The video for “Ngwa” is inspired by the tragic end of the Cameroonian rebel fighter Ruben Um Nyobe, here transposed to Southern Africa’s great natural spaces. A tribute to his life, and to the seeds of hope he sowed.
A huge canyon overlooks endless plains, the sky is heavy and menacing, while a man seems to be waiting for his own fate. This man is Blick Bassy, who plays one of the activists for the independence of Cameroon who followed Ruben Um Nyobe. The political leader, who threw himself body and soul into the complete independence of Cameroon, was eventually executed by the French army in 1958. This is the fight Blick Bassy chose to pay a tribute to with his last album, aptly titled 1958. “In this song, I address Um Nyobe as a friend (‘ngwa’), and I tell him: ‘you who fought for our sovereignty, you who fought so that we are still standing today, you are my ngwa, you are my friend.”
The video, shot in Lesotho, features this isolated fighter who tries to flee a horde of riders tracking him down. With their horses and medieval clothes, they seem to come from another time. Just like the outfit of Blick Bassy, that mixes a jacket and a pair of combat boots reminiscent of the ’50s, but also pieces of leather alluding to Southern African culture, where the video was shot. The hunt reminds that of Um Nyobe, and a few flashbacks – as glimpses of memories – give the pace of an already lost race, with its fatal issue we already know. We can see the fighter stop in the forest to pick up a tuber that composed the mystical weapons ancient warriors would use; ask the blessing of the great initiates; and, during a secret meeting, decide on his destiny. “He rejects the independence that others have accepted, like Ahidjo [Cameroon’s first president], says Blick Bassy, and today we are still living in this partial independence.”
But if the video metaphorically narrates the hunt for the Cameroonian independence leader, it is also a metaphor for the path Africa must follow to free itself. And to achieve this – here is a subject the artist likes to tackle – it is necessary for Africa to reconnect with itself. Starting with its history, its roots, and its deep knowledge of nature. “Our ancestors understood something: there is no border between ecology or environment on one side, and us on the other side. We are part of nature, and so we are part of the environment. I grew up in a village, and that’s precisely what my grandfather taught me.”
The strength of the warrior resided in knowing the secrets of nature (hence the tuber), and thanks to them he could access the Négué – a stage reserved to initiates, a mystical dimension that makes you invisible to the eyes of your enemies. The artist laments that this know-how sank into oblivion and, worse, he condemns the rejection of this ancient knowledge: “our natural magic was put in the same bag as witchcraft”. If you know the secrets and the history of your heroes, you can be yourself and you are able to build the future. “Our young people do not even know where they come from, and many are trying to become avatars of what they see in the Western world” adds the singer. Blick Bassy shares this observation with director Tebogo Malope aka Tebza. The apartheid-born artist decided to travel around the continent to understand better his land and, precisely, reconnect better to it. After a long discussion with his Cameroonian “ngwa”, he proposed this storyline, and created beautiful images that perfectly highlight the power of the song. Then he added his own references. The end of the video, an unexpected twist, is a metaphor in itself. We let you discover it but as Tebza says, “it is reminiscent of South African political icon Solomon Mahlangu, who was killed by the Apartheid government, and whose last words before his death were, ‘My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom’”. A clear parallel with the figure of Um Nyobe that, again tackles the same weight that Africa has to free itself from.