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Biography - Njacko Backo

Njacko Backo was born in Cameroon in 1958 and raised in the hills in a small village called Bazou, which means "The Walkers." To paint a picture of life in his village, Njacko often points to the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy” to demonstrate the truly rural and organic nature of his upbringing. 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, Njacko 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).

His dream was to discover the world and to learn all he could about people and different cultures. Despite the grave warnings from his family that people outside of his region were cannibals and not to be trusted, Njacko left home at the age of 17 to search out the truth for himself. Excited by tales of far away lands, Njacko's plan was to cross Africa and swim to Europe but soon discovered that it was too far to swim.

By the time that Njacko arrived in Europe, he was 21 years old, when only a handful of African musicians were on the scene, and it was a network that he quickly tapped into. Njacko worked as a dancer, choreographer, bass player and percussionist for several groups, both locally and regionally. It was while living in Amsterdam that he 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. 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.

Njacko moved to Toronto in 1998 where he recreated his band Kalimba Kalimba 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 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 nine full length albums, three drumming instruction CDs, a drumming instruction DVD, and a DVD with nine music videos. The title song of Njacko's most recent release, the DVD Mama Oh (2008), won Njacko an honourable mention in the World Music category of the 2006 International Songwriting Competition.

A versatile and energetic educator, Njacko has worked with a vast number of children, students and teachers throughout Europe and North America. 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 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.