Stunningly beautiful and with a rich vocal range that evokes the sense of African bliss, Cameroonian Kaissa is a musical talent you can’t help but adore.

I stumbled onto Kaissa on Facebook and immediately found myself mesmeried by her voice, beauty and her music. This was one woman whose music I was keen to find out more of and I was not dissapointed when I bought  her songs on iTunes less than 5 minutes after watching a video of her song ‘Mamelodie’.

The question I asked myself (and quickly answered) was ‘Who is Kaissa and where has she come from?’

A child of the culturally rich Republic of Cameroon, Kaïssa’s passion for music was fueled by her heritage growing up in an artistic family.

“I was born in Cameroon and spent my childhood in Yaoundé and Douala. 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.’

Her father’s arrest and jail time in 1973 by the new Cameroonian government for having written a “subversive” book that condemned the government on how it treated her people, the Sawa tribe, led to the family’s move to Paris.

A few years later Kaissa was studying Law at Nanterre Universite Paris X when she begun to explore her talent.

“It’s in “a very culturally rich late 80s” Paris that I started singing … working with Salif Keita, Jean-Michel Jarre, Papa Wemba, Cesaria Evora, among others.”

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.”

One reason you’ll warm to Kaissa instantly is that her  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.”

Now New York-based, Kaïssa has surrounded herself with a group of world-class musicians that are building on her vision.

“When I visited New York for the first time in 1994, I fell 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!”

“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’  - 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.”

‘Looking There’ was released in March 2004 by Sony Music South Africa and received rave reviews for its highly engaging vocals and pulsating African/Western rhythmic backdrops. Behind the beauty, however, there is always a message, with Kaissa’s poignant lyrics talking frankly about the human condition, speaking out against war and injustice, and calling gloriously to her native Cameroon for its love of life and the human spirit. Other heartfelt topics include the joy of playing music, and her connection to relatives both living and passed on, while the album’s title speaks to Kaïssa’s own personal way of looking for others, or ‘beyond’.

“The recording of ‘Looking There’ 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 again. The album was finally self-released in 2005. I was then 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.”

Success breeds success, and ‘Looking There’ has led Kaïssa to the next level, with featured slots on four Putumayo compilations including GLOBAL SOUL, WORLD REGGAE, WOMEN OF AFRICA and WOMEN OF THE WORLD-ACOUSTIC. Her riveting performance at the XVI Africa Festival in Würzburg Germany in May, 2004 led critics to dub her “one of the future great voices of Africa”. The screen is also squarely in Kaissa’s sights, with multiple television appearances helping to expose her to an even wider audience.

httpv://youtu.be/8d99u1iIkKY

Her second album ‘I Am So happy’ was released in 2011. Kaissa begiun work on it in 2007 and features songs such as  ‘A Ghetto In The Sahara’  - the story of an African woman trying to immigrate to the North. “Eyala” is a tribute to the Babambe, the 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. “Mamelodie” is a song dedicated to her husband, the only drug Kaissa needs!

Kaissa is a beautiful, new find for me and I hope you find her music as inspirational and uplifting as I have.

http://kaissa.com. her music is available here - http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/Kaïssa and on iTunes.

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Sources:

Kaissa.com

An interview with Kaissa - http://www.cyprusnewsreport.com

 

About The Author

Afritorial

Neva is a storyteller and media strategist with a background in PR, film, advertising and digital marketing who is passionate about technology, new media and the endless possibilities of the social and mobile sphere. Read more about her on our 'About Us' page.

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