ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I have two sources of inspiration. The first one like everyone else is everyday life stories. A scene, a face, an emotion, love, a birth etc could inspire me. I live a lot of my emotions through my music. Then there is an inexplicable expression which makes me wake up one day with melodies which haunt me all day long.
African Musicians Meet Jay Lou Ava
By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
Jay’s music is the kind we expect from a contemporary African artist: mature, smooth, harmonious and delicately mixed. The music is original in that it uses a guitar lead on African rhythms, which is seldom the case. The guitar, moving easily from a binary rhythm to a highly complicated 6/8 beat, surprises us, while the player does not lose himself in long and complex monologues. Through Jay Lou’s style, modern Africa seduces the Western world. The music is meant to reconcile styles and people and to bring them hope and peace. This smooth African ambiance mixed with jazz is recommended as a must to those who want to discover soft and refreshing African rhythms. — Fred Edmonds
He was born in Cameron, West Africa and currently lives in France. Guitarist, composer, arranger, recording artist Israël Jean-Louis Ava whose musical style is a real fusion between jazz and modern African melodies started out with a spiritual, gospel-influenced sound that was in some measure inspired by his father. His father, who was also a teacher, frequently composed religious songs when Jay-Lou was a child; songs he regularly played on an organ which they owned in their house.
Mesmerized by the beauty of his father’s music, this exposure led little Jay-Lou to want to be come a musician. His interest was further ignited when one of his older brothers, who was an excellent guitarist, introduced him to some African American greats of the jazz world, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Wes Montgomery. This added to cement Ava’s love for the musical art. He knew which musical genre he wanted to pursue.
He started playing with local bands and traveling alongside them across the continent while performing. But his dream of immediately becoming a musician would not come right away. Like most African parents, his parents had misgivings about their son following a musical path as musicians in Africa still don’t have the respect that they deserve. So he obliged and fulfilled his father’s requirements and graduated as a Computer Science Engineer in Paris before starting his ongoing musical career. But since he followed that path he has been getting excellent reviews.
Below is a French to English translation of what he had to tell me when I caught up with him recently.
Jane: You were born in Cameroon, you grew up there and you now live in France. Was it hard to settle in France?
Jay Lou: I arrived in France as a student, and I went through all the initial difficulties we encounter when we leave Africa, which are evidently climate-related. The first winters were very difficult. Apart from that I had the opportunity to benefit from a relatively easy life in France. I was not on a scholarship but my parents took care of all of my demands and I made sure that I focused on my studies. The real issues started when I decided to change my status; changing from the status of a student to the status of a professional. At that moment in France, there was a tough policy against foreign students. It was not easy to obtain my resident papers. But for the rest, taking into account the fact that I come from a French culture, things went pretty well.
Jane: What are the significant differences between France and your native Cameroon?
Jay Lou: Well the condition, position and importance given to the artist are far from the same in both countries. All artists need exposure, meetings (with other artists) and intercultural exchanges in order to ameliorate their craft. In that area, France is a cultural crossroads of some sorts; a place where we find almost all types of artists/actors and the ingredients which allow artists to express themselves artistically.
The artists take advantage of a social and juridical framework which protects them, as well as their craft. In short the artist has a real status. In Cameroon the artist is simply considered as a mere ragamuffin. He or she does not benefit from any juridical, social or economic structure which dignifies the artist. The artists are practically abandoned and their works are stolen without any punitive measures to the detriment of the institutions of the country.
Jane: When most people think of jazz, the last place they think of is Africa or even an African performing jazz music. What led to your initial interest in jazz?
Jay Lou: That is really funny. Many people ignore the fact that the essence of what they listen to in their cars comes mostly from Africa. It’s true that jazz comes from Africa, but it’s barely played by Africans themselves. My paternal grandmother was an American missionary. I therefore grew up in a family where the father (a political man) spent most of his time composing religious protestant melodies on his organ.
The musical environment in our home was one of gospel and jazz. While still very young I would listen to Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cannonball Adderley and I even have some rights to some documentaries. But it did not stop there because listening to music is not the stopping point. In this genre of music I discovered the emotional expressions of all humanity. On top of that, my older brothers who were playing it on an amateur level initiated me into it.
Jane: Who are your favorite jazz musicians?
Jay Lou: Oohh!! There are so many but I will name Wes Montgomery, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson, Cannonball Adderley, Keith Jarrett
Jane: Do you feel that jazz music gets enough airplay on the radios?
Jay Lou: No. I find that more of this music should be played on the radios to make it more accessible to a bigger number of people because in my opinion I do not think that it’s acceptable to deny people of the joy of listening to jazz.
Jane: Many times artists find themselves at a crossroad between following their passion and doing what their parents expect of them. I read your biography on your website that in order to fulfill your father’s requirement, you graduated as a Computer Science Engineer in Paris before starting your ongoing musical career. How easy or difficult was it for you to do that?
Jay Lou: It was not always easy with my parents because to a degree music is not considered as a job/career in Africa. Our parents, that generation which fought for their independence, put all their hopes and dreams in education which they thought was the only path to success for their children. On the other end of the spectrum, I am the last boy in my family, and all my older brothers did well in school because my father was very strict when it came to scholar matters. Since he had been a teacher himself, he did not want me to become a drifter. So for a long time, I felt torn between my real passion and my responsibilities as a son, which means a lot of juggling which I would have had trouble pulling off here. I did not want to be a bad example for the younger ones. I had to finish my studies in Computer Science. Thank God for that because everyone is happy.
Jane: Your album Spellings, has been described as ‘Modern Africa seducing the Western world’. Do you agree with this? How much of your African background goes into music?
Jay Lou: In France where I live there is a tendency to catalogue music as African. These are stereotypes, clichés again due to the times simply because in the imagination of everyone playing African music is reduced to a black person playing drums aggressively while laughing; he also has the right to play the kora. It’s the image which is shown in the media. There are some labels here who have asked me to add drums to my music.
I think that the person who wrote what you are referring to raved that my album “spellings” is not just limited to percussion instruments but also is has melody and lyrics; in short musical arrangements which take my music away from the folkloric genre which they impose on us. It’s true that many French journalists have told me that my music emanated from a sort of African ‘deja-vu.’ They have been certainly seduced by it but it’s not a music that I create with the motive of seducing the West. I try to be true to myself without forgetting my African side.
Jane: With that said, would you classify your music as African or do you feel that limits you? I know artists hate being classified.
Jay Lou: I am and I am not an African musician because people interpret that definition differently and obviously it’s limiting, for in my opinion music has no limits. I voluntarily call my music ‘modern African music’ because saying that I create African music could be construed as erroneous, if taken from a certain context. My music has its roots in Africa and it has the intention of telling stories of a new Africa, without any complexities, an Africa which is winning and not crying under corruption and misery. I dream of that Africa and I believe in it. In this new millennium people should not be shocked to hear the strings of chords, a harp or harpsichord playing African melodies. Many people do not realize that our continent has evolved; Africans themselves have a habit of undermining themselves constantly. It is a thing that I hardly tolerate. Africa has wise men, researchers, great scientists and artists and our art has to be the real image, representation of the continent; big and beautiful.
Jane: Some of the names of your songs include Unforgettable Soweto, Caribbean Tag, Bantu Serenade. These are beautiful names. How did you come up with these names?
Jay Lou: The events which happened in 1976 in Soweto are unforgettable for all of us. As a result every June 16th, which commemorates the day of the African child, in memory of the children of Soweto I do a free telecharging of that title on the internet. With that title, I also wanted to say that we must not forget that there are also other Soweto’s happening in the world today. Bantu serenade is quite simply an ode to all the Bantu’s in the world. For the third title, it’s remembering a part of me, that is Africans who find themselves living in the islands. It’s a sort of connection that I would like to exist between us the Africans and our Caribbean brothers. It’s for that reason that I chose a lady from Martinique to sing to that title.
Jane: What inspires you to write the songs that you write?
Jay Lou: I have two sources of inspiration. The first one like everyone else is everyday life stories. A scene, a face, an emotion, love, a birth etc could inspire me. I live a lot of my emotions through my music. Then there is an inexplicable expression which makes me wake up one day with melodies which haunt me all day long. I would describe them as melodies which have been captured from another planet; in short is indescribable. It is things like that which make me believe in the relation between the imaginary world and music.
Jane: Are you performing your music on a full-time basis or do you have another job on the side?
Jay Lou: I tried to juggle between my job in information technology with the music and I changed my mind. Its simply impossible for me to do both, so I am a musician full time.
You have been linked with great African musical legends like Manu Dibango, Hugh Masekela among others. What do you think is the future for African music? Do you think that there is a space for African musicians on the international music scene?
A lot of music comes and goes, yet African music has remained the least unexploited, unchanged one; it has kept a lot of its freshness. I believe that music of the future will be strongly mixed and a large part of the mixture will come from Africa.
On the international plane I hope that African musicians will suffer less and less from this disadvantage from major systems and politicians. Here in France, they are buried up in this limiting tin where everything which is called African music is thrown in. Those who like me, do not make a part of that stereotype have trouble being understood. My music is more listened to in the USA and Australia than in France where I live. Is that normal? In any case the generation of Manu Dibango and Masekela are slowly by slowly leaving spaces for a new generation of African musicians who are appreciated in the international scene. I am thinking of guys like Armand Lecco and Ginto Sitson.
Jane: Now I am going to ask you about one of my favorite groups from Cameroon/France. Have you met Les Nubians?
Jay Lou: I met them a long time ago, at a family event. That is when I found out that we are related. I really like what they do. I hope one day to collaborate with them.
Jane: Which artists would you love to perform with?
Jay Lou: I would love to perform with Stevie Wonder who I consider to be one of the greatest figures who is still alive. I would also want to perform with Oscar Peterson. Since I really like collaborations I would also like to work with Asian, Chinese, Indian musicians or perform together with the Philharmonic Orchestra of London.
Jane: Where can people find you for live performances?
Jay Lou: I just finished the recording of my album which was out at the beginning of 2006 and now the tours.[Jay Lou will be performing this Friday May 26, 2006 at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., NW] In the mean time I went back to the studio for an album based on the concept of two guitars; the Latin one and the African one. I think I may be able to perform in Canada since I have been invited there several times, although I have not been able to come. But this time it should be possible.
Jane: Where have you been so far?
Jay Lou: At some point I did a lot of shows; I did cabaret for a long time and it burnt me out. I have therefore decided to stick to the studio and this is how I managed to arrange and produce several albums for other artists. That way I did not burn myself out.
Jane: What do you think of the state of hip hop today?
Jay Lou: I think that all these types of music would improve if they borrowed some African rhythms to bring back sanity. Another thing that saddens me is the negative images of women which they have in their video clips; the woman as a naked and perverse object. That is the part of that music which attracts me to it less and less.
Jane: What is a beautiful woman in your experience?
Jay Lou: A beautiful woman, there are always two sides to that; the exterior and the interior. For me a beautiful woman is a woman who is comfortable in her own skin, and takes care of herself. The woman gives life; she should not lose sight of that ultra precious side of her which makes her a pearl among pearls. So a woman who is comfortable in her skin, in her head and who preserves that motherly side of her; with all the tenderness and generosity which comes with it, that is a beautiful woman.
Jane: Jay-Lou, Are you romantic?
Jay Lou: Lot’s of people who listen to me say that I am a great romantic and I am always flattered. It’s considered like a good quality for a musician. But the question is how can you create music without romanticism?
Jane: What do you think of the rioting that was going on in Paris?
Jay Lou: I think that it’s a problem for the government of this country to take very seriously. We hope that they will not continue to hide behind their little finger. France has trouble managing its ethnic diversity. It’s clear that it’s been practicing the messed up politics of segregation which is felt in the representation of minorities in the various governments and medias. Today it is a mess. We talk of young people who are burning cities but its all the French non-whites who are shouting out their rage. Especially when people are familiar with the mafia-like way in which France controls Africa. It’s in the interest of the government to fix this problem if they do not want to find themselves in more serious problems one day.
Jane: What is next for Jay-Lou?
Jay Lou: The release of my new album which was at the beginning of 2006. I am actually collaborating with an Argentinean guitarist. We are in the studio producing an album called “Africa Latina.” Right now I am also creating music for a series of documentaries concerning the democracy in Cameroon. There you go! I no longer have any secrets for you…
First published: May 25, 2006 http://www.ugpulse.com/articles/daily/homepage.asp?ID=410
Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada. Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto’s Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com
posted 19 September 2006
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By Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 3 March 2012