Sally Nyolo - an interview
If we think of women living in Africa, we often have in mind thought-fragments like "suppression of women", "circumcision of girls", "poverty" and so on. We seldom think of intelligent, modern women that are aware of their history and their personal interests. One woman that stands for the "New Africa" is Sally Nyolo. She has self-confidence, knows what she wants, is full of courage and never looses her own aims out of sight.
Her latest CD "Béti" proves that she is interested in the lives and hopes of her "sisters and mothers" living in her homecountry. - In her songs we are told about the stories of old and young women in Cameroon. She herself presents a singing-technique and a music, that in its strangeness seems so beautiful and electrifying to us that it is going on and on in our minds.
Carina Prange talked to Sally Nyolo before her concert in the "House of Cultures" in Berlin about Cameroon, "Multi-Kulti" and much more:
Carina: There are many songs telling about Cameroon, about Africa - have you heard these melodies in your childhood or when and where did you get them?
Sally: All the melodies! - I heard a lot of melodies in my childhood. All my childhood was musical. I remember that I used to wake up in the morning and somebody somewhere used to play an "okele". And the language of the okele was a message for me, and I was supposed to be able to understand this message on the okele. All my childhood was music. I remember that when I was a little child I was very shy. I tried to - by hearing the voices of people - to understand how they were: If they were hungry, if they were happy, I tried to notice that. In all these things is a lot of music. This music - the melodies I am using for my music - I try to "recreate" them in myself - now.
Carina: I don't know much about Cameroon - can you tell me something about the country?
Sally: Well, I am not supposed to say that, but: It is the most beautiful country in Africa. Because in this country you can find "old Africa". If you like desert - you can have some desert in the north of Cameroon. You have the "steppe", you know, a kind of mountain, but not so green. And you have the deep forest in Cameroon, you have a beautiful sea. You have very nice people living there. They are a little bit cold, Cameroonian people, but they are generous. And when you arrive there, they are open, they use to say to you: "Come to have a dinner." And they take you anywhere you want to go and this is the spirit that you can feel when you arrive in Cameroon. And on the other hand I know that is the country of musicians - because you have the best guitar players living there. They used to play with just one string on the guitar, and they are so great that they can play like: "Wow!". It is the country of all the rhythms of Africa - because you have people speak there, may be - I don't know - one hundred languages. One hundred languages means that one hundred spirits are living there, one hundred livings, one hundred possibilities to exchange, to mix things. So in this way, I think, it´s one of the countries in Africa, that is very rich. And people know that and they are really lazy about that, because they have all those things in the country. Mostly they don`t look around much, and are not so courious.
Carina: Multi-Kulti is a sort of "In"-word - what does it express for you?
Sally: I feel myself "multi-kulti" now. Until twelve I was a Beti-child from Cameroon, living in the forest of Sanaga, of Laleke. And when I left for Paris, and afterwards for Europe - I became Multi-Kulti. Because home for me it is Paris, it is Berlin. I feel at home, when I come for a concert.
Sally Nyolo - Béti
Carina: Your singing technique sounds complicated - can you explain it to me a little bit more?
Sally: How to explain?! In fact, you know, behind one rhythm you can
show a lot of things Behind the rhythm of "Bekutsi" there is one message.
The message of hope and faith in women, because they create this rhythm.
A very, very long time ago, they used to gather without men, just women,
friends or not friends, just them. And they say: "This year we are happy,
because the divinity of the earth was good to us. We carried a lot of
children, got a lot of marriage, our own child was married too. So we
gonna say thank you to the divinity, so we gonna sing, we gonna clap hands,
dance and say things. And speak about our lives." And the rhythm was born
So, this is very complicated and this is very simple in the same time. Because behind this you have all the life, and behind this you have one feeling, just the happiness, just the hope in life. Behind this, you can count in two: "one, two". Behind this you can count in three: "one, two, three" - or four, if you want - or seven or nine. You can give all the complication or all the spirit you wanted. That's what I am trying to do with this rhythm - Bekutsi.
Because people even in Africa, people living there don't have techniques, don't know how to do things. They try to do as we are doing here in Europe and sometimes they try in a bad way, with wrong things. They try to do the rhythm with machines, even if they know how to to it by hand. When I went back two years ago, they asked me: "How are you doing that? You are living so far away, you left such a long time ago. How do you keep in your memory the rhythm?" I say: "This rhythm I never heard. This rhythm we play just with the vocals - I try to recreate it with instruments." Everybody can do this. It´s not me, its the rhythm: our rhythm.
Carina: The last question: Have you got a sort of philosophy for life?
Sally: I think, life has a philosophy already - so I try to follow. You know, when you are here, you didn't ask to be here. When you are here, I think, there is some positive energy in life, that - if you are happy - you just listen to follow it. This is my philosophy.
CD: Sally Nyolo - "Béti" (Tropical Music 68.808) ab 3.4.2000
Tropical Music im Internet: www.tropical-music.de
Foto: Carina Prange
Cover: Pierre Terrason