While in Cameroon on a research assignment, I encountered a music scene that went beyond the art form and into the entrepreneurial realm. The Cameroon music scene is about more than promoting and producing new sounds — it aims to level the playing field for Cameroon artists by developing the resources to push Cameroon entertainment beyond the country’s borders. Today’s Cameroonian tastemakers are about creating access to professional audio and video production and quality promotion.
Nestled away in the Southwest Anglophone capital of Buea located off the busy malyko junction is an inconspicuous bar bearing the name Chillen Muzic Entertainment (CME). CME is not just a bar; it is an emerging entertainment production powerhouse. Entrepreneur and founder Nkwain Ettiene Chambahcame up with the idea for CME in 2002 as a student at the University of Buea Nkwain. Originally, the company operated exclusively as a recording studio producing demos. Then in 2009, Nkwain expanded the company to include video production. Despite both audio and video production being produced in-house, Nkwain and his team found they were still paying exorbitant amounts to get their artists aired. It was through this particular experience that Nkwain took CME into an entirely new direction.
Nkwain lamented the company was being overcharged by Canal2, a privately owned satellite TV channel. “We’d pay 350,000 CFA (approximately $700 USD) and our videos would only get played at most 5 times. We then realized we needed to start our own thing. We believed we had to start from somewhere. On Labor Day, May 1st 2013, Chillen Muzic Entertainment sent out its first broadcast for Chillen Muzic Television (CMTV). Some people are doing video or audio production or both, but we are the only ones who are it and we are doing it for free.”[sic]
Entrepreneurs like Nkwain are providing a broader platform for artists to gain exposure in and beyond Cameroon. In the past, companies solely focused on production or promotion. Companies such as CME provide an entire package of artist development from creating and producing the demos to promoting the final product through various media outlets. The strategy allows companies similar to CME to have more control over the artists’ success, but it also keeps costs down for effective promotion by publishing content in-house.
Nkwain’s strategy has a cultural benefit to the development of today’s Cameroon music as well. “Our client base is largely Afro Hip Hop and artists realize the need to be original, a need to get back to our roots has made it unique. This is a shift from the early 2000’s when Cameroon rappers sounded like Nigerians. Because we were sounding like them, we were ultimately selling Nigerian culture.”As artists increasingly integrate indigenous cultural nuances into their music, companies like Chillen Muzic have an opportunity to introduce that influence in all aspects of their image from start to finish. They are in a prime position to usher in a new direction for Cameroon culture.
This assessment rings loudly when we consider Douala-based award-winning artist Stanley Enow’s 2013 single and video ‘Hein Pere’ produced by fellow Douala native Shamak Allharamadji. Stanley draws upon his multi-cultural roots weaving pidgin-English, French and indigenous slang to convey his message of Cameroon street life while balancing the usual hip hop motifs (flashy cars and unsavory looking crew ) with a staunch pride in representing Cameroon.
CMTV’s commitment toward raising the profile of native talent is evident in its programming, as 80% of the videos aired are of Cameroon artists. Although no one can predict the future, Nkwain possesses a positive outlook on the trajectory of where Cameroon’s music and entertainment is going. According to Nkwain “I believe we need good media and marketing for the artist. Two years from now Cameroon will be very far, the content is really impressive.”
With artists such as Manu Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, Wes Madiko and Andy Allo no one could ever accuse Cameroon of being bereft of musical talent. However, as with any industry, even a good product cannot sell itself without the proper platform for marketing and promotion to reach its target audience. After 12 years of experience we will have to see if Nkwain and his team at CME are up to the task.
Photos by: Adolphus Washington – (C) All Rights Reserved