Frank Kesi is a DMV-based singer, songwriter, and producer whose Afro-Pop sound is a transatlantic excursion to contemporary Afro-diaspora pop rhythms that blend Makossa sensibilities with the sexy-cool of early nineties’ R&B and the edge of reggaeton to create a sound that is as eclectic as Africa and the region he calls home.
In 2014, he was voted Best International Artist in the DMV by WKYS FM 93.9, and opened for the likes of Ludacris, TLC, Arrested Development, and Theophilus London.
We recently sat down with him to talk about his musical journey.
How did you get into music?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my maternal village of Babungo, where music occupied a significant part of the way of life. So, I began playing the traditional xylophone during some of the juju dances. During that same period, I also started singing in church.
One day, I think I was in Class 3 in primary school, I came across a cassette of Jamaican reggae singer Eric Donaldson with a friend, and the desire to want to be a singer took root. Around this time, Michael Jackson videos were also in heavy rotation. There was also, of course, Musical Youth, which I fantasized I would one day join, not realizing that as I got older, they too were getting older (laughter).
But it was in CPC Bali that I really started performing. In Form 1, our French teacher, Mballe Alonge, would organize a performance showcase on Fridays he called “Vendredi Matin,” which became one of my favorite classes. In Bali, I joined the theater club and featured in mostly comic roles. At this time, music had become a hideout, a place I could retreat from the world to, but which also provided me the ability to dream.
In the early 2000s, when I enrolled at the University of Yaounde I, I joined an acapella group called Flavor Drops, which performed some originals and gospel songs. In those days, they were considered the Boys II Men of Cameroon. We performed all over the city; at foreign embassies, private events, you name it. Besides the group, I was also a member of the University’s band, which did a lot of covers of American pop songs. I was a regular on the Guinness and Brasseries du Cameroun competition circuits. However, I really gained recognition when I won a Guinness-sponsored singing contest on CRTV.
Would you say your days at Ngoa-Ekelle were very significant in your development?
Very much so. Before university, I was always curious about electronics. As a child, I would connect cables here and there to experiment with sound. While in Yaounde, I began spending a lot of time at the Funk House run by DJ Rex-T. The Funk House had the latest in music, and also provided a space for me to learn about other aspects of music. It was around this time that I really began taking songwriting very seriously. It was while in Yaounde that I won a songwriting competition organized in the US.
Is that what brought you to the US?
No. It just happened to coincide with my departure: I was emigrating to join my father, who was based stateside. My move was made more exciting when my father promised that he would enroll me at a music conservatory. Unfortunately, those plans never came to fruition when I emigrated.
How was the transition to your new home?
I spent the first two years trying to settle in. After I had saved a few dollars, I started making trips to the pawn store, where I bought myself a mic, a multi-track recorder, and a computer. When time came for me to move from my dad’s house, I focused all my energy on just trying to get by.
In 2010, after some friends encouraged me to follow my passion, I focused, and recorded my first, self-titled album. I began selling my own CDs at work, parties, or any opportunity I had. I sold enough to be able to get enough material to equip a home studio.
Then, in 2012, I created Rhythm Star Production, my own record label, which now has two releases to its name; Arian Stone’s Come Down Do Thy Will, a gospel album, and my last release, Mr. Pleasure.
To conclude, how would you describe your sound?
My music is a celebration of love in the midst of pain. My goal is to make music that can make you dance your pain away.