Congratulations to Wax Dey, Ladybrille Man of the Month May 2010, who is now a presenter/host on Good Morning Africa, Africa’s biggest TV breakfast show on DSTV’s Channel 114 (Africa Magic)
Wax Dey (formerly Wax) presents lifestyle and entertainment segments on the show’s Weekender, which broadcasts throughout Africa every Friday through Sunday.
He is expected to use his wide experience of the African continent to add flavor to Good Morning Africa, and bring in more viewers and interaction, particularly with French-speaking countries. Read our May 2010 interview with Wax republished below.
WAX, Ladybrille Man of the Month
by Uduak Oduok
What makes a brilliant man? Is it his intelligence, creativity, talents, looks? Is it his commitment to humanitarian causes? His fearlessness in challenging the status quo? For WAX, our Ladybrille Man of the Month, it is all of the above plus as he puts it, “a (readiness) to seize an opportunity and make the most of it; and the ability to know what to say to make a lady smile even if she just broke her stiletto heel.”
Wax aka Nde Ndifonka was born in 1981 in Bamenda, Cameroon a place known for its radical politics. As early as three years old, Wax had already begun a love affair with music. At eleven (11) he was making hit songs for his college mates at Sacred Heart boarding school in Cameroon where he attended college. In 1997 and at age 16, Wax entered Law School at the University of Buea. Bringing the enthusiasm and culture of his college days at Sacred Heart College, he along with some of his ex-college mates who were also in law school with him, created a show business culture at the law school where Wax wrote music, performed and organized music concerts.
Wax graduated law school and later moved to South Africa to pursue his music career. Since then, he has gained a reputation as a social activist, humanitarian, writer and musician. LADYBRILLE caught up with Wax, our Man of the Month to discuss his passion for music and the business of music, among many topics.
LADYBRILLE: When did you discover your talent for music?
WAX: I had an interest in music from an early age- 3, 4 maybe. We used to watch a video cassette of the Motown 25th anniversary celebration at home quite often, so I got used to the sound of the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, Linda Ronstadt, the 4 Tops, the Temptations and so forth. This led to an interest in the guitar, and out of curiosity, I got my dad to teach me three chords that I built on through self-tutoring. I (later) started watching other guitarists and following what I heard on radio in order to improve myself. I used to listen to this Cameroonian artist called Henri Dikongue and mimic some of the stuff he was doing.
Subsequently, I developed my own style of play. But I really only discovered I had a talent for music in boarding school back in Cameroon. I wrote a song when I was about 11 years old, “Far Away,” and it became a hit among my classmates. Then I started taking myself seriously. Several years later, the song won a prize during a state song competition. I still play and write a lot of music by ear. Up to the point where I recorded my first CD, I have never played with a band or with other musicians, and all my performances prior to that was solo. But the moment I got with a band, I had no problem clicking and even improvising.
LADYBRILLE: You’ve got so much soul in your music. . . how would you describe your music?
WAX: Soul. African Soul with a touch of R&B.
LADYBRILLE: Before we really get far into our interview, I am curious your view on Africa’s musical mark on the global scene?
WAX: Africa I think has contributed a lot more to the global music scene than it is given credit for. I always say what we call urban pop music has its roots in Africa. African World music is rich and palatable to every audience – however, it is not often given the platform to compete against other brands. During the period of decolonization, African music had a strong international presence because it was a tool of expression of the issues of the time. African musicians seemed to have moved from that expressionism, and I think that has affected African music rather adversely in that the pop culture genres has disproportionately shadowed the more local genres that do have potential.
LADYBRILLE: Back to your music and your personal background. I note you are from Cameroon but based in South Africa (SA). How did you end up in SA?
WAX: I never really thought that I would move out of Cameroon. But in 2001, I represented the University of Buea, Cameroon at the All African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. When I arrived here, I fell in love with the country, and I decided to come study in South Africa. So in August 2002, I returned to do a Masters degree at Wits University. While studying, I started performing in order to pay my bills, and then the world of music in South Africa opened up to me. When I finished my course several months later, I knew I wanted to pursue music professionally.
LADYBRILLE: You are now pursuing music professionally, especially in SA. What’s the SA music scene like?
WAX: South African music itself is diverse and beautiful, ranging from pop, urban, house, traditional and jazz etc. The quality of the music is also quite good, and the hip-hop genre particularly has grown tremendously both in terms of commercial success and quality since I first arrived in South Africa. I like the fact that urban genres such as Kwaito and Motswako (a genre of hip-hop from the northern areas of the country) have adopted a local flavor and created avenues to promote a unique urban culture. However, South Africa is yet to warm up to music from other parts of Africa. Growing up in West Africa and visiting other countries, the one thing I think South Africa lacks is enough exposure to the urban music of the other parts of the continent. Similarly, South African musicians do not do enough to exploit the following they have in other parts of Africa.
LADYBRILLE: Speaking of music from other parts of the continent, what is the music scene in your country of origin like?
WAX: It is very lively. Cameroon has a very powerful ‘cabaret’ (live music bars) culture and the performances there are always stellar. Visitors in cities such as Douala and Yaoundé can always be assured of good entertainment. Of course, Cameroon is renowned for world-class bassists such as Richard Bona and Etienne Mbappe, but the beauty of Cameroonian music is that the different regions of the country have successfully created distinct local genres that have an international flavor. However, quality music produces and production facilities are still lacking in the country, and many of the top artists who can afford it resort to going to Western countries to produce music for local consumption. Personally, I would love to see an improvement in local production capacity and also see more artists exploit the good production facilities available in South Africa, which is closer and cheaper.
LADYBRILLE: What is your hope for Cameroon’s music industry?
WAX: I would like to see an improvement in music production and music writing and composition. Cameroon has a lot of talent and this can be exploited even more. I am working with US producer and multi-Grammy Award winner, Gordon Williams, on a project ‘The Music Embassy’ that aims to address this. We are working on using his contacts and experience that has worked wonders for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Damian Marley, and Jay Z among many others, to help elevate some Cameroonian artists as well.
LADYBRILLE: That is all very exciting news! Going back to your music, you have such cross over appeal even within South Africa. How easy was it for you to create a sound that appears to resonate with thousands?
WAX: It has not been easy crossing over into the South African music market. My first commercial release ‘African Soul’ was praised by many critics. It even featured on the South African Music Expo compilation for 2008. The compilation also featured another song that I produced for a local artist, Peggy, however, the genre of the CD was a bit too Cameroonian and folkloric and so it was not well commercially accepted. With my new album, African Dream, I shifted into a more urban sound, and it paid off because commercial radio stations took note and started supporting it. However, I managed to keep my unique acoustic and Cameroonian flavor, which I think works in distinguishing me from other artists.
Now I am venturing into collaboration with local artists and taking bolder steps into genres such as House and hip-hop, which are more easily accepted by the public. This has had the result of giving me wider audiences. It has been a tough journey, and I am sure there are tough times ahead, but form the point I became a brand ambassador for the City of Johannesburg, I realized that people were taking note, and that the hardest part was over.
LADYBRILLE: Thank God. The hardest part is over but I have to take you down memory lane, a bit. (Laughs) Share with us some challenges from the view of an independent artist that you have had?
WAX: I have had personal and general challenges. My first personal challenge is that my alter ego, Nde Ndifonka became a familiar face in the media quite quickly. As a result, people were, and are still sometimes generally unwilling to accept Wax, the musician, or they think that I am trying to ride on my success as Nde to do music.
Fortunately, the music has spoken for itself. On the other hand, I faced general challenges such as securing a record deal. I became an independent artist because I could not get a record deal. That meant I had to raise funds for me recording, as well as promotion of my product, and even after such big expenses, many people do not take you seriously if you are not back by a big company. The big companies also have the habit of filling up promotional space so that indies are left with very little. For example, Universal Music signed a contract wit a TV station under which they could play only Universal artists. This is just one graphic example, but such examples abound and it is a tough space to be in.
My first album was not distributed because no one would stock an indie artist without any backing. The album “African Soul’ was licensed to SHEER Sound, but even with a license, a lot of responsibility still rests on you as the artist if you want to see your project go far. That is why I decided to release ‘African Dream’ on my own. The status quo has changed again, and I am licensing my upcoming release, ‘African Dream Reloaded’ to SHEER Sound again. I need to keep assessing the situation to see what would work best for me – if I were signed to a big company, I would only have to worry about making good music. But even the major labels come with their own numerous challenges, and the truth is that the happiest musicians nowadays are independent artists.
LADYBRILLE: Intriguing with the Universal deal. Many artists I come across are very worried about getting screwed. Fill us in from that point of view?
WAX: I think a lot of artists are so eager to see their music released that they would do anything and sign any kind of contract. They end up being screwed. The key is to inform yourself and know what you are getting into, so that you have no surprises along the way. Artists need to get the habit of getting legal representatives to worry about that. I studied law so I generally handle my own contracts, and even help advise other artists. It is also vital to understand basic rules of engagement and revenue streams in the music industry – publishing, master rights, CD sales, and even new (in Africa) streams such as needle-time. This information often makes the difference between a rich musician and a struggling artist.
LADYBRILLE: Since you are giving us tips, which we are gladly taking, share with us more tips on how unsigned artists can manage themselves as artists?
WAX: DO not wait for things to happen. There are too few fairy tales in the music industry – generally you have to sweat it out. And the bigger you get, the more challenging it will become so you need to brace yourself and quit thinking that the life of an artist is as rosy as music videos depict. Because I could not afford a management team at first, I had to build my own website, draw up mailing lists, and liaise with promoters and radio stations. Along the line help comes and you should use all the help you can get. Companies find it easier to deal with proactive artists. Not everything will work out, but you always have to be ready to dust yourself up and start afresh. I have only been in music professionally for a few years, so I learn a lot every day and I use all the lessons I learn to improve my game.
LADYBRILLE: On your ‘African Dream’ album, you’ve got a track ‘Miss Real, Mr. Regular’ which I absolutely loved. Explain what the story on that album is all about?
WAX: ‘Miss Real, Mr Regular’ is the first single off the album ‘African Dream’. The song itself is a love song that praises the women behind the lives of superstars. It says that stardom is a hype, but what these people mean to them, that is real! The song is also a metaphor – we should not always forget our true values and the things that really matter in life, as we get more and more popular; because at the end of the show, you do not go home to groupies, but to the loving arms of that special person.
The album itself is about my personal growth. I came to a point in my life where I realized that I was not really putting in my best, and I wanted to encourage other Africans like myself to have the courage to dream and to work to achieve those dreams. The title track ‘African Dream’ is an auto-biographic song about my move to South Africa and the challenges I faced growing up as a young African, which I must now put behind me to fulfill my God-given potential. Some of the songs, such as ‘Faraway’, ‘Ali gets his arms’ and ‘Help Someone’ reflect my work and experiences in the humanitarian domain.
LADYBRILLE: How long did it take to complete your album?
WAX: I conceived the themes for just over a year, but the recording itself was done in a period of two weeks.
LADYBRILLE: What is the creative process like for you?
WAX: Usually I start with a melody. With the melody come lyrics, often based on my experiences of what I see happening around me at the time I am conceiving that particular song. I would generally write the lyrics in my head as I drive around or as I do other business, and just before recording it, I will write down the entire song. Sometimes, I start with a few guitar riffs or piano motifs and make the song as I go along, but I almost always do most of the writing in my head. A few times, I have dreamt melodies and woken up with a song, I think it is because I am slightly schizophrenic. Recently, I have gotten into the habit of going into the studio and writing a song from scratch in a few minutes but that is because as I get more involved in the industry, I am getting less and less time to write and produce more and more music for myself, my artist, and for collaborations.
LADYBRILLE: One of the reasons you were perfect as our Ladybrille Man of the Month and to grace our cover is your love for charity and humanitarian acts. Where did this deep love come from?
WAX: I discovered I had a passion for people when I was quite young – in fact my first song was about street children. I just found myself always thinking and writing about such issues. My studies also focused on human rights, but I really got into the thick of things when I worked for the International Organization for Migration as a counter-trafficking specialist. I met probably hundreds of young women who were enslaved in prostitution, and it flipped things for me. It was tough dealing with some of the realities. These personal experiences have, I think, changed me forever as I now have a deep appreciation of different kinds of burdens that vulnerable women and children in the world carry. With that comes a natural commitment to be of service to people because all around us, people always need help.
LADYBRILLE: What do you say to artist trying to get to where you are?
WAX: If you want to get where I am, look where I am, and think to get way ahead of where I am.
LADYBRILLE: What next for you, what next for WAX?
WAX: I am setting up the Wax Foundation, which will focus on promoting primary and tertiary education in Africa. I believe education is key to addressing many of challenges we face in Africa. I am also expanding my record label, Lolhiphop Records by getting more into urban genres. The latest artist form my stable is South African Motswako rapper, Motso, who has produced three big hits within three months of being signed. May is also a significant month for me – I begin a new assignment as Visibility Consultant for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations this month.
Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.