Published on April 11th, 2016 | by Hondo0
Chapters Of My Life – Moken
It’s only April but I think I may have already discovered my album of the year. It’s called Chapters Of My Life by a Cameroonian artist/designer/musician called Moken. And it will Blow. Your. Mind.
There’s a touch of the Grace Jones about Moken on the cover of Chapters Of My Life. But I’ve been describing him to my friends as a kind of West African Antony & The Johnsons.
Moken’s songs are epic yet intimate, exotic yet universal and all sung in a voice that pitches high and low and all points in between. There’s an Afro-Cuban beat here, a bit of Senegalese mbalax there. I swear there’s even a touch of mariachi on ‘The Man That Never Gives Up’. As I listened to the album I found myself laughing at the audacity of it all.
Chapters of My Life is a debut album, but Moken arrives fully formed. OK, it helps that the album is produced by Blick Bassy and world music heavyweight Jean Lamoot. But there’s something more: a complex amalgam of thoughts, experiences and sounds. It feels like an album a lifetime in the making.
Chapters of My Life is a debut album, but Moken arrives fully formed. It feels like an album a lifetime in the making.
Maybe that’s because Moken has squeezed so much into his life so far. He grew up in Limbe, a small coastal town in Cameroon, surrounded by music from Cameroon’s main ethnic groups, the Bassa and the Duala.
“I’d run up the hill to dance with one tribe,” he recalls, “and then run down and dance with another.”
He’d also hear the music foreign tourists brought with them from around the world. Nina Simone and Van Morrison were particular influences.
“Astral Weeks is one of my favorite albums of all time,” says Moken. “My voice came from Van Morrison, from Nina Simone, and from Manu Dibango. If you put it all together, it’s me, it’s all me.”
Moken is also a visual artist and fashion designer and according to his bio ‘ the twist of a strip of leather, the fold of a fall of cloth, suggest wild possibilities to (Moken), as do the little riffs and licks that he slowly builds into chronicles of his life.’
Indeed, it was on the way to his atelier in Cameroon that Moken the performer was born. Each day he would walk past the same group of guys hanging on the corner playing ‘Redemption Song’ on battered guitars. One day he stopped, busted a few quirky moves, sang a few humorous riffs, and went on his way.
Winning the US green card lottery was the final piece of the puzzle. It allowed him to go to a design college in Detroit and work with the materials and ideas he loved.
Life in the US wasn’t easy. He spent most of his college career living out of his car. But he got his degree before falling in with some Senegalese musicians who helped him flesh out his first arrangements for mbalax-inspired tracks like ‘Ma Masse.’
“There’s a Bassa proverb that says that truth is hidden in our pain,” he says.
Apparently it is hardship and struggle that reveals it.
Thankfully all we have to do is load up Chapters Of My Life and press ‘play.’