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Ashuka Series Vol. 1

The first volume of Coco Mbassi's vocal polyphony project

About the project

I have loved polyphony for over 30 years. I’ve always had really eclectic musical tastes. On the African side, I was introduced very early to Pygmy music mainly on Cameroonian radio (in the 70s – 80s), and also in the CD section of libraries in the Paris region. From a very young age, Haendel’s Messiah was part of my life as it was one of my fathers’ favourites, and the baroque piece features instrumental and vocal polyphony. Roughly 25 years ago, I brought  together a few musical friends, and we started rehearsing. My songs Iwiye and Mbaki were part of the repertoire, albeit in 100% vocal versions. The plan was to put together a vocal band that would perform, record an album etc., but for various reasons the band didn’t last long. 

I won the Radio France Internationale Découvertes award in 1996, and I was able to record my first album Sepia in 2001, then in 2003, my second album Sisea featuring my song Dube, performed below with Manu Dibango at the renowned Barbican in London.

I toured for years, sharing the music from these two albums with my audience, which enabled me to release my DVD Coco Mbassi Live in 2005. I took part in many projects, and I even sang in Cirque du Soleil's show Totem in 2011. I then released my third album Jóa en 2014.

Festival organisers would often ask me to lead vocal polyphony workshops, and members of the audience would take part. I did that several times for example in Womad festivals around the world, and I was also invited to lead in Latvia where I led a vocal polyphony with music students, and in the Czech Republic (see extracts of the workshop below).

I still love polyphony just as much, and to this day, I still lead vocal polyphony workshops that are often favourited by  musicians and lovers of music from all over the world. So why not share this passion of mine with the world? 

For those who may not know this, the word polyphony means many independent sounds performed simultaneously. This can be a mix of melodies, using the voice or other instruments. The album Ashuka Series Vol. 1 will only have songs exclusively performed with voices.

And why not? The voice is an instrument in its own right which is every bit as remarkable as man-made instruments. The voice is adaptable and creative, and it communicates emotions like no other instrument.

I am inviting you to join me on this adventure. Your contribution will enable me to record and release a digital and physical version of this first album of this series. 

In the meantime, here are a few extracts of the album.

Thank you and God bless you!

What are the funds for?

The name Ashuka (in English ah-shoo-kah) was chosen because it is easy to pronounce for people from all countries, and because the word does sound like an African word. The album is built around a love for polyphony. Because I’m a Christian my music always has Christian connotations and that will be clear in some of the songs, but other songs are simply made up of onomatopoeia. There are some tributes to Cameroonian rhythms and rhythms from elsewhere. It’s a very eclectic album in terms of the theme of each song its origin and influence, but what all the songs have in common is the fact that they are all made of polyphony and polyrhythms.

There will be between 8 and 10 songs, and the album should be released 3 to 6 months after the funds are collected. Most of the songs have been recorded already by me at home, and I’ll transfer all the songs to the studio where I’ll finish recording the remaining songs and have the album mixed and mastered. 


About the project owner


Coco Mbassi was born in France and originates from Cameroon.

Her music is a subtle blend of African roots, classical music, jazz and gospel, along with the modern feeling of acoustic soul music, which she mostly composes herself and co-produces.

Winner of the Radio France International Découvertes competition in 1996, winner of the German World Music CD Critics Award in 2001 and nominated for the BBC World Music Awards 2002 for her first album Sepia, the singer has toured worldwide with her band, in the most prestigious venues and festivals some of the highlights of which was the Eden Project Live 8 Concert 2005, organised by Peter Gabriel, the Louisiana International Festival, Jazz Sous Les Pommiers, Normandy, France, Festival d’Eté in Montréal and Nuits d’Afrique in Québec, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Afroprojekt in Würzburg...), Pollen Radio show with Jean-Louis Foulquier, REMY Festival in Yaoundé (Cameroon), Womad festivals in Reading, UK, Caceres, Spain; Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Singapore, Womadelaide etc., this after touring as a backing vocalist for many years.

Born in Paris, Coco started singing as a very young child, even before she could speak. In her family home in Cameroon, all musical styles were appreciated, and she would often wake up on Sunday morning to the music from Haendel’s Messiah, dance to the Jackson Five’s hits, and during school holidays, she would go to her father's village and sing and dance traditional Ambass Bey rhythms and songs.

She returned to Paris as a teenager, and after secondary years and a few years studying at university, she started singing as a backing vocalist live and in recording sessions for world music, French pop and international music stars.
She also sang in various contemporary classical, pop and gospel projects and was the main lead singer for Cirque du Soleil’s show Totem for a short period of time.

She has recorded three albums to date, SEPIA (2001), SISEA (2003), JÓA (2014) and a live DVD, Coco Mbassi Tour in 2005.

A lover of all artforms, Coco performed her first theatre role in Yerma at the Cervantes Theatre in London in November-December 2018, and she also sang the opening song of the play, the spiritual 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child'.

She enrolled in a TV script-writing course created by the world-famous Shonda Rhimes in 2017 and honed her script writing craft for over a year. Following this training, Coco drew on her newly-acquired knowledge of theatre and wrote her first musical. Titled Haendel on the Estate, extracts of the musical were performed at  Ovalhouse Theatre in London in February 2019.

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