Ntjam Rosie 2013

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood: To quote a line from your song. “Love is Calling;” Is this life living you, or are you living it?

Ntjam Rosie:  Hey! Yeah! I know that line! Well, I’m living it. I’m living my life definitely!

The Dood:  Is Ntjam Rosie the name given to you at the? If so, what does it mean?

Ntjam Rosie:  It’s actually Rosie Ntjam. But I am how I am, and I like to switch things around you know, to stand out from the crowd. Because a lot of African artists in the West, like Richard Bona put the European name first, then the African name. I always thought that I never want to forget my roots, so I want to put the African name first and then the European name. That’s how it was and always will be.

The Dood:  And the meaning?

Ntjam Rosie:  I asked my great-grandmother if she knew and other old people in the village back home (Cameroon), and nobody really knows. But she said if you leave out the “N” so you just get “tjam” pronounced cham – more “ch” than “j.” But it kind of means control freak actually. Like someone who comes into a room and then totally disorganises everything and reorganises it in her or his way. So I thought ok, she means is a control freak and that is kind of what I am a little bit.

The Dood:  “At the Back of beyond” is your third album, following on from “Atouba” in 2008 and well received soul/jazz album “Elle” released in 2010. What does “Atouba” mean by the way?

Ntjam Rosie:  “Atouba” is the name of my grandmother passed away a few years ago.

The Dood:  Okay. So, as I understand it, you chose the name “At the Back of Beyond,” after watching the film Black Narcissus?

Ntjam Rosie:  Yeah! Yeah! “At the Back of beyond” is a sentence that is in the script of Black Narcissus… It’s kind of a spiritual movie – a convent of sisters getting out of their comfort zone and still trying to stay true to God’s will and their lives. Still doing what they think is good or bad and trying to stay strong in their beliefs in that world that they actually don’t really know and are really comfortable in, and the seduction and all of that.

The Dood:  So, do you see the parallels between that film and stepping out into the music business?

Ntjam Rosie:  Yes, is your life living you or are you living it? How do you stay true to yourself, to your beliefs, to your God? To everything you believe in still living in this world?

The Dood:  So, “Let Go” is the first single release from your forthcoming album. What inspired that track?

Ntjam Rosie:   “Let Go” is inspired by a friend of mine. It’s like the track “Bag Lady” from Erykah Badu, let go of all that junk and make a decision now! Is that moment when you just slap your friend and tell them if you don’t stop this mess in your life now, basically you’re going to die! It’s quite heavy!

The Dood:  The album has a very spiritual as well as a wholesome and mature thread running through it; which is especially evident on tracks such as “Keep the Faith,” “Secret Waters” and “Made.” Discuss?

Ntjam Rosie:  These are songs which are heavily based on my love for the Lord. Like in “Secret Waters” I’m talking about Jesus and all that he has done for me… Being grateful for his goodness in my life.  And “Made” is like a gospel but in my own way… I love old and traditional vintage stuff, in clothing and in music and everything… But I like to always give it a little twist to today. I was like okay, I’m going to try and write an old-fashioned spiritual but then with a twist. So that’s “Made.” And “Keep the Faith,” it’s like I believe that God has a wonderful purpose for everyone; to flourish in life; to have beautiful things; to be strong! You know to be positive in life and to go for those good things and to never ever ever ever give up.

So that’s “Keep the Faith!” To always hang onto that promise. And that’s for all of us! God is a mystery so I don’t have all the answers, all I know is I never gave up and it always works out.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:  Another one of your goals was to make a collection of catchy songs that people can sing along to, “Love Is Calling” being a prime example. Please expand on your song-writing process?

Ntjam Rosie:  It was a challenge for me going from “Atouba” where I was actually like taken by surprise that this label wanted to sign me while I was really focused into becoming a good musician and a good singer. And then I had this album… And I didn’t know I was doing really. On the second album (“Elle”), I fell in love with jazz…So that needed to come out and after that it went more inward, like I feel that I need rest. I had a thirst for God. So that’s why it’s more spiritual, this third album – if because I come from a Christian family.

It’s one thing to say i believe in God and then do nothing with it basically, but I like it’s my duty to really do something with my God-given talent. To talk about God’s glory in my life, and also to be a light, to be an inspiration. To encourage people to be positive, to do something more than the vanity that comes along with being in this business… Because I don’t have the key to tomorrow, HE has it! So before that day comes, I want to make sure I did my part, and we all have to do our part. We all are to do our part with OUR talent. Everybody’s talent is different – I know this is mine!

The Dood:  And your talent is writing lyrics and bringing them to life by performing?

Ntjam Rosie:  Words are power, so we have to be very careful what we are sending to the world. Especially us artists, because we have this platform where we’re almost being deified… That is why the responsibility is with us. People do what they do, but you as an artist must ask yourself, “What part do I play in this?” Always look in the mirror, be careful. So I try to do that every day.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:   Staying with “Love Is Calling,” where was the video filmed and how many Ntjam Rosie doubles did you use?

Ntjam Rosie:  It was shot in Rotterdam actually, where I live. And it was just the one girl with a wig who doubled for me. I’m so happy we found her. It was like last-minute, you know, it goes. So I was really happy to make it. Gianni is her name – a very sweet girl and beautiful.

The Dood:  All your videos seem to have a distinctly quirky/left field and original feel to them. Does this reflect part of your personality?

Ntjam Rosie:  I like a sound. Well, I am sound. I always say I am music, but I am also a visual person. I like composition, not only musically, but also with visual stuff like movies and photography.

The Dood:  This explains why you were once quoted as saying that if you had not followed the musical path you would have ventured into photography?

Ntjam Rosie:  I talk a lot, so maybe something like that Ntjam Rosie show or photography. I love movement and colours, and I always see something beautiful in stuff that other people don’t see. I have an eye for that stuff and it all comes together in me being this independent artist… It comes in handy when you have to choose the picture that will become your cover… Of course, people will give you their opinion, but what do you think? How do you want the world to perceive you?

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:  Your music is popular in the strangest places, like Thailand, Turkey, Estonia, Lithuania and China. Has do you explain that and are you proud of your Edison nomination?

Ntjam Rosie:  Yes, my album “Elle” was nominated for the Edison award. Of course I’m proud, it’s nice to be nominated for anything that you’ve worked really hard for. Regarding the countries, well, they invite you and then you go and then people like what you do. So I’m very grateful and humbled by it. The coolest time was when I was in China… It interests is not so good but they’re trying to express themselves as to how grateful they are that you do what you do. So to me the travelling is amazing and it broadens your horizon… For people who are less free than we are, it opens the door for them to singing

The Dood:  You’ve played piano from an early age, but recently learned to play the guitar. How has learning a new instrument changed your song-writing approach?

Ntjam Rosie:  Now, finally, after all these years of studying (I always compare it to cooking), I wanted to make this new Ntjam Rosie dish. And I still needed some ingredients space – and that was the guitar! Some songs sounds crappy on the piano, you have to play them on the guitar. Some melodies come to you when you pick the guitar up. And then you have these different kinds of sounds.

The circle is round now for me when I want to write, I can finally find my chords… So as a songwriter i’m done! I’m good! Because there’s always this hole when you want to learn something, but you don’t – It’s like you’re handicapped in your head, so you’re not free. Now I’m finally free… I have the freedom to talk from instrument and to explain much better what I want from the band… It gives you much more control over your creativity, your songs!

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:  You don’t have to call another musician to interpret your ideas or thoughts?

Ntjam Rosie:  I’m there now where I can finally say I’m fine with my guitar and my piano. Lock me up in a room and I’ll give you the songs. I’m independent in that sense, so that’s great..! With the guitar i’m more mobile, that’s why I needed that instrument.

The Dood:   How big an impact did Coldarts Academy of Music have on moulding you into the artistry are today?

Ntjam Rosie:  I don’t come from a “my father was a bass player” kind of story – I just knew I had this talent which I was quite insecure about.

The Dood: Like a lot of teenage girls?

Ntjam Rosie:  Yes, for sure. I was a teenager and insecure about many things, so definitely about my talent. I’m not a singer’s singer, I have a nice jazzy voice but it’s not like Whitney Houston is in the house! So you also have to discover what kind of singer you are and take on other people’s opinions. So the Academy gave me a kind of thick skin. It was tough! It was fun! It was a rollercoaster! And I’m really grateful they let me in because I knew nothing about theory. I knew where middle C was and what the G clef was! (Laughs) That’s basically it! I learned the piano there.

“Keep the Faith” is really MY song. I have a great hunger to make it; to make it a better place; to be the best I can be. Even that I don’t have what other people have, I have what I have and I know I can do it! It’s my promise to myself. So I will do my best whatever it takes to get there! And they (Coldarts) gave me the chance. It was tough! But they gave me the chance to prove myself, to become more humble. I had to learn that as a teenager and that really helped me a lot.

The Dood:  Who or what inspires you music?

Ntjam Rosie:  Well, my talent belongs to God, so God inspires my music, my foundation. And anything that brings life!

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:  Which artists did you grow up listening to?

Ntjam Rosie:  Madonna; SWV. I love R&B from the 90s. I love Toni Braxton’s voice and the whole neo-soul movement – Erykah Badu, Music Soulchild. And then after that I totally got into jazz from Ella Fitzgerald to the Sarah Vaughan’s. Before that it was just pop music and a lot of folk music also like Jewel and Sheryl Crow. I like the guitar. So it can be anything even African such as Fautomata Diawara I just like things which is a really rootsy! I like M.I.A too – it’s expressive and it is true to them… I don’t really care whether it’s something I’ve never heard before if it’s true then I will like it. Sade is I think is one of my biggest influences. The first time I saw and heard “No Ordinary Love” I was 11 years old and I thought to myself, “What is this?! I want to be that someday!”

The Dood: Where you more comfortable on stage or in the studio?

Ntjam Rosie:  Yeah live. The studio thing for me is really a necessity. I love to write and I have the talent to write but the stress that just comes along with it unbearable sometimes… There’s so much to producing a record that at a certain point I just had enough! With the live thing you have this moment one-on-one with your audience. It’s tangible you know.

The Dood:  What is the background to the track “Nsissim Zambe” and what is its translation?

Ntjam Rosie, “Nsissim Zambe” means God’s spirit and is my cry out to God and just wondering sometimes how we are so missing this world. What do you think about it God? It’s like my conversation with him and like asking for forgiveness and what should we do to be saved. It’s like an SOS for humanity.

The Dood:  Going back to singles your current release is a double a side, “Thinkin’ About You” and “Keep the Faith” What’s the story behind those tracks and releasing them together?

Ntjam Rosie:  “Thinking About You”is about that moment you sometimes have like, “How is this Person?” and “What is such an such doing?” They just stop calling you and you don’t know what happened to them and what happened to your relationship and your friendship. I had this best friend when I was younger and he just stopped calling suddenly. And I think about her often.

It’s this melancholic feeling that you have during the summer – when you go to the park and have a moment by yourself. It’s very summery and breezy, that’s why I wanted to do that track in the summer. I think everybody relates this feeling. We all have those people, family members that his don’t ever see. So just pick up the phone and call them. And “Keep the Faith” is like I told you before – just hang in there and all will be okay.

The Dood:  Your musical style has been trumpeted as continuing the tradition of artists such as Erykah Badu and Esperanza Spalding – Worthy praise indeed. But to me you also embody the attitude and forthrightness of a Michelle Ndegecello. Do you concur?

Ntjam Rosie:  Ah yes! She is amazing! She is also a bit crazy! All of these artists are distinguished. I love Esperanza Spalding! And I just bought Michelle’s latest album. Her Nina Simone tribute is really nice. So yeah it’s a compliment of course. And today as a cross-over artist, cross-over is almost a genre… So, so that’s what we do nowadays is artists, we don’t want to be limited anymore to one style. And it makes it difficult to stand out from the crowd. So when people mention Esperanza Spalding, she has this bass and this big Afro.  That’s her signature and I try to get mine.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:  So, how do you view yourself as an artist genre wise?

Ntjam Rosie:  I see myself as a cross-over artist. I like to say that it makes it easier, because I used to say so many things and end up saying oh and I forgot this and that. Cross-over means I cross from pop to jazz; world; soul; alternative; gospel. I think it’s also because I write myself. I write from the inside out so what I feel is what I’m write about. I don’t know what you feel in two years, but I will write about that then. I want to be commercially successful of course, because I want to make a living out of this thing. But I don’t want to sell-out spiritually. So that’s the journey forever you know.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Dood:  This album is released on your own Gentle Daze record label. I appreciate creative freedom is one of the main pros, but what are the other pros and cons?

Ntjam Rosie: Yes creative freedom is very important.  It’s just really hard. It’s a necessity. I would love to be signed to a major label or a major independent label that has some money in their pockets. I was signed in. Then I was like, “Is this what it’s like to be signed! I can do this by myself and better!” So, on the album “Atouba” I was a signed artist’s. Then we agreed that this doesn’t work and we parted ways. And with “Elle” And “At the Back of Beyond” I did it by myself with crowd funding and winning prizes and stuff.

Financially, it’s just really tough and I’m 30 (years old) now and I’m at this point that I’m saying that it’s nice to be free as an artist, but it’s also nice to pay my bills. So I’m ready now after four albums, three studio albums and one live album to get signed and to find a nice deal. I will not just sign because people come with nice promises, because I know I’ve been there. It’s a necessity. This is my job. This is my gift and I’m continuing to work until the right label comes along. And I hope they will soon!

The Dood: Which artists, current or past would you like, or have liked to work with?

Ntjam Rosie:  I like Lizz Wright. It’s only now that I’m realising that this is the kind of artist that I want to be forever not just for this album. God is important to me. Artistic freedom is important for me. And soul and jazz are the hub. All of these things are what I want to keep saying over and over again. I have a big thirst for that. So that will keep on repeating in my work now that I know that after trying a lot of things. So artist that are also in the area such as Liz Wright; Lauryn Hill appeal to me. I think Lauryn Hill is amazing! The stuff she writes and her melodies and her voice and her message! I love the independent rock sound from the UK also. But also African artists like Oumou Sangare a singer from Mali. Her voice, her groove, her rhythm and the way she phrases is sick!!

The Dood:  I’ll check her out.

Ntjam Rosie:  Yeah! Artists like that – and of course I’d like to work with Sade’s band and Sade herself. Ella Fitzgerald, you know any of the great singers, well-known or not well known. This I love collaborations! On every album I have a collaboration – on this album it was with Reinier Bass (jazz guitarist from Amsterdam) on the track “Made.” He’s not a huge name but his amazing! And I like to intertwine. I like to look for kindred spirits

The Dood:  When can we expect to see perform live in the UK?

Ntjam Rosie: Good question! I’m currently looking for bookers/promoters.

The Dood:  You need to get yourself on a program called “Later” with Jools Holland.

Ntjam Rosie:  Of course I know “Later!” It’s one of my favourite shows. It’s definitely on the list. When I get on there it will be like, “Okay, Hello!!” (Laughs) I will never get give up. I hope to get there someday. So I hope to come back in September (2013). Because the album comes out here (UK) at the end of August, so I’m working on it independently with my little team in Holland. Were talking to some promoters so hopefully by then I’ll have the right connections and then it’s much easier to book shows and stuff. It all depends a little bit on that.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

But I know we’ll come back because I really like England and I like the music scene. I have a feeling I will come back and be better and better every time. So my team and I will do our best to make it work.

Michael J Edwards

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Essential Album: At The Back of Beyond (2013)

Essential Singles:  Let Go (2013); Love is Calling (2013);

Thinkin’ About You/Keep The Faith (2013)

Essential website: ntjamrosie.com

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