Vernyuy Tina and Witty Minstrel both come from the war-torn Anglophone North-West region of Cameroon. The two artists belong to the Nso community and even though they have been unable to perform in, or even visit, their homeland for several years, they are both determined to keep the rich Nso culture alive.
The ongoing conflict has cost many lives and forced thousands to flee their homes.
“Every sensitive person from the English regions of Cameroon has been affected,” says Vernyuy Tina.
“It is so, so painful not to be able to go back home,” agrees Witty Minstrel.
“Can you imagine doing music out of home? Nso is where my inspiration comes from. I can’t perform in my own home town. There are so many people who would like to see me but I can’t go there.”
Vernyuy Tina features on the remix of Witty Minstrel’s hit Be Proud, which he wrote as a way of helping his shattered people feel better about themselves and remember the good things they have – including a strong musical tradition and a unique style of dressing.
“Now that we cannot go back to where we come from, I am trying to make sure that the cultural part of where we come from stays alive,” he says.
“The first thing is the Njang music, which is a cultural music that is played throughout the North-West. My goal is to make that music go worldwide.”
Witty Minstrel is particularly keen that young displaced Cameroonians should watch his videos so as not to lose connection with their roots.
“If you watch my videos you will see everything we grew up seeing in Nso land and I think it is helping, because when I came to the UK and had a show for the Nso community in Birmingham I found that the kids were so into tradition, so I am congratulating our parents here.”
Vernyuy Tina has coined the phrase AfroNjang to describe her blend of traditional north-west rhythms and other Afro sounds.
She feels vindicated because she is beginning to get international recognition. She was named best female artiste from Central Africa at the Afrima All Africa Music Awards 2022.
“When I hear African music in our local language it really makes me happy, and keeping that Africanism and not trying to be like other continents is something that means a lot to me.”
“I was so happy [to win the Afrima award]. I want to succeed in this genre to give hope to other people who just want to be themselves and original. You don’t have to change for anybody.”