From a military ghetto in Buea, South West region, Fonyuy Leonard Nsohburinka known by the World as Mr. Leo, has now become a household name in Cameroon’s music industry.
From a military ghetto in Buea, South West region, Fonyuy Leonard Nsohburinka known by the World as Mr. Leo, has now become a household name in Cameroon’s music industry. The star singer who hails from Nso, in the North West region, contrary to other artists who developed long dreams of being stars from childhood, rather had a special attraction for painting and football.
Music was never in the offing but destiny, as they say, followed him by bringing Salatiel and Blaise B. into his life. The duo sweet-talked Mr. Leo to join the church choir. It was from there that the urban music star was born. For several years, he had to deal with family pressure, rejection and critics. But then, the seed he had planted and watered for some years yielded his debut single titled "E Go Better."
The single had just the right words and style to blow the kick off whistle of his career. The growth continued geometrically. In 2019 he slowed down to give way for Kameni and Gomez, whom he had been grooming for a while. During this period, he went back to his drawing board and strategized. Now, the star has come back with a whole new personality, a new concept and a new touch to his music.
He is currently making his way into inspirational music, one which holds the African heritage in high esteem. Less than one week ago, Mr. Leo released, “Jéi Jéi” which he says is just a tip of the iceberg and a sneak peak of the new him. Discover more exciting insights of Mr. Leo in this exclusive interview he granted to Cameroon Tribune.
You just released a new single titled, “Jéi Jéi”; an indication that you are coping in this coronavirus period. What is the secret and what are you doing as an artist to preach against the virus?
Personally, I find every obstacle as an opportunity to get better and create more positive impact on my person and on the society. Covid-19 has been a great challenge; one which completely altered my daily routine as an artist. To survive during this period, I had to get back on the drawing board with my team to figure out how to keep business moving and most especially how to play an active role in the fight against the pandemic. Amongst others, I initiated a music project titled, “Zero Corona”, featuring ten artistes from different ends of Africa to sing about the coronavirus outbreak and sensitise the public about this deadly pandemic. Of course Covid-19 resulted in months of lockdowns which gave me free time on my plate, time which I used judiciously to work on some magical songs for my “Lion Of Africa Album”.
You are one of the young Cameroonian artists making headline news in urban music, how do you evaluate the growth of this genre of music in Cameroon?
First, a huge applause to everyone out there working tirelessly to put Cameroon on the map as far as music is concerned. I happen to be one of those young persons who managed to work their way to the top of the chain without a capital. Therefore, I can fit in the shoes of these young talents struggling to live their passion, facing criticism from the public, rejection from family etc. I call them soldiers and I encourage them to keep fighting. Urban music has taken over Cameroon over the past 10 years. We have had people like Salatiel, Jovi, Stanley Enow, Daphne, Magasco, Blanche Bailly, Locko, Tenor etc represent Cameroon on international platforms with urban music. To me, the growth has been impressive but we could do better if and only if Cameroon could attribute a little more value to the entertainment sector. An artist is a business that needs investment and a capital to be able to yield profit. With little or no capital, we have been able to come this far. I think it is high time these young artistes start getting calls from companies, investors and of course the government. Its high time Cameroon invests on these talents; they have the potential to take the country further. If football could do it, I believe music, movies, comedy and dance can do it too.
In the past, other genres of music as Makossa was taking the centre stage, how do you explain the fact that urban music is currently taking the lead?
Lack of mentorship… that is the key reason why genres like makossa and bikutsi almost died down. I have so much respect for an artist like Petit Pays because he passed on his knowledge to younger ones like Mathematic, Sami Diko etc who are holding it up today. We grew up listening to American music and Nigerian music. We learnt how to make music their way and today we are able to fuse those urban sounds with our traditional sounds like njang, makossa, bikutsi, and of course make use of our language diversity, which gives us our identity. I think if we want to ensure continuity and sustainability, we must teach the next generation what we know.
You recently created your own Label named “Lionn Production”. What motivated you to do this and what specificities are you looking for in artists that you sign into the label?
Through my music journey, I always wished I had someone to hold my hand, invest in my art and guide me through. Someone who understands the business understands the market and has the resources required. Together with my brother Salatiel, we struggled through the dark to find the light. Creating Lionn Production is just my way of helping young talents so they do not go through that same dark path. I can be able to mentor them, teach them what I know and help them avoid the mistakes I made. Today, Lionn Production has two amazing talents Kameni and Gomez Oba who have fast become household names. As per my criteria for signing artists, it’s very spiritual. We are supposed to have a connection first. Secondly, I have a competent team of professionals who assess every move the label makes.
Cameroonian urban artists are often criticised for copying the Nigerian style of music. What special touch do you put in your sounds to make the difference?
What do you expect from someone who grew up listening to Nigerian music on radio, Tv, Clubs etc??? Most young Cameroonians are influenced by foreign music because it is what they are being fed with. Nigeria for example has the financial power to produce and promote new hits every single month. This is because the entertainment industry there is booming with investments from left and right. Do same in Cameroon and trust me within one year you won’t hear any foreign music on these streets. Cameroon has incredible talents, artists who can give you new hits every single day. All they lack is the ability to transform this potential into actual projects, promote it so it reaches the fans and of course market it to generate income. Personally, my strength in music is uniqueness and originality. My sound and my lyrics is guided by where I come from, the mentality of my people, the languages they speak and their root story. My music valorises my culture, which is my identity.
Some fans have been complaining that you only collaborate with artists excelling in your genre of music. Do you have any plans of looking out of the urban genre to collaborate with artists maybe in the Bikutsi or Makossa genres?
As I always say, music to me is spiritual. We must connect at a certain level before we can get on a project together. If it has not happened so far, it simply means it is not the appointed time yet but I am very open to working with any artist no matter the genre of music. That notwithstanding, we have had some interesting collaborations between old school and new school artistes lately. We just released a project under Lionn Production titled Gokoma Vibe, a collaboration between Gomez Oba and Hugo Nyame who is a makossa veteran. We have also had other artists like Fhish collaborating with Longue Longue, a Ko-C collaboration with bikutsi diva Coco Argentee, a Magasco collaboration with Lady Ponce etc. This is an indication that the urban artists are gradually finding their way back to their roots and if the Makossa and Bikutsi legends did not find it necessary to teach us what they know, we will go to them and learn what we need to know in order to keep the culture alive.
In your new single titled “Jei Jei”, elements of nature are brought to the limelight. Were you inspired by the fact that you are one of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) champions for Nature?
Actually, it is the other way round. I take the position or title as a “Champion of the New Deal for Nature and People” very seriously because it falls perfectly in line with my musical projects. The whole concept and objective of this project ties perfectly with those of my personal projects. I have taken a new turn in music, focusing on more inspirational music that upholds the values of Africa and the gifts of nature. I will be telling African stories like never before told, feeding the world with the deepest and most original African tunes. I will be upholding the African identity more than ever. My new release titled Jéi Jéi is just a tip of the iceberg. I will be releasing more of such content in my next album entitled “Lion Of Africa”.
Apart from the new single, what have you been doing alongside other Champions to ensure nature protection?
We have been engaging our followers in a bid to raise awareness and engage them on the urgency to mobilise to put pressure on our leaders to take action to stop biodiversity loss. We have held meetings with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Civic Education and the Ministry Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development during which we called on them to use their offices to push for more ambitious action by the government to stop the loss of biodiversity and put nature on the part to recovery by 2030. We understood from those meetings that the two Ministers are, more than ever ready to support the champions and their initiatives. We intend to pursue this course of action. Together with Laura Onyama, another WWF champion, we made a field trip to Campo Ma’an National Park in the South Region of Cameroon during which we met with indigenous and local communities and discussed with the gorilla habituation team living inside the park in order to better understand the threats and urgency to protect biodiversity. This has changed my perspective as an artist.
What are some of the nature protection initiatives you have in the pipeline?
In collaboration with other champions and WWF, we are looking forward to working on a song for nature. We have talented artists like Daphne and Salatiel and many others whose mellifluous voices can touch the hearts and souls of millions of people and move them to raise their voices for the planet. Meanwhile, Laura Onyama is an award-winning actress, and we are hoping she will lead us to produce comic strips and a film to mobilise millions for a New Deal for Nature and People. We plan to take the message to schools and communities in biodiversity hotspots and urban areas to whip up support for this campaign.
What message have you to your millions of fans who have been wondering why you adhered to the New Deal for Nature and People project?
I will encourage my fans to join this initiative, because we are facing a planetary emergency. The catastrophic events of 2020 have made it clear that our future and the future of our planet are intrinsically linked and both are under threat. What we do to the planet- we do to ourselves! We must speak up for nature now to safeguard the health of our planet and in turn, our own health and well-being. My lovely fans please join me to speak up for nature by signing up to https://voicefortheplanet.org/. Protecting nature is very crucial for the wellbeing of humanity. Nature provides food, water, air we breathe and is a big natural pharmacy providing the medicines we use to treat the sick. Indeed, it is our life support system. However, in just 50 years, we have lost 68% of wildlife population and human beings are at the centre of this biodiversity loss. So speaking up for nature is a step towards saving lives and protecting humanity. That is why I harkened to the call from WWF to be part of the crusade to protect Mother Nature. I am devoting my life to this cause.