NGU NBANDI Plays African Rhythms, Smooth Jazz and World Music
By Virginia Terhune - The Gazette
As a 10-year-old boy living in his
parents’ house in the Republic of Cameroon, Ngu Mbandi would listen to
everything from Cameroon’s mix of Caribbean influences to South African vocal
harmonies to American R&B songs to tunes by British rocker Phil Collins.
“My father had collected music from
all over the world, and he had a huge collection of discs,” says Mbandi, who
particularly remembers a recording by French pianist Richard Clayderman, who
arranges popular, jazz and classical music.
“I didn’t know about the piano, but
I knew I wanted to play it,” says Mbandi, who pursued his dream.
Now 33, he lives in Mitchellville, Maryland
and composes and performs an instrumental blend of African rhythms, smooth jazz
and world music.
“It’s peaceful, it’s a reflection of
my personality,” he says about his music. “The melodies are very lyrical. It
has intricate rhythms, but it’s gentle, it’s not too jarring.”
On Saturday, December 22, 2012, Mbandi performed at
the Montgomery College Performing Arts Center in Silver Spring. Performing with Mbandi were a
group of musicians who include saxophonist Vince Norman, guitarist Parris
Spivey and percussionist Joe McCarthy, along with additional musicians on
“I do recording projects with most
of them and plan on traveling in the future with the same group,” says Mbandi.
Born in a seaside town in Cameroon
in West Africa, Mbandi realized as a teenager that he wanted to pursue the
piano but his parents objected, wanting him to study medicine.
At 15, they sent him to Indiana
University of Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, where he majored in pre-med and
psychology, but he also took music classes to supplement what he was teaching
himself on a keyboard and synthesizer.
“I knew when I was a sophomore that
I would also need to work to start my music career,” says Mbandi, who graduated
in 1998 and went to work in IT for WorldCom in Northern Virginia.
But he also kept developing his
music, working as a street musician at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, performing in
Border’s book stores and then at art festivals and places such as Sugarloaf
Arts & Craft Festival in Gaithersburg.
“I could get my music out to people
and make a decent living,” says Mbandi, who released his first CD in 2001
In 2002, after four years with
WorldCom, he decided to quit and focus full time on his music career.
Like most musicians in the
post-record deal era, Mbandi markets himself and his work online, where he says
he has more than 30,000 Facebook fans.
Some of his performances and
interviews are posted on YouTube, including “African Skies,” one of the pieces
on the Saturday set list that he wrote during his college days.
“When I first came to America, I was
surprised at people’s perception of Africa,” he says.
“People would ask me if we have
houses,” he says. “All they were exposed to was the media and National
Playing into the stereotype, he says
he started to spin a tall tale about his best friend being a lion, and to his
surprise, his dorm mates fell for it.
“It was a good way to break the
ice,” he says with a laugh about making new friends in the U.S., but the
experience also got him remembering his early life in Cameroon.
Mbandi says he plans to produce
videos with special effects to further showcase his compositions.
“The music doesn’t matter if you
don’t package yourself properly,” he says.
His instrumental piece “Fairy Tale,”
which he also expects to play Saturday, grew out of an idea for a video, says
Mbandi, who describes walking through the wilderness and finding a piano in the
center of a flower-filled garden.
“I start playing, and people and
animals hear the music, and they start dancing and having a party,” he says
about the imagined scene.
“And then I thought, ‘What song
would I be playing?” he says.
Mbandi says he believes he has
developed a unique style as a composer and pianist during the last 10 years.
But he also says he wouldn’t mind
emulating the career path of Greek pianist Yanni in reaching a global audience.
“My ultimate goal is to do [this]
bigger and all over the world,” says Mbandi.
For more information and to order CDs, visit Ngu Mbandi's website @