Music. X-Maleya, from Cameroon to Paris

The boys have grown up. Playlist, the fifth album of the Cameroonian band X-Maleya, marks a new step in the career of the trio and, in the artists’ intention should also represent a personal turning point as big as Yelele, the song which gave them a continental popularity in 1999 also thanks to the remix by Franco-Cameroonian rapper Pit Baccardi.

The ambitions attached to the album are quite evident even after a quick look to the tracklist comprising 15 songs, the highest number the trio ever recorded at a time. It looks as if Roger Samnig, Haïss Zaiter and Auguste Rim want to show the public the full extent of their potentialities, as they never did before. Such an impression is confirmed by listening at Playlist, where a number of diverse musical genres can be found (reggae in Habibti, afro-beat in Achagacha and r’n’b in several other cases, most notably in Plus Haut) all cleverly mixed with Cameroonian rhytms such as makossa, bikutsi and assiko. In a certain sense the album (sang in three languages, Bassa, French and English) can be regarded as a compilation reflecting the tastes of its three authors, but, at the same time, it bears the footprint of their well recognizable style: simple, catchy melodies, romantic, personal or religious themes, a wink to their past as dancers. All these elements contribute to give Playlist a shape which looks at the same time innovative and familiar.

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In experimenting, in fact, X-Malaya hasn’t lost sight of its roots and the first track of the album, Doumba (a warning to everyone about false friends who could stab one in the back despite all that has been done for them) is a good example of it. When the music starts, the listener immediately has the sensation of being in the streets of Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon, where Auguste and Roger have grown together, in the Biyem-Assi neigbourhood, performing  as dancers and then as singers-musicians. Haïss, born in Kuwait from an American father and a Franco-Cameroonian mother joined them a few years later: he was in Cameroon to visit his family and decided to stay after meeting the duo. Mayb, that is why they chose the name X-Maleya for the group, adding to a word meaning “council” in Duala language the letter X, symbolizing the unpredictable element which is always present in life.

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Unpredictability might have played a great role in the trio’s early career, but their success is certainly due to their ability in seizing every opportunity that was given them, including that of playing at the world-famous Olympia in Paris, an event for which they even paid a share of production costs. Retrospectively, that concert in September 2014 marked X-Maleya definitive international consecration as artists, but also as ambassadors of Cameroonian music abroad. Even the almost legendary saxophone player Manu Dibango performed onstage with them, and football player Samuel Eto’o (whom Roger, Haïss and Auguste regard as an elder brother) took part in the show.

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Playlist, so, is also an attempt to live up to the expectations that have grown around the trio in the last year and to demonstrate that, unlike what was said whenits  fourth album was released, X-Maleya still has much to say from a musical point of view and can be as successful on the European scene as it has been in Africa. The  next few months will tell whether this bet will be won, but their attention to the European market doesn’t mean that Roger, Haïss and Auguste have forgotten their home country. A national tour is taking place this year, with the most important concert scheduled for July at the Palais de Congrès in Yaoundé, as a practical demonstration of what Roger said in an interview after the Olympia show: “Staying in our country is our duty, for you cannot build Africa from Europe. It’s at home, not elsewhere, that we will reach happiness”.

John Mutesa



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