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Roland Tchakounté

Roland was born in the 1960s in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. When he was 10 years old his parents lost their small shop and source of livelihood in a fire. His traumatic memories including the humiliation of seeing his parents having to beg for help make it hard to talk to his own children about his childhood in Cameroon. As a teenager he was angry, praying for the day he would be able to migrate, saying he'd rather be in jail in France than free in Cameroon.
He needed years of working hard and saving money, just for a chance to risk his life on a flimsy fishing boat from the coast of Nigeria with little chance of ever reaching the final destination. One of his friends left on one of the boats. When they were at sea, the smugglers asked the migrants for more money. His friend couldn’t pay, so the smugglers threw him overboard.
Roland’s boat journey to Europe failed and he finally went to Paris by plane in 1989 after years of fighting to get a visa. After a short time in college, he got a job and met his wife. Tchakounté juggles family life and the music which has always been part of his life. In addition to the traditional lullabies he had heard his aunts sing as a child, he remembers being fond of the laments of the Peul people, the nomadic Sahel tribes that travelled to Cameroon with their herds.
The incentive to play came when a friend gave him the guitar presented by parents who hoped it would pacify his instincts. In the end, it was Roland’s thirst for a meaningful existence that playing the guitar quenched: he led his own band in New Bell, a working-class Douala neighbourhood infamous for its prison and high crime rate. In addition to Jimi Hendrix, whose version of Hey Joe provided him with the three basic chords of the blues, Roland imitated soul greats James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
His first album was Bred Bouh Shuga Blues (1990). Although he toured for many years and appeared at the Blues-sur-Seine festival, Tchakounté still needed a clear direction for his music. Then in 2002 he heard a John Lee Hooker recording of 'Crawling King Snake' in the CD section of a supermarket! That was a revelatory moment for Roland and he discovered the real meaning of the word “blues”. The title of his first album had the word blues in it and he was aware of B.B. King, and others, but their music didn’t really speak to him. And in Cameroon, 'blues'

was the generic term used for slow dance. Roland says that the spontaneity, the apparent lack of structure, the fire and raw energy, the honesty he was hearing changed his whole perception of music.
The example set by Malian singer and guitarist Ali Farka Touré gave Roland the incentive to sing in his own language. Mixing the spirit of raw blues with his bamiléké dialect makes his songs unique.
Another turning point happened when Roland met the first of his two current band members. Guitarist Mick Ravassat was performing at a club where Roland happened to go one night
and he heard him do the kind of slide guitar work Roland wanted for a new project. The next day he hired Mick after talking with him for less than 5 minutes!

With Ravassat on board, Roland was ready to record and Abango was released in 2005.
Roland realised some rhythm elements were still missing and Ravassat suggested they contact percussionist Mathias Bernheim. Waka was released in 2008, with Mick’s delicate blues licks and Mathias’s superb rhythmic patterns perfectly balancing Roland’s African roots.
It could be looked upon as contrary that Roland calls himself a bluesman when Douala is
geographically so far away from the Mississippi Delta. It is clear that the blue note, a pure piece of Americana, was born out of the tragic collision of three worlds brought about by the vicious triangle of the slave trade. The spirit of the blues echoes strongly in Africa where destiny too often rhymes with tragedy.
Blues Menessen (2011) brings the talent of the Roland Tchakounté band to a climax. As he roams through the dark corridors of his mind, Roland cannot keep from questioning how people can inflict so much pain and suffering to their neighbours. Roland’s music is a holy cry born from a desperate desire to believe in humankind. Through song he fights the bitterness that often keeps him awake at night. He proves that, regardless of his origins, he is the essence of a blues man, because writing songs and singing them is a way of coping with life. His songs tell the same stories once told by blues pioneers.