In 1987 Makossa legend, Prince Ndedi Eyango sang the famous lines ‘You must calculer’. The song insisted on making rational steps before engaging in any relationships, or making a move for love.
Few ever thought that over thirty years later, the lines would be ringing in the heads of his colleagues and contemporaries, many of whom appear to have failed to adequately plan for a post-famous life and are now wallowing in misery. Could they have failed to ‘calculer’ before engaging in the art which they so much loved?
In May 2022, Cameroon’s National radio ran a series of reports on music legends, Ekambi Brillant and Marthe Zambo. Both artists were in hospital and were soliciting public support to raise funds for their treatment. Born in 1947, one year before Brilliant Ekambi, Marthe Zambo is renowned for multiple hits performed in her day including ‘Avec toi’ and ‘Malea Ma Muto’.
Brillant Ekambi who too was a wonder to behold in his day, remains to date, one of the most notable Makossa legends to export the Cameroonian genre. Who didn’t listen to ‘Minya ma bobe’? Who didn’t dance to ‘Sesa Mulema’?
Today, both legends have joined the ranks of many other Cameroonian entertainers barely living off the edge after a life of fame and apparently, immense wealth.
‘What didn’t go right?’ remains the question.
On one hand, no one would be wrong to say people of every profession and category often find themselves in need even after attaining very wealthy peaks during their days in service. This could partly be blamed on the lack of an adequate public health system as well as insurance policies and follow up. A bout of ill health or at worst, a terminal disease can very easily send a once wealthy individual ‘back to the trenches’.
Yet, you can’t help but notice the frequency of this happening with Cameroonian artists, especially those of the yesteryears. Their works raised the bar and exported culture. They made the globe dance and yet, some have left the earth and others following suite, all with beggars’ bowls in hand.
To date, few can resist rocking to Mama Nguea Laroute’s famous ‘Samuel Eto’o’. Many still shed tears every time ‘Ebonga Londo’ plays on the radio. Despite the amazing hits and the fame enjoyed, Koubinom Louise as she was born in 1960, died in 2020, in unspeakable financial misery. This was shortly after she lost both legs in a long battle with diabetes.
Today, Ekambi Brillant and the charismatic Marthe Zambo appear to have packed their bags ready to go down that road too, if nothing is done. Their conditions and raise the obvious questions; ‘what happened to all the fame?’ and ‘what sustainability plans they build for themselves?’
While many cite the absence of adequate insurance policies and medical facilities, there lies a deeper understanding of the situation at hand, in the first place. The ill treatment of talents by labels and industry actors and the absence of a definite remuneration and certification structure for content.
In Dave Chappelle’s America, women and activists hate the industry for how it derives sensual pleasure, and he, for how it eats. In the Cameroon of Petit Pays and Marthe Zambo, the industry should be hated for even the air it chooses to breathe.
Every breath it inhales, is an entertainer without a contract, without royalties and with nothing but ill health and empty pockets to show for years of selfless service and good music.
More unpleasant stories would arise if we seek to understand how the industry eats or when it seeks to dangle its phallus for sensual pleasure, devouring the loins of unsuspecting performers.
Enter SONACAM – Who Well?
Cameroon does not have an operational music certification board. It also has no adequate follow-up mechanisms to ensure artists are paid royalties from use of their songs for radio play, adverts or promotional campaigns.
The nearest institution to this, is the Cameroon National Musical Art Corporation, with French acronym, SONACAM. It was created in 2017 with the primary aim of restoring order in the chaotic sector and fighting for the common good of artists.
With over a thousand members under its wings, SONACAM however, is arguably nothing short of a battle ground, with factions aiming to grab the lions share. Its main purpose, almost nonexistent.
Financial remuneration to members is rounded up to the nearest peanuts possible and dished out on an irregular basis.
Not even the election of a new head, Ateh Bazore since December 2020, has been able to right the wrongs. Playing the Anglophone marginalization card has not been able to serve as the proverbial kanda stick of Lapiro, employed when hospital care fails.
But if gold can rust … If the authors’ rights corporation is itself in peril, who then can adjudicate and fight for the sustainable rights of artists and entertainers as a whole?
Most new generation performers have chosen the solo path, working independent of any labels or associations.
While independent artists have always existed, the path appears to be the new gold rush for many an entertainer. New day acts are so far making it down this road, attaining fame and apparently, securing the financial bag too. Ask Blanche Bailey, ask Askia. Talk to Witty Minstrel, listen to Vernyuy Tina.
In a few decades, we would look back and either be glad they heeded Eyango’s ‘calculer’ chorus, or regret to accept Lapiro De Mbanga was right to say “overdone na mbut”.
For now, entertainers can only hope going solo instead of focusing more to build better certification processes and authors rights protection fences won’t turn out to be fool’s gold.
– Giyo Ndzi