Interview with Cameroonian Singer Kaissa
Kaissa is a singer-songwriter from Cameroon who lives in New York and creates music inspired by a rich range of artists. She has worked with Paul Simon, Jean-Michelle Jarre and Cesaria Evora amongst others.
Read her interview below and check out her beautiful music: www.kaissa.com
CNRCY: Please describe your background and how it influences your music, I'd like some insights into where you have lived and what inspired you musically.
Kaissa: "I am a singer and songwriter and a dancer. I was born in Cameroon and spent my childhood in Yaoundé and Douala. I moved to France as a teenager, and later on, I studied Law for two years at Nanterre Universite Paris X. My Dad had dreams of me being a lawyer. After two years of...studying...well not really. -(I was mainly doing recording sessions, singing back ups, and making money on commercials, all of this in the down low-), I told my Dad that being a lawyer would have to be in another life...hahahaha! So it is in "a very culturally rich late 80s" Paris that I started singing. While in Paris I sang in more than 15 different languages, worked with Salif Keita, Jean-Michel Jarre, Papa Wemba, Cesaria Evora, among others.
My father was arrested in 1973 and jailed for having written a "subversive" book against the new Cameroonian government it was a sociological and ethnological about the Sawa people, our people. My music and lyrics tend to be very personal. My life experiences, my travels, my family, my struggles and successes are sources of inspiration. I purged my emotions through art. Not only it is a healing process, but it also serves to convey to the wider world the destructive experiences we have been through, we are still going through, experiences that happen in other places such as of wars, FGM and their terrible consequences on the human psyche.
From an early age I was exposed to the Arts. As I said earlier, Cameroon is a wonderful art tapestry. Art is a part of life. Almost every week, our parents would take us to see dances from the Bamilike, Sawa, Abmoun people, or our neighbors would have traditional bands performing for a wedding or a birth.
I had the great privilege of growing up within an very artistic familly. Mom was a seamstress and Dad was general secretary of culture and communications in the first independent Cameroonian government but also a writer, sociologist and self taught musician. I have two brothers bass players, a brother who was a guitarist/singer, a brother painter and a sister dancer. Eboa Lotin, a very famous singer in Africa was my uncle. They were my first influence, I would listen to them with wonder.
I grew up listening to many different musics/genres that my parents and siblings were found of, such as Cuban salsa, Congolese rumba, classical music Chopin and, Bach being my favorites, Cameroonian rythms such as bikutsi, manganbeu, makossa and more traditional such as Baka's music. I also listened to South African music that I discovered trough thr late great Miriam Makeba. Anna-Marie Nzié, as well as Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Ekambi Brillant, Salif Keita, Fela, Michael Jackson, greatly inspired me not only musically but humanly. The writer Chinua Achebe, the painter Chéri Samba, and the film maker Ousmane Sembene are other non musical great inspirations to me."
CNRCY: How have your musical experiences been in New York? Who are your favourite musicians to play with and what is the most memorable performance you had there?
Kaissa: "When I visited New York for the first time in 1994, I felt in love with its amazing variety of musical genres, the musician's drive. What stroke me the most was how everyone's individuality and dreams were accepted, embraced. So In 1996 I moved to New York City and met my husband. That was it I was not going anywhere...hahahaha!
I started performing with my band. I have been tremendously blessed with fantastic musicians accompanying me. They are drummer/producer Maciek Schejbal from Poland, Patrice Blanchard, bass player from Martinique, Leo Traversa bass player from the US, Francky Moulet bass player, from France and Congo, Gregg Fine guitarist from the US, Jean- Christophe Maillard guitarist, jean Christophe Doo Kingue guitarist from Cameroon. Patrice Bihina, guitarist from France and Cameroon is the producer/guitarist with whom I co-wrote my first album "Looking There" is a childhood dream. This album was entirely recorded at home in Brooklyn.
New York has offered me tremedous work opportunities such as working, collaborating and sharing the same bill with the likes of Diana Ross, Martha Wash, David Byrne, Paul Simon. I have performed with my band for various organizations, venues, TV shows, music festivals and events such as United Nations, Oprah, The Schomburg, National Dance Institute, Africa Festival, UNESCO, UNDP, MTV, BET, among many others.
I cherish them all, but I have to say that two of them top the list. The recording of my first CD "Looking There". It was a very, very long, labor of love. I started writing and collaborating with my friend Patrice Bihina in 1998. Maciek Schejbal my drummer produced and engineered it, we started recording it -(entirely at home)- until the end of 2001. During the production of it I had a terrible bicycle accident in which I lost four of my front teeth and got pretty much disfigured. I thought I would never sing nor smile again after that. It took a long reconstructive work, inside and out and quite a lot of confidence to get back to singing agin..."Looking There" was finally self-released in 2005. Being chosen And invited by Paul Simon for a tribute retrospective on his carreer while he was accompanying me on the guitar and I sang his songs in lead! These were two unforgettable experiences :)"
CNRCY: What are your future plans?
Kaissa: "I am recording my second album, another labor of love! I started writing and recording it end of 2007, then I went on the road for a year and a half with David Byrne. My guitarist Gregg Fine and I are back to recording. It will be hopefuly released by the end of 2010. From my upcoming CD, you will hear A Ghetto In The Sahara ". It is the story of an African woman trying to immigrate to the North. Forced on the boats yesterday, today unwanted, rejected, she spent 5 years in the Sahara. "Eyala" is a tribute to the Babambe, our ancestors, they teach us, show us the way with their wisdom and sacrifice. "Nengue Dipita" recounts the challenges and vicissitudes of life but also the assurance that there is enough magic and power within each of us to create our world. "Mamelodi" is a song dedicated to my husband, you're the only drug I need my love you are so precious to me.
You can check my upcoming shows as well as purchase my CDs here:http://kaissa.com/flash/ and visit my other networks here:http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kaissa-Official-Page/185354177251"
CNRCY: Where can people from abroad buy your CDs?
Kaissa: "On my website http://kaissa.com , on Itunes, Amazon. Thank you Sarah, for this interview."