Ndukong Godlove was born in 1983, two weeks shy of Paul Biya’s first anniversary as President of Cameroon. It was an era of change. Citizens were promised, or at least, expected a wind of change, and it did come. This wind of change was termed the New Deal.
Like with every politician who has been in power long enough to serve multiple mandates, the New Deal slogan morphed and evolved as the times went by. Through the abortive coup to the turbulent introduction of multiparty politics, the days of the marquis and a hundred other stories parents fear to narrate to their kids, there has almost always been a slogan.
There was the New Deal, Rigor and Moralisation and then the era of Greater Ambitions. Today, the talk of the town is the desire to attain emergence by the year 2035.
But what does this have to do with a rapper who rose to fame through the ravines of Cameroon’s broad class distinctions?
Godlove is among millions of Cameroonians that have lived under the same regime since birth. But describing him as a mere artist fails to do justice to his person and character. Godlove who is better known by the name Jovi is also a social critic, and never fails to express these thoughts through his works, no matter how unsettling they may be.
It is no wonder that Bakwa Magazine’s Kangsen Feka Wakai termed the rapper’s debut album (H.I.V – Humanity Is Vanishing) “the long awaited arrival of a self-assured emcee very conscious of his abilities, the vacuum in the genre, his audience’s expectations, and the right dose of hustle to assert his place.”
But if you are here for H.I.V, you are late.
Jovi has to his credit, 4 additional albums, 11 EPs and one mixtape. Each of these is a journey on its own, a bold dive into the abyss of daily Cameroonian social and political life.
Jovi’s style has come to be known as Mboko and the artist, crowned the Mboko God. He delivers in a mélange of English, French, Pidgin English, and sometimes, his mother tongue, Limbum (from where his stage name originates). His rich discography, style, production prowess and advocacy through music have all paved a path, raising him to Cameroon’s rap Mount Rushmore.
While his past projects often had references and mentions on even the most boderline discourses, hardly any ever screamed politics from so far away as his latest project. The album, 2035 goes straight for the jugular – the conversation on neo colonialism and Africa’s self-liberation and of course the elephant in the room, consistent underdevelopment, 62 years after independence.
“It is with the words of Thomas Sankara that I kicked off the album and you can already feel the energy that drove me when I did the album,” Jovi says of the intro to the 13-track album.
In the said song, ‘Kobra since 1998’, Jovi kicks off with a call for peace before going off on horrid prison conditions. He describes himself as living proof of success before expressing gratefulness for not having to pay for the air he breathes. It ends with a sample of Sankara’s famous July 29 1987 ‘Against Debt’ speech at the 25th African Unity Organisation Summit in Ethiopia.
Jovi’s perception of himself is an aspect that remains tall throughout his projects and he doesn’t hesitate to bring it early in 2035. He tells anyone who cares to know that he has paid his debt.
Worthy of note is that in 2021, Cameroon’s public debt going by Country Economy, stood at $21,236 million.
Album of legends
One peculiarity of Jovi projects is his penchant for paying homage to the greats. In 2035, he doubles down on this commitment, expressly naming four songs after some of them. The venerated Talla Andre Mari, Sitony, Koppo and Tchakounte all got their flowers on the album.
“I have the culture of paying homage to legends and this time I focused a lot more on living legends not those that have departed already. We start with Andre Marie Talla,” Jovi explains.
Nkodo Sitony, on his part, Jovi reveals, remains one of his biggest music influences to date alongside Les tetes Brulees. The legend who passed on at the age of 62 in 2021, remains one of Cameroon’s most venerated Bikutsi singers, and for good reason. Some of his unforgettable hits include Dolo Eibe, Ngoan Ezoum and Abeng Mininga and of course, Mba Mvoe. “When I listen to Cameroonian music and want to have a spiritual feeling, I listen to Nkodo Sitony” Jovi testifies.
Another legend who got their flowers on the album is Pierre Didy Tchakounte who had a song titled after him too. One of the ace artist’s most popular compositions to date, remains ‘Makeladia’ produced by the legendary Tom Yoms. Yes, that Tom Yoms. Jovi chops and fastens a piece of the song, laying it as chorus for his homage song, ‘Tchakounte’. On the piece, he again evokes the Sankara spirit, opening the track with an excerpt on the politician’s famous speech at the UN General Assembly, 4 October 1984.
Like Sankara’s Burkina Faso over thirty years back, Cameroon today still has to grapple with food insecurity. In June 2023, the UN humanitarian agency disclosed that about 11% of the Cameroonian population (3 million people) face acute food insecurity. The agency cited the insecurity, armed violence and increasing disputes over resources as key factors for the morbid situation.
It is on this premise that the rapper builds his 2035 case, by painting a picture of Cameroon in 2023. From increased deaths to mass exodus and now, inhabitable towns one regarded as home, he spells the need to match action with words. He goes on to sum his hopes in two words: Peace and love.
But in understanding these and possibly achieving them, getting an idea of Sankara’s parcours is of utmost importance. Sankara remains to date, an icon to many pan Africanists and anti-imperialists. He rose to power in 1983 (yes, same year Jovi was born) through a coup d’etat, serving for the next four years until his assassination.
Over 30 years later, his values remain a creed to millions of Africans who like him, believe revolutionary policies are the ideal way to go about neocolonialism. Sankara too was a proponent of land reforms and the agro economical approach to Africa’s food problem. In highlighting these through his famous ‘Against Debt’ speech, Jovi can be seen as suggesting Sankara’s methods as the ideal in addressing the aforementioned vices, thereby getting Cameroon where it needs to be in 2035. Sankara’s response would be to cut overdependence on foreign aid and emphasize national food sovereignty.
While the process would be detailing and even unpleasant, its results are sure to be envied, much like the final stage of a butterfly’s evolution process as captured on the 2035 album cover.
Of all music legends referenced in the album, Koppo alone had his flowers given him in person. At the album listening party in Yaounde, Jovi recalled playing the artist’s first album (Si tu vois ma go) years back while interning at LTM, a local radio in Douala. The lead song after which the album was named, Jovi recounted, left an indelible impact on him, a debt he just had to repay.
“When I got informed Jovi celebrated me, people said legends recognize legends. This is important to me that he has done it while I am still alive …” Koppo explained. “What touches me about Jovi’s music is the research he outs into it… he does things no one else can do… thank you for paying homage to me…”
The 2035 Collaboration
Cameroon is noted for its geographic diversity and beauty. In a bid to reflect this beauty in his work, Jovi in 2035, heads to the beautiful North region where he immerses singer, Tao into his creative process. Together, they brought forth the song ‘Up Nord’, a self-asserting piece.
Tao, the featuring artist describes herself as Queen of the Sahel, and Jovi has no objection: “She is a pure singer. I did not use auto tune on her voice… she is like an arsenal. She has all the tools to do a tune. Great singer,” explained the rapper cum producer.
Another unfailing collaboration on 2035 which hardly took anyone by surprise is Reniss’ appearance on Merci. The dans la Sauce hit singer has for years, been an epitome of loyalty to Jovi’s New Bell Music and 2035 was just to her, another avenue to play the ball. She and her boss have never lacked kind words for each other and this doesn’t look to stop anytime soon.
To her, Jovi is among others, “the most hardworking person I have ever seen”.
It is this hardworking phase of his career that landed him another 2035 collaboration this time, with Congolese singer, Youssoupha. The Congolese singer reached out to the rapper on social messaging platform, WhatsApp. Few exchanges and a Le Monstre beat later, they hit it off and the song Nouvel Homme came to be.
Fun fact: Jovi in his debut album H.I.V 11 years ago, delivered a sturdy remake of Pitie by Congolese legend, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Youssoupha’s father.
Other singles on the project include Toff, Les Mattas, Wounded Grand, Mon Anniversaire and of course, part 5 to the Man Pass Man series.
‘Le continent’ mindset
For seven years running today, one of Cameroon’s major challenges has been the armed secessionist conflict in the English speaking region. While it has animated public debate and even influenced policy, it remains a huge piece of wood in the country’s eye, impairing its vision and leaving public opinion divided.
And it is just one of a myriad of challenges Cameroonians continue to go through. From the war on Boko Haram to the fight against corruption, waste management in major cities, wanton acts of embezzlement and even the unending battle over which meal or language is the best, the country has seen it all. No wonder its social media users nicknamed the territory ‘Le continent’.
But be it a continent, a country, a community or a universe, all eyes are eager to see what 2035’s emergence holds.
Jovi however, seems to think otherwise. He believes thinks emergence should not be some date in future but a lifestyle: “We start living emergence today,” he says. “It is a mentality.”