Njacko Backo

Njacko Backo wears several hats: entertainer, musician, composer, dancer, choreographer, author and educator, and he shares his uplifting music, energizing dance, and hope-filled stories with audiences of all walks of life. Born in Cameroon in 1958, he was raised in the hills in a small village called Bazou, meaning “The Walkers.” Musically and spiritually, Njacko draws on the lessons he learned in Africa from his musical family, mentors and village life. Although he loved life in the village where he was immersed in music, his dream was to discover the world and to learn all he could about people and different cultures. Despite 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.

With adventure in his heart, a mind full of curiosity, and less than the equivalent of $10 in his pocket, 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. Njacko arrived in Europe at 21 years old, and during his 11 years there, he worked as a dancer, choreographer, bass player and percussionist for several local and regional groups.

Njacko’s feet first landed on Canadian soil in 1989 when he moved to Montréal with his 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. Njacko moved to Toronto in 1998, where he recreated 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, balafon) with more modern sounds (bass guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, accordion, flute, drum kit, cello, bagpipes, sitar, dilruba, grand piano, oboe) and other traditional percussion (bata from Cuba, tabla from India, udu, cajon).

Among the artists Njacko has worked with are Jane Bunnett, Ken Whiteley, George Koller, Paul Neufeld, Anne Lederman and Colin Doroschuk, and Njacko himself 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 (Houston, TX). In addition, he has worked on music for films including To Walk with Lions, Born Free, and Spirit in the Tree.

To date, Njacko has independently released 12 full length albums, one children’s album, three drumming instruction CDs, a drumming instruction DVD, and a DVD with nine music videos. Njacko won the first prize in the 17th Annual Billboard World Song Contest for his song “Afrique Réveille Toi.” He also was recognized for his song “Mama Oh” with honourable mentions from both the 2006 International Songwriting Competition (world music category) and the 15th Annual Billboard World Song Contest.