Muntu Valdo’s cosmic brew.
Behind the enigmatic title of his new album, the one & the many, lies a musical, philosophical and spiritual quest. Performing alchemy on his guitar, bass, harmonica and vocals, beating the percussion rhythm with the help of strings, pedals, synthesizers and his other “special” instruments. Valdo appropriates all kinds of technological gear and futurist ingredients and uses them to give body to his sensuous, fleshy “roots” music. Along with this magic spell that transforms a solo musician into a whole band, the artist has developed a metaphysical side to his work.
ANNE-LAURE LEMANCEL - RFI MUSIC
The crowd were treated to Muntu Valdo's guitar magic. Sauntering on stage with a springy step, softly picking at his guitar and blowing in his harmonica, he resembled a youthful, latter-day Bob Dylan. But his music is from a different stream. Using a box of tricks to double-track his guitar and voice live, he added layers of sound to create full-textured, soft songs about peace, love and Cameroonian witchcraft and charmed the audience.
MARK ESPINER - THE FINANCIAL TIMES
With admirable self possession and complete control of the microchips at his feet, Cameroonian singer-guitarist Muntu Valdo created a formidable one-man band that covered a global reach in short order. African street song simplicity gave way to bossa nova sophistication and somewhere in that box of sounds he managed to insinuate a Hammond organ line in unison with his harmonica while cajoling the audience into being his backing singers and rhythm section.
THE HERALD SCOTLAND
Une guitare nerveuse sous le bras, un harmonica country accroché aux lèvres et un tapis de pédales sous les pieds, cet homme-orchestre bluffant d'aisance creuse la veine unique de son blues sawa. Un son afro universel, à la fois neuf et familier, enraciné dans les mangroves de son Cameroun natal, où se superposent des couches subtiles de jazz, funk, soul et bossa. On y entend crépiter un feu nocturne et gronder l'orage. Ainsi que cette voix intense à la sensibilité toute brésilienne, qui rappelle celle d'un Seu Jorge, entre scats pétillants et gémissements ironiques au charme ravageur.
ANNE BERTHOLD - TELERAMA
Sawa blues is the term that Valdo himself has coined for his own music, and at the root of many songs is rhythmic and melodic sensibility that flows from the rich wellspring of timeless Cameroonian folk music, but this base is enriched by a wide range of idioms that are part of the African Diaspora, from Brazilian samba to American soul and jazz. If, on accasion, Muntu Valdo recalls the iconic Tres Pontas troubadour Milton Nascimento that may well be because he has found a way into his world through the motherland roots upon which it stands.
Yet there are distinct western sensibilities that pervade The One & The Many, be it the languorous blues resonances and melancholic trills of harmonica that reflect the singer's enduring allegiance to a universal folk balladry that would count the two Bobs, messieurs Dylan and Marley, as much as a certain Stevie Wonder, a man who also knows something of the art of homme orchestre.
As is a case with these illustrious figures, Muntu Valdo attaches great importance to words and ideas as well as music. The One & The Many has a cogent emotional, spiritual and philosophical subtext that builds upon the artist's debut Gods & Devils, which cast a shrewd, penetrating eye upon the duality at the earth of every human being. Each and every one of us has the potential to be divinity and demon, light and dark, selfless and selfish. The One & The Many addresses solidarity and the complex relationship between individual and collective in many different ways, exploring the fact that a single entity is born of many sources.
KEVIN LE GENDRE - ECHOES
I was born in Cameroon and belong to the Sawa community who populate the length of Cameroon’s coastline.
In 2001 I moved to Paris to work with Jean-Marie Humbert (a French producer) and released my debut album Gods & Devils in 2005. The album was well received by the press and public and opened up new opportunities to play at large festivals and venues across three continents (Europe, Africa, Asia).
In 2007 I moved to London and soon started working with live music producers Serious Ltd. Performances followed at some of the UKs largest festivals (Womad, London Jazz Festival, Celtic Connection, Africa Express, Musicport, Belfast International Festival, Africa Oye, BBC Proms, to name a few) and venues (Royal Opera House, Barbican, The Sage Gateshead, Bridgewater Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Koko, Brighton Dome...) playing alongside a huge variety of musicians including Richard Bona, Chucho Valdez, Lionel Loueke, Damon Albarn, Naturally 7, Ben L'oncle Soul, Nneka, Staff Benda Bilili, Lucinda Williams, kami Thomson, Denis Rollings, Alasdair Roberts and Manu Dibango.
In 2011 Warner Jazz released my second album, The One The Many. During the release period I toured extensively across the UK including supporting Lady Smith Black Mambazo on their 30-date UK tour and embarking on my own headline tour supported by Arts Council’s Black Routes programme.
In 2012 I was commissioned to produce a live performance bringing together musicians from across Central and West Africa to be presented during Festival 2012’s BT River of Music for the Olympic games. The concert was a huge success and saw musicians from 12 different countries, performing for the very first time in the Uk. The likes of Annie Flore Batchielilis, Mounira Mitchala, Lulendo, Achimo, Corry Denguemo and Amen Viana all proudly came together to perform alongside the Maria Fidelis Choir in a one-off extravaganza that also resulted in the release of the single ‘5 circles of Humanity’.
In 2013 I had the privilege and honour to close the London African Festival with my 5-piece band. In November of the same year I supported Manu Dibango at the Barbican in London to celebrate his 50 years musical career before heading to Cameroon as the headline act of Quartier Sud Festival.
Iann Mann- THE JAZZMANN
I’d seen Valdo perform live once before, earlier in the year in a decidedly chilly marquee as part of the music programmed at Hay Festival (as chronicled in our “Notes from Hay” feature). I very much enjoyed his appearance there but felt that tonight’s show was better again, two forty five minute sets instead of a single hour long performance. Valdo refers to his music as “Sawa blues” after the region of Cameroon that he hails from. However as jazz journalist Kevin Le Gendre astutely observes in his liner notes for Valdu’s latest album “The One And The Many” (2011) he draws extensively on the various musics of the African diaspora, American jazz and blues, Jamaican reggae, Brazilian samba and more. There is a hint of artists as superficially diverse as Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Milton Nasimento in his sound. One should never forget that all these musics have ultimately come out of Africa never mind how westernised and mainstream they may seem to have become.
Valdo isn’t afraid of utilising modern Western musical technology to enhance his sound. His basic acoustic guitar/harmonica/voice set up is augmented by an array of foot pedals (operated by bare feet for extra sensitivity) which allow him to loop and layer his sound, sometimes using updated synclavier technology to introduce guitar generated tuned percussion sounds to an already rich sonic mix. In other words Valdo is a one man band and then some. The album title “The One And The Many” is an oblique reference to Valdo and his “sorcerers” as he refers to his array of foot pedals. Live looping is now pretty much standard music practice but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody deploy it as skilfully and comprehensively as Valdo who also uses it to multi track his voice in a rich tapestry of melody and rhythm. He does so much more than the basic guitar layering of most other practitioners.
As I’ve mentioned Valdo is a highly personable performer who actively encouraging his audiences to sing and clap along with his highly melodic songs. The fact that he sings in the Sawa language hardly seems to matter, Valdo is a great communicator and his choruses are so catchy that even English audiences have no trouble singing along in an unfamiliar language. His voice is warm and highly expressive and even though he was fighting the effects of a cold he still sounded great. For all his guitar, harmonica and technological skills it’s Valdo’s voice that is the key to the success of his music. Some of tonight’s most affecting numbers were when he played it “straight”; just voice guitar and harmonica, the latter held in a neck brace in the style of Bob Dylan or Neil Young.
Most of tonight’s material was sourced from “The One And The Many” with Valdo occasionally dipping into the repertoire of his previous album “Gods & Devils”, recorded with a band back in 2005. It’s a tribute to his solo performance skills that the basic sound of the new album is remarkably similar to that of the band recording. At this point it should also be stated that Valdo is more than just a charismatic live performer, both albums stand up to regular and repeated home listening.
Immersion in the albums also serves to heighten the listener’s understanding of Valdo’s political sensibilities. Amongst the numerous love songs there are also musings on the current state of Africa, economic migration and the legacy of European imperialism. “The One And The Many” thus also represents a call for peace, brotherhood and solidarity. At Hay I didn’t really register the political aspect, Valdo’s sunny disposition ensures that he’s not an obviously “angry” performer, but tonight the English lyrics of songs such as “Gods And Devils” and “No Mercy” plus a brief rant about the situation in Dharfur left one in no doubt as to where Valdo’s political sympathies lie. Even a seemingly innocent sing-along such as “Djongo” (translation “The Sword”) from “The One And The Many” is deeper than it appears. An inspection of the translation in the album insert reveals a particularly shocking and bloodthirsty lyric and an indictment of imperialist politics.
Now based in London Valdo is slowly acquiring a following for his highly individualistic music. Tours with his countryman jazz bassist Richard Bona and with Ladysmith Black Mambazo have exposed him to large audiences and have won him a lot of friends in the process. Indeed there were moments tonight when Valdo’s multi tracked and layered solo vocals sounded remarkably like his Ladysmith friends with maybe just a hint of Bobby McFerrin thrown into the mix.
Tonight Muntu Valdo won many new fans, as I’m sure he does at pretty much every live performance. Although his music can conveniently bundled into the “world music” bag his songs are melodic and accessible enough to hold considerable appeal to a broad range of listeners. I’d be surprised if there was anybody in the audience tonight who didn’t enjoy some aspect of Valdo’s performance. Mainstream success is probably unlikely but the quality of his live performances should ensure that his fan base continues to grow. He’s certainly a performer I’d be happy to see again but having witnessed the solo show twice I think I’d rather like to see him with a band. That could be really interesting. However I’d urge listeners of all persuasions to check out Muntu Valdo both live and on record. He’s an artist well worth listening to on any level.