There’s a breezy feel to most of the tracks on the Netherlands-based Cameroonian songwriter and vocalist Ntjam Rosie’s soon-to-drop album of original compositions At the Back of Beyond (which you can pre-order on iTunes). And for the miserablists among us, she includes the melancholy-tinged Live & Learn, on which she sings “goodbye to our dreams, nothing is what it seems … I have a hole in my heart, it’s empty and cold inside.” Her singing, whatever the track, is soulfully jazzy, her voice supple and classy.
At the Back of Beyond is the follow up to her Edison Jazzism Public Award-nominated 2010 album Elle. Ntjam Rosie says she wanted to be more intimate than she had before and reveal more of herself. Elle told stories about other people’s lives, with the singer describing the world but really being a part of it, whereas The new album is a journey within, each song a tale of self-reflection. “At the Back of Beyond is a very personal album. It is about keeping the faith, about moving on even if the going gets tough. And it gets tough. But I have good friends and loyal supporters.” The talk about loyal supporters isn’t just the usual guff you hear from artists. At the Back of Beyond was funded (partially) by some of these supporters, so we have them to thank for the album, too.
Ntjam has a toughness and determination that belies her voice, and her development as a singer is instructive for anyone considering a career in music. Born in the village Sonkoe in the South of Cameroon, Ntjam grew up dancing and singing to pop music, so after high school in the Netherlands (where she’d moved to at the age of nine), she applied to a music academy in Rotterdam (Codarts).
At first she was rejected, so she decided to study something else. But your passion is your passion, so, at 19, against all advice, she quit studying, found a job, joined a band and took up singing lessons. Terrifying times: “To choose for your passion is one thing, – but what if passion doesn’t choose you? I knew I had it in me, it is my calling. But I was the only one who seemed to know.”
The terrifying times weren’t to end there. She was finally admitted to Codarts, but with the arrogance of youth, her attitude was all wrong. “I had an attitude and thought I knew it all, when in fact nothing I did was good enough. One crucial day they gave me an ultimatum.” She had two weeks for improvement or she would have to leave the academy. The idea of being thrown out of school still makes her shudder. She went through a sort of metamorphosis in those two weeks. Beneath all the pressure and despair she had found a calm spot. She had let go of pretence and that enabled her to show her true beauty. Today she is grateful to Codarts and her strict teachers. “They prepared me for what was to come,” she says. “The music industry is tough and critics are harsh. I deal with them like I did with my teachers. They are only doing their job, sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not.”