Muntu Valdo, The Forge, Basingstoke 17/10/10

A voice, guitar, harmonica, two microphones, a box of tricks to double track the sounds is all you need to sound like a whole band! Muntu Valdo, Cameroonian prodigy, barefoot and simply dressed in jeans and a multi-coloured African shirt bearing the words Tam-Tam, proved this with dexterity and aplomb in Basingstoke on Sunday night.  The Forge is a small space, and 40 lucky people of various ethnic backgrounds were privileged to witness and be part of a unique experience: “The One and the Many”

This is the title of Muntu’s forthcoming album and his own philosophy too: We are all connected whether we like it or not. A real sense of communion existed between performer and audience.  Starting in an acoustic mode with just a nylon string guitar, sending out warm Brazilian type chord flurries complemented by harmonica “a la Neil Young”, and his melodious voice, Muntu was getting ready to light up our evening and reach out!  By the second song, talking about witchcraft, he was building up layers of rhythm guitar loops, adding licks and melodic riffs, beating percussive beats on the body of his guitar, finishing with vocal harmonies; all this was driven by a bass line played on the very same guitar. Add a dash of wah-wah pedal and a xylophone effect on the solos and the full diversity of Cameroon music styles were being explored in an innovative and passionate way.  Muntu gave us the opportunity to sing along with him and encouraged us to clap to some of his very funky beat patterns. By then we were spellbound.

There was one very touching moment when he questioned the role of the media in making and breaking the news: Nobody talks about Darfur now, does it mean the crisis is over? Of course not, but the media have other problems to deal with in a time of recession!  He dedicated a layered acapella prayer to the people of Darfur and all suffering human beings, especially children. A beautiful moment, watched through watery eyes. 

Muntu Valdo is an oddity in world music, bringing the African psyche into the 21st century, singing in his soft Douala native language, yet sending a strong clear message of love, happiness and unity to those who are willing to listen.  Go and see him when you get the chance!

Joel Roszykiewicz

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