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Ngrimba Song and video from a different perspective by Linda Norwan and Brian M.

The artwork titled Ngrimba, masterminded by Kikoh was released on YouTube on the 4th of Feb, 2018. In these notes, we share the impressions and ideas that crossed our minds as we interacted with this wonderful piece of music. Our obsession with the melodious beats explains the extra attention given to it in the second part of this work.

Video: The Visuals and the Message

The HD Filmworks directed video begins with a helicopter view of the landscape that serves as a proper introduction. The view later narrows and we get details of the main scenes of the video. The plot tells a familiar
hip hop story. The story is about someone trying to deal with hate and envy and at the same time working hard in order to prove to his haters that he is better than them; he can live above their hate and he is a king by merit. What is interesting about Kikoh’s rendition is his localization and personalization of the story. His appropriation makes you know he is telling his own story. The story moves away from the cliché of pretty girls, posh cars, expensive drinks, lavish parties and goes for a personalized version that takes him to his roots and origins.

It’s a story that tracks the personal growth of the artist. He starts like a nobody but after the blessings from an elderly woman (a mother figure) in her traditional kitchen, his life starts seeing changes. She dresses him up in a “Toghu” (traditional regalia of the people of the North West region of Cameroon) and this symbolizes his return to or acceptance of his roots. It is from this point he asserts himself and can sit on the traditional-carved stools he has been standing beside at the beginning of the video. When he is seated, he now feels like a master in his palace of stools. There is a carved portrait amongst the stools with the inscription “Be Silent” which symbolizes the authority he has gained. After the support and blessings from a mother, he is able to find his identity through his roots and he can now tell his detractors off.

What follows is the (re)birth of a new man. There is something about the scene where he dances alone on the top of the hill surrounded by dry vegetation except for a single green shrub; it reminds one the setting of Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot. Just like the few green leaves in Waiting for Godot, the green shrub is a symbol of hope. The fact that he is alone resounds the idea that this is a personal journey. At the end of the song, he graduates from a master to a king (royalty) with a small hilltop palace/kingdom and attendants of his own. His success comes because he is able to push away the hate and negativity directed towards him. It is important to note that he wears his crown and does not wait for someone to do wear it for him – a self-made man. He rises to incredible heights given that he has jujus and these jujus dance with/for him. Having these jujus around is a symbol of authority because they perform during important occasions and not anybody can have them perform or own them. The last 12 seconds of the video reserved for the pure juju dance is indicative of a complete immersion in his culture. Even when you listen to the audio only, you still feel that desire in the artist to cement his feet deep into his culture because it provides him with a solid foundation and lots of inspiration.

The magic of the song in a large part comes from how nicely the folkloric blend sits in a contemporary piece. It’s another one of Kikohs folklore and hip hop fusions but what is remarkable about this piece the local colour embellishes the narrative. There is so much about the video that tells you Kikoh is from the North West region of Cameroon. The aspects he picks from his culture and employs in this video make an important and strong statement about this. There are these little details that make a difference and add that special flavor:

– Cultural artifacts like pottery, statues, musical instruments, carvings, masks and traditional stools common in the North West of Cameroon
– Rural settings: the traditional kitchen, farmland, the peace plant, the secluded shelter on the top of the hill where we have Juju dance
– The “Toghu” and other traditional regalia

The artistic vision is easy to comprehend and follow because the mastermind of the show, Kikoh, like a good artist and entrepreneur, must have thought things through before bringing in a team that understands this vision. His imagination is at work again and his vibrant performance and engagement reveal his confidence and love for what he does. With the type of attitude characteristic of a hip hop artist, his performance gives the song life. The lyrics are in typical Kikoh style; they are expressive but what it conveys can only be completely deciphered by someone with a good understanding of the four languages he uses: Pidgin English, English, French, and local slang. There is this thing about music; sometimes we listen to a song and dance to it and feel a strong connection with it without even understanding a word in the lyrics – Ngrimba has that potential.

The Beats

As we grow up, we come to realize that food plays an important role in growth itself. Equally important are the direct experiences we encountered while eating food. The first chefs we come across are probably family or guardians who maintain this important role until, as in some cases, we learn how to cook our own meals and eventually enrich the lives of our own kids or those for whom we are guardians.

But what’s in food that makes it enjoyable?

Food often has a league of ingredients that work in concert to enrich our bodies and mind. The taste of an ingredient in the mouth is its direct and first impression, since it is sometimes hard to get the complete taste through smell alone. The taste of a given meal then becomes the sum total of the various tastes of its ingredients. The harmony between these ingredients is enjoyed by us as we eat. Most importantly, the harmony that emerges from the mix of the ingredients is also a direct reflection of the cook. It takes skill to balance bush pepper, ginger, onion, maggi, red pepper, etc. Added to that, it is a great joy to do the mixing and also to have a bite.

A musician is not different from a cook. A musician, especially an instrumentalist, or producer as we call it today, has the singular opportunity that a cook has. She, the producer, mixes a league of sounds as if they were spices and she ends up with the music that is food for our minds. The harmony of the various sounds that serve as ingredient for the music seize our minds and reveal to it the joys of the stellar interactions underlying the cooperation of the sounds. Some people eat and shed tears, for the food they eat strikes chords in their very hearts at frequencies that, for the least, open the tear gates of the body and release our complex human emotions. Similarly, good music releases the mind from the plainness of no sound and reveals to it the joys of harmony.

In this song produced, mixed and mastered by Sr. Sangtum, we identified about 9 underlying sounds that spice up the entire being of the song, Ngrimba. These 9 sounds can be classified under the following 2 groups:

1. Static sounds that persist throughout the song. This group of sounds provides the stage upon which the other sounds exist and reveal their beauty. If the various sounds that make up this music were seen as people who are dancing, then the static sounds serve as the stage on which the dancing occurs. The underlying and deepest bass sound of this song is an example of a sound that falls under this group.

2. Dynamic sounds that come in once in a while in the course of the music. These are wonderfully engineered. These sounds appear to endow the listener with some further sense of enjoyment and pleasure. When they appear, the whole mood of the song changes and the experience that results is akin to having the feeling we get while discussing with family, friends and others and then laughing or smiling when they introduce some piece of information that is so beautiful that we are forced to laugh or react in a pleasurable way. In general, such moments in conversation add to the value of the conversation and make them worthwhile and memorable. Kikohs music often introduces these sounds and they spice up the experience with great degrees of harmony.

The following 9 slices of sounds fall under the 2 groups mentioned above. We have numbered the sounds just for purposes of discussing them. The numbers do not signify any sense of order or priority in the music.

1. The first sound we treat is one of the 2 sounds (one is flute-like and the other sounds almost like xylophones or some kind of drums) that appear when the music starts. Overall, the sound seems to come from some instrument that is struck with the hands or sticks. This sound falls under the group of static sounds. It persists throughout the song.

2. The second sound (spice) that supports the entire song is flute-like in nature. It provides a stream of melody that is very soothing. It first strikes the mind when the song begins. This sound sets a mood for the song and this mood persists throughout the lifetime of the song. Essentially this sound appears to have an African-Chinese flavour. It brings to mind some of the soundtracks that are common in Nigerian movies that display traditional values, plus a blend of similar soundtracks that are common in some Chinese martial art movies.

However, this sound is not too deep and not too sharp. Its kind of flat and very soothing. At the start of the song, this layer of sounds are very clear and take the form of the family of sounds that are common to North West traditional dances and are natural to North West instruments such as their version of xylophones, drums, shakers etc. This sound also falls under the static group.

3. There is the deepest league of sounds which is static and is the main bass beats of the song. This bass can be classified broadly as belonging to hip hop. It stays the same throughout the song, forming a stage for the other beats.

4. Then there is a separate layer of sounds that seem to be produced by some kind of trumpet, although it could be mimicked by piano keys, depending on the key of the notes. They first appears about the 7 sec mark (Click here to listen), that is very close to the beginning of the song, and they seem to recur every 4 seconds.

5. Next is a very exotic sound that pops up about the 24th second (Click here to listen). It is similar to a slice or some portion of the hit soundtrack in the movie, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. This sound is faint, since its in the background but it strikes the senses very powerfully. It only sets in for a bit but its masterly placed where it is.

6. At the 8th second (Click here to listen), some other magical sound that seems to be produced by a traditional gong surfaces. The theme of the sound is akin to those of some Catholic songs that have traditional roots. The gong stops about the 21st second mark. This gong adds, ever so slightly, a North Western traditional flavor that subsists in this song. The melody of the gong is also dynamic in nature. It surfaces, disappears and resurfaces.

7. From the group of dynamic sounds is a melody that first emerges about 29-30 seconds (Click here to listen). Perhaps this melody actualizes a delightful feeling about the 1 min 36 second mark (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U19ipwazn44&feature=youtu.be&t=95). It provides, to some minds, a sense of discovery. The feeling that something new has come up and such a maneuver easily inspires in the mind some feeling of wonder and may cause the mind to drift into thoughts about what one cherishes as is common to adventure themes.

8. Then there is a mixture of common sounds that Djs use to make announcements. Such sounds are also very common in jingles.

9. The final sound is not single. It is a group of sounds that start at the 3:07 time mark(Click here to listen). This is a whole demo of rarefied sounds from a North Western region. They reveal, very clearly, the sounds of xylophones, shakers, gongs, drums and other instruments common to such priceless traditional dances. Not to forget the beads that are worn on the feet and body of dancers which vibrate when the dancer moves, thereby forming some kind of sound. Most exciting about these “beadly” shakers is the fact that they reveal their tones as the dancer moves his/her body, hence they can express the state of mind the dancer is in. The harmony and joys that the dancer enjoys is captured by the shakers and are in turn transmitted to us the spectators and listeners.

There are multiple other sounds that work together to make this music wonderful, but we have only spoken explicitly about the sounds that are novel and which show the skill of the producer as a master chef; a master chef who has cooked for us this beautiful piece of music. Now, we must, as demonstration of a sense of duty, observe the world that inspired these sounds. Contemporarily, people’s traditions and customs affect the kinds of food they eat. The richness of culture and tradition is also a function of the kinds of knowledge they have. This knowledge they express through all their arts and crafts. By arts and crafts we gather together everything from culture that contributes to the unique traits of persons of the culture. Hence, knowledge of how to behave (ethics), how to make sense of the world around them (metaphysics), and knowledge about how to make sense of what exists around them (epistemology); as such, knowledge of techniques for dancing, singing, and drawing and so on all fall under the richness of culture. Spices that are central to a culture often ignite in observers a sense of awe and a respect for propriety.

Similarly, this song is a rich display of the knowledge that subsists at the root of all cultures in Cameroon in particular, and Cameroon, herself, as one big country. Like spices that display the knowledge of a culture, even of a civilization, the various sounds we captured above reveal the wealth of knowledge about music that exists in Cameroon in general, and the North West region in particular.

Craftsmanship is observed, ever so beautifully, in the ways the producer of this song, Sr. Sangtum, braided together the various sounds into some whole fabric that brings nothing but a stream of awe to the mind of the listener. The first 40 seconds of the song reveal the stellar sense of beauty of the producer of the song. From the 3:07 (Click here to listen) seconds time mark, the other richness of a traditional dance is pushed to the listener like some sort of extra bundle of joy.

The acculturation in his brand of hip hop extends from the mélange of sounds to a mélange in the form of storytelling. Like the song, the video is a fusion of the modern and the traditional with inspirations from different genres. Sometimes, a poor song is compensated with good visuals, but when the song and the visuals are good, the piece becomes memorable. The images are there to magnify and/or complement the emotions and thoughts that the song (audio) ignites in us. The Ngrimba video does not compensate but complements the song. It does not just entertain, it educates. On a whole, the song is original and has real commercial potential.

Watch Ngrimba below;

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