Nchanji M. Njamnsi
Five years after breaking onto Cameroon’s music scene in 2012 through a featuring on Jovi’s HIV album, RCHL asserts her presence by releasing SOLR Vol. 1, a maiden EP that sparks interest because of its content and creative context.
Emotions run deep in SOLR, from the first to the last track, as passion, sadness, and thoughts drip from every track with sincerity. The first track opens with a quote clipped from an anguish- and panic-laden scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, where Spock tells Nyota “…. you mistake my choice not to feel as a reflection of my not caring. Well, I assure you, the truth is precisely the opposite.” This quote could come off as an unnecessary montage, but for the fact it ties with the singer’s conflicted emotional disposition, questioning her love interest about his feelings, yet calling it love.
“How do you feel for me?
How do you feel for me?
How do you feel for me?
Either way it goes I call it love”
In fact, the audio insert provides context and emotional backup to all the other tracks, which are relationship-themed. But for the optimistic-sounding U.N.I., which sounds uncharacteristically upbeat and platonic in its take on love, SOLR is a sympathetic tour of love and relationships, where pain seems more likely than happiness and heartache is always waiting for love at the next corner. Nothing speaks to this topsy-turviness more than “Melancholy”, where regret about love lost is highlighted by closed juxtaposition in every verse with a contradictory wish:
Every day and every night
You don’t have to worry, it’ll pass tonight
But everywhere I go, I see your face
And I always look by when I pass your place
And I wish I knew just how long this would last
But I don’t wanna give our love a second chance
Crazy as my heart beats, it’s still you I think about
Trying to forget you, to erase any doubt
But even though I smile I can’t replace
The memories with you I can’t erase
The way you looked at me when you touched my face
But I don’t wanna put my heart back in that place”
RCHL readily admits that her music reflects, to some extent, her life story. In an interview conducted following the release of SOLR Vol.1, she reveals:
“….A lot of my music is quite autobiographical so I do write about my personal experiences. Sometimes the lyrics are a combination of things that I have experienced and things that I have witnessed and also things that I have literally dreamt about. Most of that heartache that I express in songs is pretty heartfelt…. I have to say, pretty personal…”
This first-person perspective gives her music a unique sentimental appeal, something of a front-row seat at the premiere of a heartbreak flick written, directed by, and starring the same person. SOLR Vol. 1 is an unedited account of lingering regret, lonesomeness, desolation, and haunting nostalgia, laced with a tinge of resilient hope, self-preservation, and optimism that keeps broken hearts in one piece. As personal and intimidate as it is, at no point does it not emit self-pity. This makes the average listener feel empathy, not pity. The singer never directs blame at anyone, but embraces the situation.
The Emotional honesty is just one of the selling points of this EP. The paramusical context of SOLR’s creation is its most exciting feature. Its place in the wider scope of music produced by Cameroon-based labels and a Cameroon-based international act makes it a unique endeavour.
SOLR Vol. 1 is an unedited account of lingering regret, lonesomeness, desolation, and haunting nostalgia, laced with a tinge of resilient hope, self-preservation, and optimism that keeps broken hearts in one piece
A few international acts have been part of the local Cameroon music scene. Fewer have been sustainably present thereon, never sticking around longer than the duration of a standard song: four minutes. Prominent among those who have stayed around for long are African acts like the Congolese Rumba Soukouss band, Yoka Lokito.
Few non-African, international acts have been sustainably present on this scene. In 1992, Cameroonian audiences woke up to a French singer, Tatiana, celebrating Africa in the song “Mona lisa,” written and composed by Cameroonian artist Sam Mbende. This was a flash in the pan given that the singer disappeared after this. Most recently, Alex, a French national, has been creating waves for rapping in the local creole, “camfranglais”, which is a fusion of French, English, and local dialects. But nothing more should be expected from this thirty-year-old Paris-based family man who works for a consultancy firm in the French capital and admits to have spent, at most, four months overall in the country. Unfortunately, absent backing by a credible local label and actual albums, most of these acts have come off as tourists working on an amateur musical sociology project.
The only notable international act to have maintained a somewhat credible musical presence in Cameroon was Liu du Kamer, a Chinese national, who, in 2005, marvelled the Cameroonian public with the release of an album, Hommage à Chantal Biya. Against this backdrop, SOLR Vol.1 has a pioneering ring to it as it is the first serious musical endeavour by a Cameroon-based international act, backed by a major local label.
Incidentally, SOLR Vol.1 draws its appeal from the fact that it raises a pertinent question: under which repertoire should it be classified – Cameroonian, World or American? These questions are all the more relevant as the EP was produced by a Cameroonian producer under a Cameroonian label. Yet, the genre it explores –electropop– is, nevertheless, new to audiences in its land of creation – Cameroon. In the era of capitalist music, where fans dictate the fate of works of art, SOLR Vol.1 risks a premature death or under-appreciation because it may sound strange to its primary audience, the ears of its land of creation. Although it can be argued that the primary audience of all music in the YouTube era is the world at large, other factors like an artist’s residence and label can be used to pinpointedly define their primary audience and, by extension, the chances of success of a musical offering.
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From another angle, SOLR Vol. 1 is interesting because it illustrates a new trend: international acts trying to break onto the world scene from stages other than those of their home countries. This is new and opposed to what has been standard practice so far: local acts trying to conquer the world from their home turf. This can indirectly contribute to the internationalisation of local labels, at a time when foreign labels are trying to further extend their reach into Africa, with the potential of local labels being pushed into oblivion.
RCHL is equally being presented as the ambassador of poplitical, a subgenre of pop, which is inclined to social commentary and politically conscious
Alternatively, SOLR Vol.1 points to the creative genius of New Bell Music and its rap/producer guru, Jovi/Lemonstre. Its alternative, fusion and experimental allure pays tribute to the New Bell Music philosophy, marked by originality and independence, following which they dogmatically try to create their own sounds, trends and genres. So far, New Bell Music lays claim to having created a signature style for Reniss called Mbokopop. RCHL is equally being presented as the ambassador of poplitical, a subgenre of pop, which is inclined to social commentary and politically conscious. With SOLR Vol.1, Jovi earns more credit as a producer, in his ability to seamlessly and brilliantly shift from one genre to another. Jovi, thus, reaffirms the genius of his sound-producing alter ego, Lemonstre.
SOLR, in a nutshell
SOLR Vol.1 is a bold project, not just because its author courageously strips naked to the bone, but also because it dares to swim against the current tide of pop, which is irredeemably addicted to ghostwriting and second-hand accounts of stories.
Nevertheless, for all its strengths, it could ultimately slip into the “Western-tourist amateur sociology project” category if the artist and label do not assert the relevance of the work of art in the local context and push for its presence on stage and in the media. This would be quite unfortunate both for the artist and her label, which has consistently showed vision in intent and song. In fact, this would be a melancholic outcome for the first chapter in the musical diary of the Soul Out of Little Rock (SOLR) RCHL.