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08/02/2019
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Moken: Missing Chapters — tributes and responses

Moken: Missing Chapters — tributes and responses
The Cameroon-born singer’s latest is part follow-up, part outtakes from the earlier album
David Honigmann AUGUST 2 2019

The Cameroon-born singer Moken moved to the US as a fashion-obsessed student to study design, an experience that has not been altogether positive for him: he has variously been forced to live out of his car (remembered here on “Walking Man”) and imprisoned on trumped-up charges (later dismissed) after a dispute with a subsequent landlord. Along the way, in partnership with Detroit’s African diaspora, he recorded an album, Chapters Of My Life, produced by his fellow Cameroonian and fellow fashionista Blick Bassy. Missing Chapters, which sees him relocated to Atlanta, is part follow-up, part outtakes from the earlier album.

Moken’s singing voice and style — which he credits to a mixture of influences from Nina Simone to Van Morrison, all absorbed during his childhood in the entrepôt of Limbe — is a resonant baritone, but mannered and fractured, somehow always at odds with his songs, less Afrofuturist than alien. The best of the material here has an easy sway: “Your Sun Is Rising” starts with a guitar strum and a trumpet vamp, but Moken’s singing is a burbling, falsetto approximation of Sarah Vaughan. “U NIa” has a rolling desert blues riff and a spoken teaching parable of fishermen abandoning their own village and its inhabitants taking responsibility for their own lives. “Retro Africa” is a busy shuffle in tribute to Africa’s musical heroes, with an extended segue through Mory Kante’s “Yeke Yeke”, a shout out to Fela Kuti and, especially, “Soul Makossa”, the 1972 hit for Moken’s countryman and role model Manu Dibango (appropriated by Michael Jackson for “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”).

There is soaring electric guitar on “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, sadly, not the Tears for Fears song of the same name, but a long sarcastic riff on the notion. On the other hand, “Sing The Song” is a response to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”, which Moken used to hear being played by street musicians in Cameroon, exposure that led to him playing a lot of Marley’s repertoire. Both here and on “Mi Amor” (one of the songs that failed to make the first album) the sound is brightened by Marla Feeney’s flute — an extended jazzy cadenza at the end of the album, fluttering like a bird above a brutal, metallic field of ngoni and her own violin.

★★★☆☆

‘Missing Chapters’ is released by MoodSwings