A double woman. To see her evolve in the premises of Young Africa, the measured step, the balanced gesture, the look watching for the approval of his interlocutor, it is hard to believe that it is indeed her, Lady Ponce, the high priestess of the bikutsi, to whom the nickname of “Lady 100,000 Volts”.
Life hasn’t been kind to me
Author, performer and producer, the 38-year-old singer ignited the Olympia stage on September 10 and intends to repeat this performance in Cameroon, where she is expected on December 17 for a concert at the Yaoundé Sports Palace. In the meantime, between two rehearsals, this divorced mother takes advantage of her three children, who have learned to do without her, career requires. “I’m incredibly lucky: they’re very independent, especially my 20-year-old senior. I feel like I’m back in my youth, relying only on myself. They also know that life has not been kind to me…”
You will be a nun, my daughter
When Lady Ponce unfolds the thread of her story, she also gives us, implicitly, that of her father. An orphan taken in at the age of 6 by priests who intended him for orders, but who excommunicated him when they discovered his love affair with the daughter of a chief. Later, as if to expiate “his fault”, he decided that one of his children would dedicate his life to God. It would be his daughter, Adèle Ruffine Ngono, who has since become Lady Ponce. A choice a priori judicious: the youngest of the siblings of twelve children is very pious, and her daily life is punctuated by the prayers and religious songs of the choirs, which she sublimates with her voice of contralto. But Lady Ponce’s mother dies suddenly – poisoning, she claims – and the whole family loses its bearings.
I clung to the music like a lifeline
The future singer then left the institution which prepared her for her life as a nun to explore other horizons, far from the family circle. “I forbade myself to imitate mes sisters, whose life seemed to me tasteless. They were all married at 14. Moreover, when a young man from the village wanted to marry, we systematically told him where we lived. »
The musical adventure of Lady Ponce begins in a group of ndombolo of the Essos district, in Yaoundé. Then comes a period of concerts in cabaret, in the 2000s, with a repertoire leaning more towards Afro-jazz. The 16-year-old girl, who studied with her mother, a singer and leader of village associations, then performed the songs of Miriam Makeba, Angélique Kidjo, Monique Séka, Manu Dibango and Femi Kuti, among others… On demand of her father, the conductor takes her home every evening once her singing tour is over.
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The determination to pursue a career in music only really came to him after the birth of his son in 2002 and the death of his father. “Distraught, jobless and untrained, I clung to music like a lifeline. But being produced was a challenge. You had to be able to make a difference against artists like Kareyce Fotso, who had a head start. Going into bikutsi then became a strategic choice. »
Belly and lower abdomen
With success. The public discovered this declared feminist in 2006 with Belly and lower abdomen, title “composed to avenge a neighbor regularly humiliated by her husband”. Other international successes will follow, uniting African diasporas around the world. Confessions, which underlines the immaturity of men, always quick to remind women of their past when they have had the misfortune to confide in their previous loves. Atomic bomb, the true story (his own) of a love hampered by consumerism. The correspondence with this lover who was trying to win her back gave rise to one of the cult refrains of Central African music: “I give you my heart / I give you my life / And that, and that there / That too, that there, take a gift”, the “that there” suggesting a very precise part of the anatomy…
I would like every African who dances to my music to find the characteristic steps of their country.
Powerful voice, frantic rhythm, the bikutsi of Lady Ponce, like that of her elders of the pre-colonial era, remains an outlet which makes it possible to regain possession of a word of which society persists, even today, in depriving women. However, if Lady Ponce screams her joys, her sorrows and her desires, her bikutsi is not limited, as with some, to raw texts on sexuality and romantic relationships. His songs also exalt tales, fables and proverbs, all sublimated by a very high level Ewondo language.
Fascinated by Sally Nyolo – for her authenticity, her perfect mastery of the Manguissa-Eton language and traditions –, Lady Ponce declares having taken over from Messi Martin, Ebogo Emeran and other Hotheads, who undertook to modernize the bikutsi from the years 1970. Lady Ponce introduced drums characteristic of the Congolese ndombolo, which is reflected in the dance itself. With Lady Ponce, the bikutsi ceases to be an undulation of the back and strikes the ground frantically, she adds the sway of the ndombolo. “I would like every African who dances to my music to find the characteristic steps of their country”, explains the one who also presents herself as the “lioness of Cameroonian and African culture”.
Coupé-décalé, azonto, afrobeats… when African dances set the tempo
In response to those who regret a certain standardization of African dances, the choreographies appearing to be interchangeable throughout the continent, she declares that she sees in it a form of African unity. “The guitar notes present in the music of Manu Dibango or Angélique Kidjo can be found in Singuila as well as in Koffi Olomidé. These are African universal guitars. In 2012, dusting off the bikutsi earned Lady Ponce the first crowned artist for this genre at the Kora Awards.
If she has since accumulated the rewards, her triumph at the Olympia erases a delicate period both in terms of professional only in the personal sphere. In 2020, when his first concert at the Olympia was canceled due to Covid-19, the tumults within his couple had kept social networks in suspense for long weeks. In question, an outing of her husband, God Cyclone, who confessed to having trapped her and having discovered her infidelities, revealing the names of her alleged lovers, including bass-baritone Jacques-Greg Belobo. Before mingling in public apologies a few days later.
“A sketch”, sweeps the singer. And she will say no more about the affair, evoking, enigmatically, the need, when one is famous, to ensure one’s back by signing a contract before getting into a relationship, just to “protect oneself from unscrupulous husbands who have nothing to lose”. For this mother, who until then had been rather discreet about her private life, the hardest part was seeing her eldest son shaken by the attitude of the man who was then his stepfather.
Libel, ad hominem attacks and social media clashes are now an integral part of artistic life
During this chaotic period, the taunts and harshest remarks came from the bikutsi milieu, which, according to Lady Ponce, “can be wonderful” but also sometimes proves “diabolical”. “Defamations, ad hominem attacks and clashes on social networks are now an integral part of artistic life”, regrets Lady Ponce. She thus evokes a “small group” of singers who formed on social networks, united by the common hatred they have for her. Claiming to be persecuted, the young woman resolved to file a complaint in court against one of her colleagues – whom she refuses to name – for defamation, false denunciation and damage to her image.
The grievances against Lady Ponce are numerous. “And whimsical,” she insists. Some accuse him of intervening with Samuel Eto’o so that he does not support them, others of being close to activists from the Brigade anti-sardinards (BAS), a movement opposed to the Yaoundé regime which prevents artists, suspected of colluding with the “enemy”, from performing in the diaspora. Lady Ponce’s concerts are unfettered, which some consider to be proof of her duplicity. “Charlotte Dipanda’s shows and those of X-Mayela are not boycotted either. Yet no one accuses them of having bribed the BAS, “says the author of not guilty, who sees only one explanation: jealousy.
No question of displaying a facade sorority; I keep my distance
“If you ask me with which female bikutsi artist of equivalent level to mine I dream of doing a featuring, I would answer you: none. I’m honest: no question of displaying a facade sorority; I keep my distance. Some young people nevertheless find favor in his eyes, like ” [sa] sister Amazon” and Tchakala VIP, whom she invited to the Olympia stage, thus giving them great visibility.
It’s her way of doing politics. Because, in Cameroon, political politics does not make you want. “Can we claim to do so in a country where we have neither the freedom to think nor to say? Worse, tribalism is embedded everywhere, and any debate becomes tribal, so what’s the point? Knight of the Order of Value since 2014, Lady Ponce invests the social field. She claims to have been inspired by the achievements of A’salfo in Côte d’Ivoire to create the Sefedi festival (Week of the woman in diamonds), intended to promote women, which is held at Planète Ponce, a cabaret of 2 000 seats in the suburbs of Yaoundé.
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Another subject holds his attention: the question of copyright. “Cameroon is probably the only country in the world to have three ‘operational’ copyright societies. An aberration that seems to suit everyone, when it would be necessary to carry out an audit and designate a single provider to take care of the distribution of rights. We have to believe that this ambient disorder suits some people: the money supposed to go back to the artists can vanish with impunity. »