An exclusive interview with Cameroonian Mboko star Reniss
“The kind of music I do, is the kind of music that my children’s children will dance to. The only way they will dance to my music is if they connect to it.”– Reniss
Cameroonian singer Reniss’ journey in music has seen her transform from the young church-choir leader to the greatest heights of the African music, an effervescent individual whose love and appreciation for African culture has made her one admirable cultural influencer.
The adept “Mboko” star and New Belle Music label member is the voice behind La Sauce, the 2016 hit single which propelled her to the top of the African music scene. The singer’s catalog contains music that mainly bares the African culture with multilingual delivery not only uniquely tied to her music and New Belle releases but significant to her home country and the whole of Africa. Other major hits from the artist include Pilon, Dashiki, Manamüh, among others, with an album dubbed Tendon.
Reniss is among the artists scheduled to perform at the upcoming Nyege Nyege Music Festival in Uganda, this September.
Here, Reniss talks to Afroway on her life, experiences, culture and her contribution to African music…
Afroway: How are you Reniss?
Reniss: I’m fine. I’ve been working. Always working!
Afroway: To start off, tell us who Reniss is…
Reniss: Well, I’m an artist from Cameroon. I started singing at the age of 13, which was in a church choir. I was the leader of the choir at 13, and that’s when I really noticed I could sing. As years went by, I decided to start a career on my own. I eventually joined New Bell Music. I’m someone that values African culture. I believe the culture is very important, and it has always been part of me.
Afroway: Where did you grow up and how has it influenced your music?
Reniss: In Cameroon, we are blessed with cultural diversity. I grew up in Douala where I started primary school, and at the same time Bamenda, where I decided to go to high school. The thing about Cameroon, is that different regions have different cultures and many languages. I was lucky to experience so many parts of our society which is culturally rich. All of that can be heard in my music.
Afroway: How do you define your kind of music?
Reniss: My music is called “Mboko”. The kind of music I do, is the kind of music that my children’s children will dance to. The only way they will dance to my music is if they connect to it. “Mboko” means real, the things that happen in day to day life. Most of the things I sing about are things that happen to all of us.
Afroway:Where do you position Mboko music in modern African music?
Reniss:“Mboko” can’t really be positioned. It embodies the past, present, and future. The sounds in Mboko music appeal to everyone from generation to generation.
Afroway: You have quite a number of hit songs, with notable traditional sounds; what inspires you to create music?
Reniss: My entourage inspires me. The people I work with. My environment. I learn as days keep passing by.
Afroway:Tell us some of the artists that you really connected with earlier in life?
Reniss: Bebe Manga from Cameroon. My mom used to play her every day. Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie. Michael Jackson. He is the reason why I wanted to dance and still dance. Whitney Houston and Tony Braxton; people in my church would hear me sing these women. Celine Dion. Lauryn Hill. I can never forget her.
Afroway: What can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?
Reniss: I’m releasing another EP that will be coming out this year. And a second album that I have been working on for some time now. I’m happy because I know people will be surprised about these projects. The sound is something you’ve never heard before.
Afroway: What we should expect from you at the Nyege Nyege Festival
Reniss:I will be performing songs from my album, and some of those songs many people might not have heard before. It’s a live show. When I’m on stage, I like to give the best of me, because it’s important for me as an entertainer that people enjoy themselves. I feel I was born to make people happy.
Afroway: Tell us the story behind your album ‘TENDON’
Reniss: Well, when we were doing the album, we took the risk to put the culture in front. We wanted to bring in that diversity. Since Cameroon is multi-culturally rich, we took the risk to apply that to the album. Tendon means something that is strong, yet stretchy and flexible. Tendon is a junction where all the various cultures come together to meet. Where the electrons come together.
Afroway: You also have an ‘EP’ out Reniss Chante Les Classiques, featuring your rendition of classic tunes from queens of African music. Why did you choose to do this project?
Reniss: In general, it’s important for human beings to appreciate each other. I chose to do this EP because at some point in our lives as individuals, we have to appreciate what we see, and what people have done for you. For me this was the only way to show my appreciation for people that influenced me. They all played an important role in my career when I was growing up. My producer and I decided why not do a project to honor these women. We worked on this project for a long time, and we finally had the opportunity to release it. It’s something that I felt was very important for me to accomplish at some point in my career. And I’m happy my producer and my team helped make it successful.
Afroway: New Belle Music…this is one exciting hub of great music, tell us a bit about how it has built you as an artist
Reniss: Some people see New Bell Music as a label or a music group, but to me, I see it like a university. I don’t see it as a label. I don’t see it as a studio. It’s a place for me to learn. And it’s been a good ride. From the EPs, everyone can see, there’s been a lot of growth. From the Afrikan LuV EP to Reniss Chante Les Classiques, you can see the change. And I’m not finished studying and learning. There’s still the doctorate to complete.
Afroway: How have the artists you’ve worked with influenced you music?
Reniss: Most of the artists I’ve worked with, have greatly influenced my music in so many ways. For example, Jovi, who is also known as Le Monstre, has taught me how to sound like myself. That’s something that is incredibly rare. When we work together, I get to learn something new. It could be the drums, the way the guitar sounds, the chords. That guy is a genius. It’s completely original. His drums, for example, it feels like I’m in the jungle. That I’m tapping into my ancestors. Mont Cameroon, a guitarist on many of my songs, is super talented. He is the three-in-one type of guitarist. He can create whatever sound you are thinking. Most of the artists I work with are different from each other, which gives a depth to my music.
Afroway: In your own opinion what is the state of Cameroon’s music industry?
Reniss:Cameroon’s music industry is growing fast. At first in Cameroon, people would sing in one language from the beginning to the end of a song, be it Douala, Nguemba, Basa, Bamilike, etc. But now it’s very different and has evolved. You can mix French, English, and dialects, in all one song. Now people can mix the languages and traditions, which is actually what Cameroon is. Ndukong Godlove, aka Jovi, aka Le Monstre, is one of the reasons society has finally accepted this change in music. It wasn’t an easy route. He started off and continues to embrace this diversity in his music. I’m confident in 5 to 10 years, Cameroon will become the junction where people come to tap into this knowledge of cultural diversity. People are beginning to accept each other for their differences.
Afroway:Which is your favorite hangout spot in Cameroon?
Reniss:To be honest, right now my favorite place to hang out is in the studio.
Afroway:Aside from music what else are you involved in as a top African artist?
Reniss: Generally, I’m someone that loves to create. This creativity inspires me to design what I wear on stage. So when I’m not in the studio writing, rehearsing, or singing I’m busy designing clothes. I design all my stage outfits, and I create most of my hairstyles.
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