Musician / Educator, Toronto, ON. Born: Cameroon.
Entertainer, musician, composer, dancer, choreographer, author and educator, Njacko Backo shares his uplifting music and hope-filled stories with audiences of all ages and all walks of life.
Njacko was born in Cameroon in 1958 and raised in the hills in a small village called Bazou. Musically and spiritually, Njacko draws on the lessons he learned in Africa from his musical family, mentors and village life. Like most children in his village, he began playing percussion and making instruments at age three. However, with his Grandmother’s assistance, Njacko met with the elders of the village who taught him to play music starting with the hand drum (toumkak), kalimba (thumb piano), and African harp (zaa koua and ngoni).
As Njacko grew up, music filled his life and he was content learning all he could from those around him. However, as he entered adolescence, he began to wonder what lay beyond his village, beyond the City where some of his family now lived, and beyond the borders of his home country Cameroon. His dream was to discover the world and to learn all he could about people and different cultures.
At the age of 17, Njacko left Cameroon in a canoe bound for Nigeria. When he arrived, he went looking for new musical styles and approaches to add to his repertoire. By night, he performed with local bands at night clubs and hotels. By day, he worked as a tailor to make money to pay his rent. Njacko continued his study of contemporary and traditional African music while he travelled in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, and Mali. He saved money for the first flight of his life to Paris. By the time that Njacko arrived in Europe, he was 21 years old. It was a time when only a handful of African musicians were on the scene, and it was a network that Njacko quickly tapped into.
In Europe, Njacko worked as a dancer, choreographer, bass player and percussionist for several groups, both locally and regionally. During his 11-year stay in Europe, Njacko performed with several groups including Africa Salimata (creation of Salimata Diabaté of The National Ballet of Guinea), Ernest Cissé, Sosoba, Vinjama, and choreographed for Mioso Mika of Surinam. It was while living in Amsterdam that Njacko began his recording career with his first two albums: Le Destin, a cry for hope; and Bamileké Reggae, which pays homage to his people.
Njacko’s feet first landed on Canadian soil in 1989 when he moved to Montréal with his new family and started working with many African musicians and dancers such as the late Boubacar Diabaté, the Guinean Oumar Diayé and Congolese dancer Zab Maboungo. In 1990, Njacko created his band Kalimba Kalimba to introduce the kalimba to all generations and to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy its sweet soothing sounds. In Montréal, Njacko continued to build his portfolio by recording three more albums with Kalimba Kalimba: Nkoni, Resurrection, and Lode Yeuk.
After several years of performing in Quebec and abroad, Njacko moved to Toronto in 1998 where he re-created his band Kalimba Kalimba (including long-time members Anne Lederman, Chip Yarwood, and Altaf “Bwana Moto” Vellani, as well as newer members Joaquin Nunez Hidalgo and Paco Luviano). In 1999, Toronto-based Music Africa presented Njacko Backo and Kalimba Kalimba their prestigious Fiati Memorial Award for Best Traditional Performance. Since that time, Njacko has grown his band’s sound to include a world flavour by blending traditional instruments (kalimba, djembe, ngoni…) with more modern sounds (bass guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, accordion, flute, drum kit…) and other traditional percussion (bata from Cuba, tabla from India, berimbau from the Bahamas…).
Njacko has worked with several well-respected artists including Jane Bunnett, Yaya Diallo, and Ken Whiteley, and has been a guest artist on more than 15 albums. He has appeared at major festivals including the Hillside Festival (Guelph, ON), Sunfest (London, ON), the Montréal Jazz Festival (Montréal, QC), the Louisiana Folk Festival (Lafayette, LA) and the Houston International Jazz Festival. In addition, he has worked on music for films including To Walk with Lions, Born Free, Spirit in the Tree and a documentary on Jane Goodall.
To date, Njacko has independently released 10 full-length albums, three drumming instruction CDs, a drumming instruction DVD, and a DVD with nine music videos. The title song of Njacko’s the recent release, Mama Oh (2008) won Njacko an honourable mention in the World Music category of the 2006 International Songwriting Competition. More recently his song, “Afrique Reveille Toi” was awarded First Place in the 17th Annual Billboard World Song Contest World Category (2009).
A versatile and energetic educator, Njacko has worked with a vast number of children, students and teachers throughout Europe and North America in classrooms, summer camps, institutions, after school programs, festivals and workshops. It is in working with young people that Njacko believes that he can truly make a difference. He says, “The more we bring arts to children and new audiences, the more we will see the colour of peace.” Njacko has presented guest lectures at York University, University of Guelph and University of Waterloo, and teaches through many organizations including Club 2/3, Mariposa in the Schools, Haliburton School of the Arts, and the Royal Conservatory of Music. Njacko delights children and adults alike by inviting them on-stage to make music with him, and by captivating them with his talents as a storyteller and writer with a repertoire of over one hundred tales and legends.
In keeping with his desire to build community and bring down barriers, Njacko regularly takes the opportunity to put his art to the service of others, helping to raise funds for various causes/events including Amnesty International, Foster Parents Plan, Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, The Stephen Lewis Foundation, The David Suzuki Foundation, Engineers Without Borders, Music Africa, and The Muhtadi International Drumming Festival.