A couple of years ago I was looking in our “new” section of the KCRW music library. I stumbled upon a CD that was identified as African music but I noticed that the label was based in Amsterdam. I thought, “Hmm, sounds interesting” so I pulled it out and saw the cover was pretty cool and so was the name – “Atouba” by Ntjam Rosie. Not having any idea as to what that meant or what I would hear, I gave it a listen and was instantly impressed! “Atouba” is a clever fusion of world instrumentation and contemporary soulful groove.
Ntjam has since remained on my radar and we’re happy to be debuting her new single “In Need” right here![audio:http://blogs.kcrw.com/musicnews/audio/02InNeed.mp3]
2009 proved to be quite a pivotal year for Ntjam, after graduating from the Codarts Conservatory with a bachelors in Latin singing. Later that year, Ntjam went on to win the Music Matters Award, granting her the title of music ambassador in Rotterdam for 2010. On that very same day, she also won the ‘MCN World Up! Award’ for most promising talent during the first edition of the Dutch World Music Day.
She returns this Fall with her sophomore release “ELLE“. I recently interviewed Ntjam and we discussed the new record, her artistic approach to music, as well her multi-national background. Read more below.
Why was “In Need” chosen as the first single?
“In Need” is a song about love, loneliness and privacy. In this case I sing about being in need of a lover. But what is that actually, a lover? What do we mean when we say that?
For me the world “lover” means someone who wants to get to know me better, the real me. Someone who understands that it takes time to build a relationship. And that it’s a private thing, between two people.
I chose “In Need” because I think we are all in need of love, always. I think it’s a nice song to keep you warm during the fall and winter. These two seasons can get lonely, especially for the single people out there. Or for the ones that have to miss their partners for some reason. “In Need” will get us all through the rainy and weary days.
What do you hope to accomplish with this record?
When I was 15 years old my stepfather and I were watching the sun go down.
It was such a wonderful sight. He looked at me and said, “I see you making music that is like the sunset and sunrise.” I thought that was a beautiful thing to say.
It became a goal for me to make an album that people put on when the sun comes up, and when the sun goes down. I hope to feed souls all around the globe with this record. The message is love and unity; we are more alike than we think. I hope to get that message across.
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.
Born in Cameroon, raised in The Netherlands, how has this affected you as an artist?
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.
Tell us about your creative process.
I see myself as an artist. Not just as a singer or a songwriter. I create in different layers. It starts with me being in touch with God and his divine voice that speaks through my heart.
That voice gives me inspiration to create art. I am very blessed. I can create on the spot. It’s effortless for me to write lyrics and to compose songs. I love to collaborate with other artists. I have a strong instinct of what will work and what will not. That’s why I choose my co-writers by instinct. For this record I was blessed to team up with young and talented composer and pianist Alexander van Popta. We wrote a few songs together and the collaboration was very natural.
The place of inspiration can be anywhere, really anywhere. In the bus, on my way home, on the beach, in a dream, in the train….
The inspiration of my new record “ELLE” came from observing other people. I was fascinated by the fact that I have so many kindred spirits out there. A lot of them are friends of mine, but some of them are people that I have never met before, but somehow it felt like our souls already met before. I saw bits of myself in other sisters and brothers. And that is why the message is love and unity.