04/22/2016, Alliance Francaise, Atlanta, GA

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Contemporary African rhythm artist and balladeer Moken makes mystical music that celebrates the diverse, vibrant melodies, harmonies and heartbeats of world music. His personal, poetic lyrics demonstrate his deep talent as a storyteller and help him connect to audiences through his experiences. Moken’s intricate recordings and captivating live performances magnify ...

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Ron Kadish

A Twist of Sound: Truth and Struggle Morph into Wonderfully Idiosyncratic, Pan-African Pop on Moken’s Chapters of My Life

Moken would walk by the same group of guys hanging out on the street, playing “Redemption Song” on battered guitars, every day on his way to his atelier in a small city in Cameroon. He’d stop, bust a few quirky moves, spit out a few humorous riffs, and go on his way. “I’d join these guys but play it in my own style. I’d make funny rhythms and dances,” Moken laughs. “We became an impromptu Bob Marley band.”

Until one morning, he woke up and decided to buy his own guitar. He started to piece together the many musical elements he loved: the diverse ethnic traditions he heard as a boy in his coastal hometown of Limbe, the music visiting tourists brought with them from around the world, the voices of Nina Simone and Van Morrison.

Now far beyond the impromptu, Moken’s debut, Chapters of My Life (Bantu Records; release: April 6, 2016), shows the unexpected results of this lifelong bricolage, as Moken went from bohemian fashionista in Africa to struggling student and worker in Detroit and Houston. His immigration experience, his perspective as a visual artist and musician, his contemplation of life’s ups and downs twist and turn together, becoming elegantly idiosyncratic sonic statements, thanks in part to production by fellow son of Cameroon Blick Bassy and world music heavyweight Jean Lamoot (Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita, Vanessa Paradis).

{full story below}

Moken had always danced, had always made music with whatever was on hand. (His first guitar was a plywood number he kept in the space off the kitchen, where his mother dried fish.) He grew up hearing music from several of Cameroon’s main ethnic groups, the Bassa, the Duala, and others. “I’d run up the hill to dance with one tribe,” he recalls fondly, “and then run down and dance with another.”

With this came a healthy dose of eclectic international music. “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’s approach to assembling pieces to make them his own is tied to his parallel fascination with fashion, especially textiles and leather. (He hopes to open his own shoe atelier soon in his new home of Atlanta.) The twist of a strip of leather, the fold of a fall of cloth, suggest wild possibilities to him, as do the little riffs and licks that he slowly builds into chronicles of his life.

With Bassy and Lamoot, Moken takes these bits and pieces and transforms them into purring vocals, infectious grooves, percussive mysteries, strains of bittersweet feeling. “A bato bam” takes a simple turn of phrase and turns it into a meditation on human existence. There’s a rumble and a sway, curious breakdowns that morph into building, emotive choruses, and moments of angular wildness (like the awesome out-there bridge of “Ma masse”).

Yet it was fashion--and a stroke of unexpected luck--that brought the young artist from Africa to Detroit. Moken won the green card lottery and got to live one of his dreams: He attended a design college in Detroit, working with the materials and ideas he loved. But despite his hard work, he faced hardship, spending part of his college career living out of his car, a time chronicled on “Walkin Man.” The chapter proved almost too much for his strength, as he faced disaster, left school… only to have his car break down ten miles away. He walked all the way back. “I wasn’t human anymore. Walking those miles, all my energy was gone,” Moken recalls. “My body, my whole being became a machine.”

Someone so lively could not stay deadened for long. He got his degree. He found friends, roomed with a handful of warmhearted Senegalese musicians who helped him flesh out his first arrangements for mbalax-inspired tracks like “Ma masse.” “One day, the rhythm just came,” Moken remembers. “I played the hook and everyone said, ‘Hey what’s that?!?’ They grabbed their drums and that’s how ‘Ma masse’ was born. It’s a very deep in Bassa. Things of this world, we can never run away from the shadow.”

The shadow has lent great, bright power to Moken’s tales, as beautifully illustrated on “Malinga.” “There’s a Bassa proverb: The truth is hidden in our pain,” he muses. “All the hardship and pain, there is truth given there. Inside that struggle, is the truth.”

About Bantu Records:

Bantu (www.banturecords.com) is a new Atlanta-based label capturing the avant-garde edge of world music. Founded by Daniel Nunga in 2014, Bantu’s mission is to promote imaginative sounds from around the globe in order to celebrate the vibrancy of Afro-pop/contemporary African music and introduce it to both fresh and long-time fans of the genre. Nunga’s vision for the label emerged from his deep love of the rhythms, melodies and harmonies of both African and Western music that surrounded him as he grew up immersed in the Arts in the small multi-cultural town of Limbe in Cameroon. He launched the record label in order to create a space where artists experimenting with the many flavors of world music can let their creativity flow.

Dispatch Details

Concert Start Time:
6:30 PM
Alliance Francaise
Venue St. Address:
1197 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 561
Venue City, State:
Atlanta, GA
Ticket Phone:
Event Notes:
Chapters of My Life Album Release