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Who is Yamê, the Franco-Cameroonian singer nominated for the Victoires de la Musique?

“It’s my style that I’m going to present.

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Who is Yamê, the Franco-Cameroonian singer nominated for the Victoires de la Musique?

“It’s my style that I’m going to present.” Yamê is selected in the Male Revelation category at the Victoires de la Musique, which takes place on Friday February 9. The Franco-Cameroonian singer, who provided solo piano vocals for the first part of Stromae, on March 9, 2023 in Marseille, has become in just a few months one of the most listened to artists on streaming platforms.

Yamê, whose real name is Emmanuel Sow, ranked number 1 in Spotify's Top Viral World with his gold single Bécane, revealed last June on the Colors channel. Following this collaboration, the 30-year-old artist now has more than 6.5 million monthly listeners on the Swedish platform. On social networks, his titles are shared over and over again: Bécane has been viewed more than 200 million times on TikTok.

A dazzling success that the Franco-Cameroonian would never have encountered if he had not defied the restrictions of confinement during the Covid pandemic. Indeed, Yamê breaks the routine of his remote job in data by playing and composing. “Friends came to spend a week at the house,” he admits to L’Humanité. I had plenty of time to do other things, especially music. Without confinement, I would not have had the same path, that’s for sure.” And then comes the click. “When in July 2021, companies asked us to return to the office, I did not last a week,” he reports to Le Monde. Then comes the click. The young man launches his musical career.

Yamê publishes his first titles on social networks in the form of short videos. Success comes quickly. “That’s what propelled me,” he tells Ouest-France. When he films himself singing, his subscribers notice his strange teeth. At five years old, he broke his incisors during a fall in his family home in Cergy-Pontoise. “I stopped putting my hand over my mouth. It's a reflex I've had since I was little. And by making TikTok videos, I said to myself “go ahead and take responsibility for it”,” he tells L’Humanité. His toothless smile is an assumed part of his identity.

In his songs, Emmanuel lets himself be carried away by the chords of his piano and his software, which he handles like a goldsmith. He infused his first productions with chameleonic melodies, which brought together jazz, soul but also notes of drill that he listened to all day long. His first EP focused purely on rap and hip-hop was released in 2021.

Also read: Léa Salamé: “The Victoires de la Musique 2024 are as good for fans of Sardou as those of Armanet”

Success is exported internationally. The very famous American producer Timbaland, mentor of Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, shares Yamê's a cappella titles on his Instagram account. The artist then explores song, subgenres of urban music, ancestral choirs and strange melodies in Elowi, his album released in October 2023. In this disc, which means “what is not visible” in mbo ', the language spoken in several regions of Cameroon, he does not hesitate to push, without autotune, his powerful voice into high notes.

With his offbeat music, Yamê appears to everyone like a UFO. No one manages to classify the songs of someone who doesn't fit into any box. He is inspired as much by bassist Richard Bona as by R’n’B singer Daniel Caesar. In his piece Business, he refuses to describe his style as “urban zik”. “I am a hybrid artist in search of artistic performance, in order to offer something new,” he explains to Ouest France.

Yamê's songs take his listeners on a journey. His texts are full of Cameroonian slang and Parisian expressions. In his lyrics, he makes an ode to freedom, represented by his “bike”. He communicates in metaphors. His music is full of genres and cultural references. References to Paris, his hometown where he grew up surrounded by guitars and keyboards, but also to Cameroon, his country of origin. As a child, little Emmanuel quenched his thirst for knowledge and nourished himself with the infusions of his father, Ngoup'Emanty, a famous Cameroonian musician who mixes traditional West African music and makossa soul.

Yamê moved with his entire family to Cameroon at the age of five. In Douala, he learned to play the piano and master the instruments he tinkered with his father. This part of Africa sticks to him. “It’s a period that shaped me. I was a little expatriate schoolboy, but at the same time, I understood where I came from,” he reports. At the age of 10, he returned to Paris with his father and sister to a small arrondissement in the 13th arrondissement following the sudden death of his mother. It was she who passed on his taste for French song, from Sardou to Gainsbourg to Fernandel.

The young boy continues his youth without making waves. At the same time as his studies, he took refuge in data processing in video games as well as in Greek and Nordic mythology. These universes will notably inspire his piece Call of Valhalla, the cemetery of Viking warriors. In his student studio, where the instruments pile up, he enjoys replaying the melodies of everything he hears in his headphones; from the rage of the metal group System of a Down to the funk instrumentals of George Clinton. And yet, he never considered making music his profession.

Everything changes when one day, while wandering around the capital, the young man discovers the fever of “jam sessions”. At Baiser Salé, at New Morning and even at La Petite Halle de la Villette, Yamê leads a double life alongside her work. He surrounds himself until early in the morning with these musicians who come together to play jazz standards and improvisations. “I had never experienced such exhilaration. It was magical. It seemed like people were speaking the same language with their eyes closed,” he says.

This is where he also wanted to play in public. “At first I just watched and listened. For a year, I didn't dare. Then at Carré Saint Michel, I went to the piano, my hands trembling,” he reported to Le Monde. The young musician gains ground, establishes links with other artists. Little Geek finally comes out of his shell. Producer Flame advises him to highlight his high, high voice. He refined his style, going so far as to give concerts at the Olympia at the beginning of February.

Emmanuel Sow finally reveals Yamê, this unspeakable artist who has been sleeping inside him for many years. This word, “Yamê” means “the verb” in the Cameroonian language Mbo’. For the singer, it is synonymous with a landmark and refers to the spiritual entity that everyone carries within themselves. It is a sacred beacon of his youth, which his father never stopped using as a mantra during their many conversations. The voice of Emmanuel, which acts as a link between Paris, Africa and the history of his ancestors, is the one which carries the verb “Yamê”. To Le Monde he will say: “I am made of a thousand and one things and I make music to bring them together.” Contacted by Le Figaro, Yamê did not wish to respond to our requests. Too busy. The singer is currently on tour throughout France, Belgium and Switzerland until 2025 and will give concerts from Blois to Besançon via the Francofolies and the Vieilles Charrues.

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