NTJAM ROSIE / “Ntjam Rosie Mixtape”
Some times while checking out some new music I am intrigued. Usually that happens when I hear a mix of influences carefully synthesized into an original sound full of familiar feelings and yet also reaching into spaces and places yet to be experienced or mentally grasped. Ntjam Rosie’s first recording, Atouba didn’t grab me in this way. In fact, I forgot I had even heard some of it.
Listening to Elle, Rosie’s second album, what immediately struck me was the quality of the voice. Beyond beautiful emotions and unfettered expressiveness there was a fierce intelligence. She wasn’t just doing the dang thing, she actually knew what she was doing and knew how to do it well. Elle helped me realize what it was that turned me on about the second album and what it was that left me ho-hum about the initial release: making music in the moment.
I love to hear music that is created rather than manufactured, improvised rather than scored. That’s my bias. Not a value judgment of one over the other but rather a personal preference that influences what I like and don’t like. In that regard, I’ve checked out some informal videos of Ntjam Rosie and I am confirmed in my opinion that she has the potential to be one of the greats.
Born in Cameroon where she resided until she was nine and then moved to The Netherlands. She now makes her home in Rotterdam. She is a college graduate who majored in Latin vocal music and minored in education. But beyond the formal education there is the consciousness, the diasporan sense of self, the global consciousness.
The first album was an attempt to use hand percussion on the bottom with electronics on the top. Some of it works well but overall its more a good attempt than a sound success. On the other hand in both conception and execution, Ntjam's album Elle is an unqualified success on a multiplicity of levels.
On Elle the musicianship of the band is outstanding. When I heard the flute solo, I said “whoa” that’s strong stuff. Turns out the flautist is Ronald Snijders, originally from the former Dutch colony of Suriname in South America. He’s been in the Netherlands for a bunch of years now and is widely considered the premiere flautist in that part of the world. I though of Rashaan Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef, his solo was just that strong both in terms of technique and in terms of structure and ideas. Throughout Elle various members of the band get spotlight time and they all acquit themselves wonderfully including a one-off cameo from female emcee Esperanzah that is excellent.
I also like the song composition and arrangements. A number of the songs had strong hooks. Ntjam has more than talent, she has an understanding and a feel for putting together a good composition.
Do you usually have a concept or the lyrics first then the music comes second? Or do you have the music first that then inspires a concept/lyrics?
It’s different every time. This record is a conceptual record. “In Need” for instance was initially only some chords and a melody, afterwards came the lyrics. The song evolved to what it is now gradually. That often happens when you’re co-writing anyway.
But one song on the album is just melody, groove, and a nice chord scheme and form. Sometimes that is more than enough. That is a very jazzy approach that I love to flirt with. I don’t restrict myself to one method. I like to mix everything. Different styles of music have different song-writing rules. I like to analyze forms and harmony. That way I know why I put some rules aside. I have a deep respect for musical rules. But I am also a rebel in a way. I like to try out new things. I like musical surprises. We do not necessarily have to end up where we started.
Finally, her vocals are both warm and strong. Instead of blowing you away with power or trying to dazzle your ear with technique, Ntjam invites you to draw nearer and really listen to a truly soothing sound—and when I say “soothing” that is not just a pretty word to throw in this write-up. Ntjam’s music is very, very peaceful. There is a subtle and gentle strength under girding her vocal work. She radiates serenity.
And then to realize she can sing in at least four languages: her Bulu (Camaroon) mother-tongue, French, English and Dutch and she sounds comfortable in each of the four languages. In fact on “In Need” she hits some notes that sound like they are pouring forth from a South Side Chicago sister, both urbane and down-home at the same time.
In the seventies many of us were heavily into Pan-Africanism, at that time we were talking about the oneness of African people wherever on the globe colonialism may have captured and placed us. One thing most of us didn’t factor into our social equations was the degree to which aspects of old Europe would shape our identity. Even though we all spoke a colonial language, it never occurred to me that our collective future might consist of expanding our identity instead of romantically focusing only on the “African” elements.
In language terms to be truly Pan-African means we need to be conversant in more than one European language, particularly French, Portuguese, and Spanish in addition to English. What brought this to mind was listening to Ntjam navigate the various languages and realizing how comfortable she sounded and the great reach this record has.
I consider myself emotionally rich because of this cultural mix. I am Africa, and I am Europe. Emotionally and musically these two worlds merge in me. It’s inevitable. I feel just as Cameroonian as I feel Dutch.
Being a young “Afropean” women is quite a journey. The abolition of the transatlantic slave trade was in late 19th century. That transatlantic slave trade of my ancestors brought them to different grounds. The African spirit still lingers in those places. All of that is part of who I am. That is why I feel strongly connected to soul and jazz from America. And off course to the Brazilian grooves.
Because of this Diaspora I feel more like a citizen of the world. Like I said earlier, I like to cross borders. That is the result of being multicultural I guess.
I hope she does a live album next because judging from the videos I’ve seen, Ntjam is awesome in concert. I encourage you to give this Mixtape a second and third listen.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Ntjam Rosie Mixtape Playlist
Her albums are available on iTunes.
01 “Space of You”
02 “Serre Sa Main”
03 “In Need”
04 “L'amour (Feat. Esperanzah)”
05 “Elle Part II”
06 “Again & Again”
07 “In Your Hands”
08 “Soul Life Music”
09 “Kutte Fas”
10 “Patience (Sotu The Traveler Remix)”
11 “Ici La”
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 at 4:43 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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