Musicians with albinism in Cameroon have put aside social stigma to actively participate in the country's vibrant arts and culture.
Albinism is a congenital condition in which a person is born without pigment in their skin, eyes, and hair; those born in Cameroon often live discriminated against and without understanding for their condition.
Now, people with albinism are turning to music to convey powerful messages to urge people to resist community pressure to discriminate against albinos.
Ntungwa Njomo Felgani, popularly known as Boy TAG (TAG stands for The Albine Guy, the albino boy) is one of the rising stars of Cameroonian music who takes inspiration from the bad times he went through as an albino to produce beautiful songs .
In June, Global Voices spoke with Boy TAG to hear his motivations:
I chose Boy TAG which means ‘The Albino Guy’because I want to represent albinos, I had to represent who I am and send across positive messages.” In one of his songs called 'Mignoncite,' he encourages people to be proud of who they are. “People should not try to change their colors because they want to be like others – God was not foolish making you that way.
I chose the name Boy TAG (TAG stands for The Albine Guy, the albino boy) because I want to represent albinos, I had to represent who I am and send positive messages. In the song titled “Mignoncite” I encourage people to be proud of who they are; people shouldn't try to change their colors to be like everyone else. God wasn't crazy when He made us like this.
Boy TAG learned this lesson by force; She grew up in Muyuka, a city in southwestern Cameroon, where she faced intimidation and insults for her condition. Added:
It wasn’t easy for me growing up as an albino. A lot of people insulted me – even mothers sent their children to freely insult me in Muyuka, as if it was my fault. It was really not easy, I felt so much hurt – it really hurt. I could have been going through depression back then without even knowing what depression is.
It was not easy for me to grow up as an albino. Many people insulted me, there were even mothers who sent their children to insult me for free in Muyuka, as if it were my fault. It was not easy, I felt very hurt, it hurt a lot. You could have been going through a depression back then without even knowing what depression is.
Here the video of the song “Mignoncite” by Boy TAG:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tAnhGGvn0Q (/ embed)
Mola Mongombe, popular albino music producer, can relate to the Boy TAG story. He works as a promoter, pianist, composer, double bass player and music teacher specializing in Njoku jazz, very special music from Bakweri, his birthplace.
In July, in conversation with Global Voices, Mongombe explained that there are more than 25 different types of music in his land but, in general, people only associate it with chacha music. “I decided that that's going to make people feel like it's not about the language or a particular dance style, it's about the culture, it's something deeper,” he said.
He says he invented the njoku jazz style “to promote everything related to Fako's music … and to make non-Bakweri people feel the music.” You don't always speak directly to your albinism but, as an artist, you are sending the message that albino musicians can make their mark on the industry.
Here's the video for his song “Endale”:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaCUAaGK750 (/ embed)
Stigma, stereotypes and myths
Albinos may be the most discriminated and stigmatized group in Africa, and in particular in Cameroon, according to the online newspaper Mimimefoinfos.
Despite the precious inspirations of Mongombe and other albino musicians in Cameroon, they continue to face the double challenge of succeeding in the competitive music industry and dealing with the perennial stigma attached to their condition.
The stigma comes from deep cultural traditions that consider albinos as “people with mystical powers.” As a result, healers continue to search for albinos “for their hair, nails and other parts of the body”, seriously threatening their lives.
In some areas of Cameroon, “there is a belief that albinos can be sacrificed to the gods or used to cure many diseases,” according to state broadcaster CRTV. In the region to the southwest, where Mount Cameroon volcano sometimes erupts, “albinos were thrown alive into the erupting flames as a sacrifice to the‘ angry ’mountain gods,” according to a report from the same station.
Following the special report of the CRTV, the Ministry of Social Affairs of Cameroon classified albinos as a group of people with special protection needs, under Decree No. 2011/408 of December 9, 2011, which fights against exclusion Social.
Inclusive progress in the arts
In addition to this important measure to protect albinos, the Government also supports local artists through the organization of music festivals that include everyone, including albino artists who promote the arts and cultural heritage.
Grace Ewang, delegate for arts and culture in the south-western region, said that the Festival des Musiques et des Danses Patrimoniales (FESMUDAP), or Festival de las Musicas y Dances Patrimoniales, thanks the artists who value culture and want to “give a first-class treatment of artists, ”during an interview with Global Voices in December 2019.
“We have to work hard so that (the artists) transmit their cultural heritage to the youngest,” he said, referring to FESMUDAP's music training sessions for young people during the holidays.
“I want to tell those who work with traditional music that they should not tremble because they are doing the right thing and we support them to promote the culture of the Southwest region,” Ewang said.
However, Mola Mongombe expressed her concerns to Global Voices, as her own Bakweri people do not really support her art. He remains optimistic knowing that he can count on fans all over the world.