In his heart,
Henri Dikongué
knew he couldn't do it.
Henri photo

He had gone to Paris from Cameroon to attend law school in 1989. But he knew that what was in his guitar case was more important to him than what was in the legal cases he was studying. So Dikongué, the son of a respectable family in the capital city of Yaounde, left law school to attend music school.

Though his family loved music, Dikongué says, "they didn't want a musician in the family." Upon hearing that he left law school, they cut off their financial support. Not to be dissuaded, he worked as a dishwasher and a mover in between taking music classes and composing and performing.

"I knew I had to keep on going, that becoming a musician, an artist was what I wanted to do."

He worked with several other African expatriates, eventually putting together his own solo album, Wa. He recalls that the album was difficult to put together because "I could not communicate with people what I wanted to do." As a result, he would work out almost everything himself as he found his direction in the studio.

CD cover

With his latest album, C'est La Vie, Dikongué was able to continue the process, he says, building on what he had learned. In addition, he says, his first album was filled with his pent-up anger about issues "that I had to get out" such as war and injustice. With C'est La Vie, he was able to be more contemplative and wrote about his feeling and thoughts about life itself.

Dikongué says the inspiration for his songs sometimes come from his life, but sometimes from "what I see in the street."

"I see people suffer," he says, "And I try to put myself in their body and see how they live through their problems. I start from there."

CD cover

He notes that he is a slow, meticulous composer. He generally starts with lyrics and says it can take six months to complete a song, adding that some of the songs on C'est La Vie are as much as ten years old. Though many of the songs are in the Douala language, Dikongué says he himself is not fluent in it, he writes the songs in French, then works with a translator.

With the international success of the sweetly swinging C'est La Vie, Dikongué is increasingly being grouped with other African acoustic musicians such as Ismael Lo, Wasis Diop and Geoffrey Oryema. He says, "I believe there is a new generation. In a sense, the new artists have a new culture compared to the old. They do see a lot of things and have a chance to mix different cultures all together and that's what is creating that new soft new wave that is starting now." - Marty Lipp

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