A conversation with the barrier-breaking artist and label boss, plus the world premiere of his new multilingual banger.
In June of 2015, MTV Base Africa nominated Jovi for a Best Francophone award. That made him, a Cameroonian, a contender in a category reserved for artists from places that had been colonized by French-speaking countries. It’s an arbitrary, almost frustrating criterion when you consider that his “Anglophone” African counterparts were selected according to their style of music. Each year, similar pan-African music award shows roll into town only to flag up the same shortcomings of this homogenous approach to covering a continent whose regions, dialects, and musical subcultures are dizzyingly varied and interconnected.
Jovi’s “Zélé,” the climactic mid-point of his 2015 KORA-nominated sophomore album Mboko God, is like a snapshot of his nuanced aesthetic. Rhyming in Pidgin, French and English, Jovi hat-tips fellow Cameroonian Zele Le Bombardier, an artist who makes an intense strand of regional dance music called Bikutsi. The song is a rallying cry for a positive national self-regard in the face of economic hardships. Per Jovi’s trademark, it combines trap bass and heavy snares with traditional Cameroonian sounds. Jovi also works behind the boards, producing for the diverse roster at his trailblazing New Bell Music. He’s also been collaborating with world-renowned artists like Akon, whose latest “Shine The Light” he co-wrote and produced.
On a recent Friday, I spoke with Ndukong Godlove Nfor, aka Jovi Le Monstre, while he was enjoying some rare downtime in his apartment in the capital city of Douala. Several times during the interview, the phone connection cut out. As we alternated between his two lines, Nfor told me this type of thing is not uncommon, and apparently the electricity is equally erratic. But it's clear obstacles like that do little to douse his primary ambition: to lead his country back to its former artistic glory.