cameroon and do music is not possible. There is no music business there.

RAZ: Hmm.

Mr. BASSY: So I have to be here in Paris if I really want to share my music.

RAZ: Do you ever think you'll make a record where you sing in French?

Mr. BASSY: In French, no, I don't think so.

RAZ: No.

Mr. BASSY: Because I think I have many, many beautiful things in Bassa to show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: You sing about leaving Africa and about sort of longing, thinking about it all time in the song "Bolo." Can you translate what that song means?

Mr. BASSY: This song is about all people as me, you know, who sometimes we have to go to leave everything. We have the family, people we love and everything, to go far away to find life. As we say in my country, and for all those people, sometimes it can be very, very difficult to live far away from the family, from the children, far away from every people we really love. But we need to do it maybe to make tomorrow better for all those people we love.

RAZ: Let's hear some of that song.

(Soundbite of song, "Bolo")

Mr. BASSY: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: This song is called "Bolo." It's off Blick Bassy's new album, "Leman." You can hear full cuts from the record at nprmusic.orq. Blick Bassy, thanks for sharing your story.

Mr. BASSY: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of song, "Bolo")

Mr. BASSY: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Have a great night.

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