HIS stage name is Ateh Bazore and he’s famous for his “Njang rhythms” a genre of music with its origins in Cameroon’s northwestern region.
These days he is increasingly well known as Ateh Francis Ngong, head of Cameroon’s most important musician’s society and a champion of the rights of musicians. Ngong believes he can unite artists from the country’s linguistically divided north and south, in his cause, which is to ensure that musicians are paid properly for their work.
Ngong began his music career in the early 1970s releasing his first album “Takoza” in 1988. Today he has 12 albums to his name. Despite his musical success, however, he realized over time that he and his fellow musicians were getting the short end of the stick when it came to the proceeds of their labour.
“An artist should make money from sales,” he said, adding, “In Cameroon, musicians continue releasing works but when you look at the way they live, when you look at what they make out of it you see it is very a big problem,” he said.
Tired and frustrated at the constant tales of fellow musicians struggling to earn a living, Ngong decided to contest for the presidency of the Cameroon music society, SONACAM in December 2020. He won, taking over from Sam Fan Thomas, another Cameroonian artist.
Ngong is now using the role as a platform to bring change to the industry. His aim, he says is to represent all musicians in Cameroon – young and old, French and English, regarding the issues of copyrights.
“We are a bit lucky to have started music early, when music was still booming in Cameroon, especially during the time of musicians like Manu Dibango, Sam Fan Thomas, Lapiro de Mbanga, Anne-Marie Ndze, Messi Martin among others,” he said.
Cameroon music – with its joyful, uplifting beats – in those days was very popular even in other parts of the continent, especially with rhythms like Makossa and Bikutsi. The government also supported artists, though this has since changed.
“In the 70s, the government of Cameroon set up a recording studio within the radio house in Yaoundé called ‘studio Mintipis’ which was managed by the minister of information and culture in those days. I was one of those who recorded in those studios in 1987. And you will notice that the works which sold in Cameroon in those days were those which came out of studio Mintipis,” explained Ngong.
Ngong said with the advent of new technology, anybody can record a track in his bathroom or a small makeshift studio and with a keyboard and plugins is ready to sell on the market. Then the chances of being exploited become high.
“Today, development in the digital industry has made it even difficult for people to even sell, when you stream, it very difficult to count. But it also makes the works available across the world,” he said.
It’s estimated that there are currently more than 5800 artists in the country. Only a little over 2700 have registered to the Cameroon Musical Arts or Authors Copyright Corporation known in French Acronym as SONACAM.
Ngong lamented that some of the music from Cameroon was being used globally without any royalties being paid for it.
Those registered with SONACAM will for the first time receive professional cards and new bank accounts for them to receive their royalties for the usage of their work for a lifetime and even 50 years after death.