The flyer says it all. Something is about to happen. Our very own Oliver Asaah is all set to rock our world. Not in the negative sense, though! But in a typical show-man way. Yes, Oliver launches his first musical album on Saturday March 26, 2016 right here in the DMV (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) neighborhood.
As a prelude to the launching, I sat down with this emerging musical talent to talk about Oliver the man, Oliver the writer, Oliver the artist, and Oliver the son of Lebialem. Sit back, take a deep breath, grab your favorite beverage and get acquainted with this Maestro:
QUESTION: To set the ball rolling, can you tell us something about yourself? Where you were born, where you went to school, some fun childhood memories.
OA : I was born in Minka City in Njentse village in Lebang clan, Lebialem Division, in the South West Region of Cameroon, on August 1, 1967. There were no nearby clinics at the time so I was born at home.
I was enrolled into the Njentse Catholic Mission Primary School but was soon withdrawn to babysit. I ended up spending two years at home babysitting two siblings before going back to school.
I later attended Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College Fontem, a Catholic Mission boarding secondary school where I earned my GCE Ordinary Level papers in 1985 and proceeded to Government Bilingual High School, Molyko Buea where I obtained the GCE Advanced Level papers in 1987.
I was admitted into Law School in the University of Yaoundé from where I graduated in 1990. Being the son of a businessman I decided to go into business.
I started as an insurance sales person in Douala, and then proceeded to work at the SGBC Bank. After acquiring skills in how business works, I partnered with a business friend to launch a retail business with two branches in Douala and Limbe.
In 1996, I went solo by founding the MOTEMA Glass Masters, specializing in glassworks. When a family member whom I had sent to train as an engineer dropped the ball, I knew it was time to never invest in a business wherein one had to depend heavily on a third party’s expertise for the survival of the outfit (or venture).
I therefore liquidated the business and went to a customs broker’s school from where I graduated with honors. I founded and launched MOTEMA Customs Brokers in 2000 – a business that helped importers and exporters in clearing their merchandise from the port. That business employed two assistants.
I initiated the Customs Brokers Union, elaborated its constitution and conducted elections for a governing bureau within six months.
My father, Asaah Fominka, later Nkemamin, had a big compound on top of the hill, in his gigantic fenced compound. He was a farmer rearing goats and sheep.
Early in the morning he would make a sound and all the animals would assemble in the yard and he would give them salt before letting them off into the fields to feed. One fateful morning when I was about 6 years old, I was standing at the veranda as he performed the animal salt ritual.
I sighted an airplane flying in the sky and imagined that passengers on board were singing a song and enjoying themselves. I instantly composed a song and started singing and dancing to my own composition.
As the song reached its climax, I sang and danced all the more. As I nodded back and forth in my excitement, I did not notice a big ram approach.
I assume the ram thought I was challenging him to knock horns so it came straight at me and knocked me off balance. I landed on my back among the animals. Dazed and confused, I thought it was my brother Columbus who had pushed me over.
But on looking around, Columbus was nowhere in the vicinity. Rather it was my father who stood there with a good laugh on his face.
I learned my lesson; but that didn’t stop me from singing and dancing. I just had to make sure there was no ram around to knock me off.
QUESTION: That’s quite a story. All being told, and listening to you, one is tempted to conclude that you learned a lot from your elders (especially your father) when you were growing up.
OA: Sure, I learned a lot from my parents growing up. The most important and memorable lesson from my father was and remains to never be envious, jealous of or belittle other people’s belongings; instead, to emulate and even do better than them.
Another very vital lesson, he gave me was and is to be accountable and always know that trust in someone or something does not exclude crosschecking to make sure all is well.
One day, he handed me some money as part of my tuition when I was in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. When I tried to shove the money into my pocket, he yelled at me so hard I nearly passed out.
I had not counted the money in front of him to confirm the amount. He advised me to always count money that is given to me right there in front of whoever gave to me to make sure the amount was accurate.
I learned hard work, selflessness, and humility from my mother.
QUESTION: So what would you say was number one thing you learned growing up?
OA: The number one thing I learned growing would be character. Character is the embodiment of the holistic human being. It is the most important of the three defining elements of a person, the other two being behavior and attitude; I call them the ABCs of life.
My parents taught me and all my 24 siblings to be people of integrity; to do what you say you would do, and to be true to yourself and respectful to others and their values. I thank God for giving me parents who were and are my role models even long after they have departed into the heavenly grace.
Question: Now, here you are living in the United States, thousands of miles from your roots. How are you putting into practice some of those things you learned growing up?
OA: In the United States, I strive to stay sane and true to my culture and some of the vital lessons I learned as mentioned above. For a number of years, I trained Lebialem youths on traditional dance and had them perform at conventions and at the Cameroon Cultural Festival. I have been instructing youths at the Cultural and Diversity Enrichment Services center (CADES-USA) since 2009 on leadership, entrepreneurship, music, and dance.
CADES-USA is a not-for-profit organization that trains youth ages ten to eighteen on how to blend their culture of origin with the resident culture and also teaches the USA-born kids on cultural diversity.
As a writer and a life coach, I am passing down the rich culture and wisdom I learned from my parents and society as I grew up. I decided to start the Daily Cup of Tea, a kind of journal I write almost every day as a motivational or coaching piece.
These pieces are published on e-groups, social media and other portals. These writings are having quite an impact on the readers and society as a whole. The feedback I get from readers is enormous.
I did not know how much of an impact my writings were having on society until I skipped some editions and people sent me numerous personal emails, text messages and SMS, and in-boxed me to find out what was happening with the Daily Cup of Tea.
This is just one of the ways I use to give back to people and society. That has earned me yet another nickname: “Daily Cup of Tea” in addition to some eight nicknames I already had.
Question: That brings us to this: you are a publisher now. What inspired you and what are you doing to pass down writing skills to younger generations?
OA: In fact, I co-authored my first book in 2010. In 2014, I wrote and released “The Broken Bond,” my first solo book. “The Broken Bond” is a personal true story on a failed relationship depicting what happened, why it happened, what I did about it and what others can learn and avoid in similar circumstances.
It also delves into what has become a cankerworm ravishing relationships in the western world; especially within the African immigrant community.
I have created the Legacy Writers Society to help encourage people to write and publish their stories. Often, people have compelling stories and/or expertise that they would like to write but they either do not have the time or the gift to sit down and write a book.
The Legacy Writers Society comes in to fill that gap; we have ghost writers that will help people in need and indeed write their stories for them and they will pay an affordable fee and publish and own all their intellectual rights to the works as though they personally wrote such books.
Question: You are poised to launch into a whole new arena. I mean, you are branching off into music, what inspired you?
OA: When I was in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College Fontem, we had social evenings every Saturday and grand socials every now and then. In 1984, the school invited the Divisional Officer, the school authorities and other administrative officials to a grand social.
There was a dance competition. At one point the song was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The dance floor was full and they started the elimination process. Gradually, two couples were left on the floor; my best friend Charles with his partner and my partner and I.
I thought to myself, now is time to ignite and shine conspicuously. I danced Michael Jackson’s Moon Walk. At that time I didn’t know the name of the dance style.
Finally, I took first place. Before the prize was handed to me by the Divisional Officer, Mr. Ama, the MC interviewed me. I spoke in French to the surprise of everyone.
In fact I said, “ça, c’est le secret du serpent” meaning, that is the secret of the serpent,” – my mimicking the meandering movements of the serpent. That earned me the nickname: “Serpent” pronounced in French. That’s to say that music has always been in my blood.
I am a lover of music. I came to discover that no matter how much money one makes or whatever position one attains in society, one never really gets satisfaction until one follows ones passion and more so, until one’s talents become an obsession.
QUESTION: The typical Nweh-Mundani man from years gone by looked low on those who played the guitar and/or similar modern musical instruments. Don’t you think you are defying traditional beliefs that those who go into music cannot make money?
OA: The age old belief in Lebialem that there is no money in music is now archaic. That same belief is responsible for the fact that the musical talents in me since five years old were never encouraged let alone developed.
I would probably be a musical legend today had that mentality not existed. It was a similar attitude towards sports. The realities are different today and I see diversity in endeavours happening more and more in the Lebialem community.
There is so much money to be made in the entertainment industry. As a matter of fact, apart from the Information Technology industry, one only has the sports and music (entertainment) industries wherein one can make unlimited income depending on ones know-how, hard work and strategy.
One has to discover ones talents; sharpen them with skill and knowledge to harness tremendous success. One has to know ones niche and one’s audience and then strive to satisfy their needs.
In my fifties today, I am starting a musical career. God willing, that will show proof that what the mind conceives, believes and acts upon will always come to fruition.
Hopefully, this sheds light on and gives a glimmer of hope not just to Lebialem folks but to the world at large that age is only in the mind and as perceived and redirected by the beholder.
When it comes to talent (or giftedness), age is not an issue. On the contrary, it could be an asset in terms of the maturity that often comes with age.
QUESTION: And so, I understand you are launching a musical album very soon. When and where is the carpet being rolled out?
OA: The red carpet rolls out on Saturday, March 26, 2016 from 6pm to 3am. The Minka Systems premier album launch takes place at the West Bowie Village Event Center: 13711 Old Annapolis Road, Bowie, Maryland 20720 USA.
QUESTION: Is it going to be just a Washington, D.C. event or are you casting your sights at other cities and, maybe countries?
OA: Confirmed guests are coming from about 15 states, Canada and Europe so far. Lots of African celebrities and VIPs are confirmed to be in attendance. That will be my grand premier album launch.
QUESTION: Writer, musician, traditionalist, and the list continue, where or what is your limit?
OA: As I said earlier, when it comes to giftedness, there is no limit. The human being is created with multiple talents; some are primary, others are secondary. A lot of people do not get to discover their core talents and instead focus on their secondary talents or work so hard on activities that are not their strength.
No wonder, they get burnt out so soon and sometimes they just give up. I took time to discover my core talents: speaking; writing, and music. I realized that I seamlessly applied these talents for about four decades but never monetized them.
Later, I discovered that I just needed to hone those talents with knowledge and skill and the sky will be my limit. That is what I have done. I now teach students at CADES-USA on how to discover their talents and monetize them.
I also coach on these values. By the way, there are four ways on how to discover one’s talents: Spontaneity; Satisfaction, Yearning and Rapid Learning. More of my stories will he heard on March 26. Some of the speeches I have given around the country are on my YouTube channel as well as some of my songs.
My entire album will be available on iTunes, MTN, Spotify, sound cloud etc. as of April 2016. My latest book, “The Broken Bond” is available on amazon.com and hard copies will be available on March 26, at the album launch event.
QUESTION: What message are you communicating in your writings and musical compositions?
OA: The message I share in my writings, speeches and music is simple. I realized that we live in a world filled with negativity and cutthroat competition like never before seen. You don’t have to put someone down in order to go up.
Unfortunately, this, what I will call ‘crabbish’ attitude is very common nowadays! I believe in abundance mentality; there is more than enough for everyone in the universe to get a share.
All people need to do is to step out of their comfort zones, stand out for themselves, plan their work and work their plan after setting SMARTER Goals. The problem is that a lot of people want their desires to be handed to them on a platter of gold; that will never happen.
I also share the spirit of cooperation, collaboration and corroboration in families, with friends and in communities. We are great as a team not as individuals; no one has ever done anything great alone.
QUESTION: Lebialem’s particular genre is somehow related to the “Bottle Dance” of our North West neighbors. But here you are branching off to something else. Why the emphasis on Salsa?
OA: Pierre Tchana is unarguably the father of Cameroon salsa. He was my personal friend. He passed on rather untimely as many people would say. But I don’t believe in untimely death; there is only the age of maturity and that is the age at which one dies whether young or old. This philosophy calls for urgency in fulfilling our life purpose because there is not much time until we pass on.
I made my own decision to leave my mark or legacy in my writings, speeches and music. The vast majority of people die with their music still in them. That is why the cemetery is the richest place anywhere you visit in the world; the people buried there went without fulfilling their life purpose; that is what I mean by dying with their music still in them.
Anyway, Pierre Tchana left a vacuum in the genre; other artists have tried to fill it but it is wanting! I am a music junkie but truly a salsa lover and dancer. I believe I am going to fill that vacuum to the best of my abilities and do more by venturing into other music genres as it will be seen in the diversity of my premier album.
That album: “Life Is Not A Given”, consists of 8 songs and three instrumentals: Three salsa, one zouk, one soul (blues), one makossa, one classic rock and one Hiphop-rap song.
The medium of communication is Nweh, English, French, Pidgin English and Spanish. In my subsequent albums, I will ex-ray the Lebialem culture as it was when I grew up including my life stories especially childhood adventures and experiences.
Then I will bring forth my contribution to Cameroon and Africa leadership and the way forward for Africa emergence. Finally, I will tackle the business community and motivation by bringing sound into principles and success strategies such as never seen before; it will be a new application of music.
QUESTION: That is surely an ambitious goal. So, what is your last word?
OA: The launching of my premier album: “Life Is Not A Given” on March 26, 2016, will complete my three course dish: Writing; Speaking, and Music. These are my core talents so I do not struggle at them.
I have harnessed and embellished them with knowledge and skill. You will never excel at your talent until you have learnt as much relevant information as possible; skill comes through consistent and persistent practice.
From April 2016, the Minka Systems is open for bookings to perform at conventions, parties, business forums, fundraisers, life concerts and all kinds of events.
In fact we already have bookings in 2016 as follows: May, two bookings, June two bookings and one booking in September. December, 2016 is live events in Cameroon cities. Plans are underway to do an East and West Africa tour in 2017.
The thing that keeps me fired up is the passion I have for impacting lives. I am able to accomplish the things I have thus far because I believe in forgiveness and letting go past hurts.
I also re-programmed my subconscious mind using a technique I share in “The Broken Bond.” That has turned my life around because that exercise unshackled longstanding negative programs encoded in my subconscious mind that had been holding me down since childhood.
I encourage everyone to forgive those who offend them for their own good and re-program their subconscious mind so as to enjoy a paradigm shift like never before.
Thank you Oliver. Passion, drive, a burning desire to impact lives; an unquenchable desire to impart knowledge, and a firm commitment to inspire others. Sterling qualities embodied in one of your own: Oliver Asaah. Good luck!