The programme suggests that Kayrece Fotso will be a big hit this year, “walking away with our hearts”; whoever wrote that has obviously experienced her performances first hand, because that’s exactly what she does.
From Cameroon, Fotso is a young woman who sings of the big and the little issues, a protest singer of the most charming and intimate type. She has a magnificent voice, rich and resonant and capable of real soaring highs. Start with the brilliant “Mayolé“, a song about the deforestation of Cameroon; it’s a real spine-tingler.
On stage, she is, of course, absolutely beautiful (for some reason, I find her upper arms and shoulders particularly lovely – odd, I know) and her charm is boundless. She is more willing than most to give of herself: she talks about being deserted by her husband for her best friend Solange – everyone in the audience, bar none, thinks the guy must be nuts – and then sings the loveliest upbeat number about it, “Pac-ler Francaise”. Just watch the joy papering over the heartbreak of this performance.
She is obviously bound closely to her homeland and its beauties and its faults; “Lomdieu” is a cry against the forced marriages which blight young women in Cameroon. Her determination to effect change is evident in her story of how she came to learn the zanza, a tiny box of wood with graduated tongues of metal like a plucked xylophone. Traditionally a male-only preserve, the local teacher refused to take her on as a pupil. Her reaction was to turn up at his home every day for six months until he relented to get rid of her: she plays it expertly. Her multi-instrumentalism is terrific to see, including a hollow tray filled with gravel that she uses to create the sound of the sea absolutely perfectly. Knocks a rain stick into a cocked hat.
Later, I catch her at the Taste of the World stage, where artists cook traditional dishes from their country and sing some acoustic numbers. She is helped by her older sister Anna, and they are a hilarious “Sense and Sensibility” double act, Kayrece as the flighty younger sister, Anna as the voice of responsibility; there is much eye rolling at each other, but their love is blindingly obvious. Thankfully, her rebelliousness stretches as far as her family, and she defied their wishes to study biochemistry to become a doctor for a career in music. The running joke is that Anna is on hand to find Kayrece a suitable husband: I suspect she’ll have no problem with that.
She tells of reaction to her work in her country, of how “Mayolé” has been adopted as an environmental anthem, and of the young girl who wrote to her to tell her how “Lomdieu” gave her the inspiration to refuse her family’s attempts to marry her to a man she didn’t know. I suspect Kayrece Fotso is a name that will become very, very important in the changing face of Africa.
But the girl can’t stop singing though. Even as she is chopping ingredients, she shares two lullabies she wrote for her daughters, and she has to be dragged away from the microphone because she just wants to give us one more song. As we file out, there is much talk about her; one woman says to me, “I think everyone’s fallen in love with her today”. Given that I feel I’ve just spent a couple of blissful hours being sung to by one of the most charming, intelligent, lovely young women I’ve ever met, I absolutely concur.
Her album, “Kwegne”, is brilliant. It’s full of soul, such as the goosebump opener “So’a”, but she can rock it too: “Kuichoueu” is absolutely thundersome. A superb, uplifting experience.