Meet Blanche Bailly, a dynamic singer-songwriter who is putting Cameroon on the map one bop at a time.
Nigeria’s supposed monopoly on Afrobeats and more broadly, African music, is one of the continent’s most debated topics. The majority of the entertainment exports from Africa are either directly influenced by or share credit with Nigerian practitioners. In recent history, some of the artists who have spoken on the issue are Ghanaian rappers Stonebwoy and Shatta Wale, two artists guilty of frequently collaborating with Nigerians who are deeply rooted in our aesthetic. Considering the growth of genres like Afrobeats and Highlife over the past half-decade, it makes sense that individuals want to stake claims of antecedence. A “who landed on the moon first” dilemma if you will. Ironically, African genres have traveled across the continent in interesting ways; Highlife from Ghana to Nigeria, Amapiano from South Africa to Nigeria and soukous from Central to West Africa. The unfortunate effect of such competition is the omission of entire regions from the conversation. Central Africa’s time in the global spotlight seems to be over despite the efforts of stalwarts like Kofo Olomide, Awilo Longomba, Richard Bona and Salif Keita. However, a young crop of artists from the region are doing what they can to put Central Africa back on the map and few are doing it with the vibrancy of Cameroon’s Blanche Bailly.
Largely considered one of the most talented artists from the region, her consistency and work ethic have taken her further than just talent. Coming a long way from her early days as a UK artist of African descent, her decision to center Cameroon and Africa as her key audience is finally beginning to pay dividends. With a feature from Nigerian super producer Rexxie on A True Champion, his debut album, Blanche subtly crossed over into the Nigerian market. Her first attempt at the feat happened on Shaydee’s album from 2019, Shaydee Business. More recently, work on her debut album is in full swing with the lead-up single featuring Joe Boy titled “Mine” released a couple of weeks ago.
The multilingual singer-songwriter often flexes her linguistic muscles on her features, dithering between French and English. Born in Cameroon and raised in France, her current flexibility is one of the biggest challenges she’s had to overcome so far. “When I moved to France, I couldn’t speak a word of French, most people assume since you’re from Cameroon that you can speak French but most people don’t know we speak English too.” Blanche shares. Spending most of her time writing covers to hit songs grew her songwriting skills early on and gave her the first opportunity at getting noticed. “I used to record covers and upload to YouTube back in the day. However, her time as a performer began much earlier. “I must have been 15 or 16 when I wrote this song for my uncle. He was getting married and the minute he heard it, he had me performing it at his wedding.”
Speaking on influences once again, Bailly credits the Nigerian community she embedded in during her time in the UK. “My first releases were so Nigerian, in terms of language at least. You know the pidgin we speak is different from Nigerian Pidgin and that seeped into my sound early on” she points out. However, the need to identify with her point of origin outweighed the need to be heard. “At the point when I started music, I realized the importance of being known by my people. I’m big in Cameroon now and I’m trying to expand, but back then the goal was blowing up. Coming back helped with that and I tell everyone who’s over there trying to blow up, you need to come back and be closer to the source” she shares.
Describing working on her album as one of the most validating moments she’s had in her career, Blanche takes care to step back and evaluate how far she’s come and how much further she has to go. “When I was in Nigeria to work on the project, I touched base with a bunch of producers I didn’t know and never met and I held my own. People ended up telling me how much they liked my work, that was a lot for me.”
Pursuing music for the better part of half a decade, the timing of her debut album calls a few things into question. Work on her EP in 2020 slowed down due to the pandemic and her first pregnancy. Shelving the idea and repurposing the music towards a broader project is Blanche’s current task. Citing a need for perfection and financial constraints as the core reasons behind her lack of LPs, her growth since her beginning in terms of her fanbase and artistic development is also approaching a nexus. Being an independent artist has also played a part, albeit to a smaller extent. However, her lack of project material does nothing to diminish her performative peaks and while she has not quite attained stadium status globally, her crowd-pulling powers in Cameroon are significant.
Her creative process is virile, the minute she feels some emotion or goes through some experience, she whips out her voice memos and lays a hook or a melody and she builds from there. She credits certain gym equipment in her songwriting as well. “I love the treadmill. I’ve written hits on the treadmill, just walking or doing a little jog. I remember one breakup where I ended up at the gym right after, I felt all this anger and didn't know where to put it, I just asked my producer to send me a bunch of beats. The minute I got on the treadmill, I wrote Ndolo.” The record went on to garner over 3 million views.
Her creative process has also evolved since her outset. Breaking into the industry at a transitional phase is never easy. Before entertainment became as democratized as it is today, certain procedures existed in the stead of free-flowing creativity. Studio time was notoriously expensive and beats were in short supply. Most of the work done only happened because artists took direct instructions and ran with them. A big believer in energy and its transference, Blanche prefers to be at least a fan of her collaborators, especially when they have creative control in her work. “One of the first songs I ever did was Kam We Stay and my producer at the time actually wrote that record, got me in the studio and we recorded it. I had never heard the song before then, nobody really used to collaborate the way we do now. Creating has changed a lot. Now I need to know who you are and what you bring to the table before we can work, we need to have some level of rapport.” she tells me.
Her move back to Cameroon was influenced by the unlikeliest of co-signs. “When I was in the UK, I really used to hang out with Nigerian artists and I think it was Reekado Banks at the time that said “don’t be scared, just move back home, you have to do this”. There would never have been a Blanche Bailly if I didn’t come back home”. The move also changed her personal life. With her family still based in France, the distance can be tasking for her despite the aspirations she has. “I have two younger siblings, 13 and 7. And I fell like they won’t know who I am because of the distance but all the stuff I'm doing here is also for them, to make things better in a way. I’m big on family so the distance can be negative sometimes.”
Frequently positioned by local media as Cameroon pop stardom, her aspirations as far as who she could one day share a song or the stage with come off as feasible. When asked who she’d love to open for, dead or alive/anywhere in the world, her response is assured. “Beyonce.” Recent history also points towards the possibilities, other female African stars have appeared alongside Sasha Fierce such as Yemi Alade, Busiswa, Moonchild Sanelly and Tiwa Savage. In many ways, those are the sort of aspirations necessary to undertake certain tasks. Tasks like encompassing the hopes and dreams of 15 million Cameroonians in records that spotlight the nation uniquely.
Featured Image Credit: Jawnofficial