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Dr. Moses  N. Fokong poses with a saxophone
Dr. Moses N. Fokong
poses with a saxophone


THE BALI MODERN JAZZ
RIDING THROUGH THE CREST

Ndzong Tafor / Reported by Nico Ngong in Bamenda
Cameroon Life
, August 1990


A quarter century ago, 1956 to be precise, a group of Bali-Nyonga indigenes imbued with musical talents banded together to form the Bali Modern Jazz Orchestra whose central instruments consisted of two guitars, a pair of drums, a horn and bottles (Malaka).

The band sang in Mungaka — the twang of the Bali-Nyongas. Band founder, leader and principal composer, "Dr." Moses Fokong, produced such songs as "Na Mammum O", "Bon Bon", and "Sekele" which became hits in the late 60s and early 70s.

In 1967, the band packed bag and baggage and headed for Buea with the determined intention of recording their songs. Their stay in Buea enabled the band to record some 20 songs in the studios of Radio Cameroon, Buea Station. They soon became the major entertainment group in town when they set up shop at the then famous Standard Bar. Each night, Buea town residents of various ethnic extractions turned out to listen and dance to the music of the Bali Modern Jazz Orchestra.

BALI TO CAMEROON

This patronage from a cross-section of the population encouraged the band to drop the Bali from its name and adopt a national outlook. Bali Modern Jazz Orchestra thus became Cameroon Modern Jazz Orchestra.


The Cameroon Modern Jazz [in 1990]

It was not only a change of name. The group's composition took on a national character as well. Songs were thus composed in two other national languages (Banganté and Metta) and also in the official languages—English and French. Two hit songs "Bochato Nsi" (Let us Pray to God), and a rumba number "Kuru Makab Jim" (She Has Carted Away All My Money) were sung in Banganté and Metta respectively.

Things weren't all that easy-going though. The National Modern Jazz Orchestra toiled against all odds but succumbed in 1972. Today, Dr. Moses Fokong says the band fell apart because of the poor marketing of their products—notably their three 45 r.p.m. records waxed by their record company Afrique Ambiance which was based in Douala. He adds that the non-payment of copyright royalties by SOCADRA was another death wish. However, the group's over-riding problem remains that of a sponsor or producer who could wax more of their songs. Till today, the problem is unattended to.

RESURRECTION

In 1988—sixteen years after their—disbandment, the National Modern Jazz Orchestra picked up the pieces and came back on stage—a real resurrection. Their comeback was inaugurated at the Fon's Palace in Bali and they staged at Bamenda Cultural Center in January 1988. The band is now made up of eight members. Some of the original founders are now taking care of their kids and farms back home in Bali.

Practice sessions are held at Dr. Moses residence at Banja Street, Nkwen, Bamenda. Dr. Moses Fokong who is also a carver, painter and a manufacturer of musical instruments says he is determined to see the National Modern Jazz Orchestra outlive him. The bandís most recent outing on special invitation was on the occasion of this yearís Youth Week when it thrilled an enthusiastic audience at the Bamenda Congress Hall.

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