Walk Away is positive proof that everything “People” was, was not a fluke. Libianca has the potential to be a serious force to be reckoned with. Her artistry is built on powerful writing and captivating singing…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Going “viral” on social media has become one of the most sought-after phenomena in the modern age, due to its potential to change lives in a mere instant. This is an occurrence that should now be familiar to Cameroonian-American artiste, Libianca Kenzonkinboum Fonji, mononymously known as Libianca.
Born in America, 4-year-old Libianca relocated to Bamenda, Cameroon with her mother. This was where her passion for music was ignited as she sang in gospel choirs, learned to play the guitar, and began dabbling in songwriting. Returning to America at 13 gave her the opportunity to explore and develop that passion. She was able to begin rounding out her creative talents in terms of performing, production, mixing, mastering, and creative direction. In 2019, 18-year-old Libianca released her first official single “Level”. A few more singles would follow before she broke into the limelight, competing on the 21st season of NBC’s popular talent search show; The Voice. She was eliminated in the top 20 but had evidently made a good impression as Sony Music’s RCA Records came knocking, signing her to a deal in 2022. Little did she know that that was just the beginning. December of 2022 saw her release “People”, the song that would catapult her to global recognition. “My whole life changed in a matter of hours”, she told BBC. “I woke up in the morning and things had just flipped over.”
And now, after a year, over half a billion global streams, over 200million video views, multiple platinum certifications, international stage performances, several remixes, and a handful of features, the rising star finally blesses the world with her debut project, the 6-track EP Walk Away.
The 6-track EP begins with “In A Way,” a sombre guitar-backed song about taking the positive lessons from a largely negative relationship. “I can go on the Internet and bash you, I can cuss your mama for bornin’ you, I can burst all the tires on your four-wheel, But I, but I, Choose better ’cause I know I am better”, she confesses over laid-back Afrobeats drums, strummed acoustic guitars, and rich bass. This track works well as an introduction of what to expect from the project; good production, effortlessly refined vocals, anecdotal and expressive songwriting, and a flair for the dramatic, highlighted by the key modulation and choral vocals present towards the tail end of the song.
“angeldemon” comes next and thoroughly tugs on the heartstrings. Libianca’s songwriting and vocal deliveries do most of the heavy lifting on this song. Devastating tales unfold in the straightforward lyricism as she sings about the two sides of a troubled lover. “I cuddle with a demon in my bed/ When morning comes my angel reappears and says, ‘Good morning, my darling,’ and touches me softly/ But I know the moon will soon be here”, she sings over a sparse instrumental comprised mostly of filtered chords and percussion-laden Afrobeats drums. While the lyrics alone are potent, the vocal vessel in which Libianca delivers them is equally formidable. Her voice is light but carries emotional weight, with her delivery coming across like someone confessing deep hardships to a close friend. This lends so much emotional credence to the scenarios she paints with her words, topping up the effectiveness of the song.
The momentum continues on the Shizzi-produced “W.O.M.S (Weight On My Shoulder)”. Shizzi sets the tone with an instrumental that is simultaneously reflective and sober but empowering and energetic. Soft keys, cinematic strings, and atmospheric synths are paired surprisingly well with rumbling percussions, thumping 808s, and snappy Trap drums. Libianca comes out guns blazing again in the lyrical and vocal departments. “But you want the level of God in my life/ Thunder fire you this ungrateful bastard/ Never say désolé if you’re not sorry/ ‘Cause I can see the acting and it is not befitting”, she accuses in powerful falsetto. This song sees the first features on the project, with Blaqbonez and Moliy enlisted for full verses of their own. Both featured artistes keep the bar high in terms of delivery and lyricism. Blaqbonez provides a male perspective and a gruffer disposition while Moliy’s angelic timbre closes the song out on a hopeful note, saying “Made me closer to God/ Made me closer to self-love/ Yeah it made me grow up/ But I still believe in love, oh”.
“Mistaken” is a reflective offering that comes across more as an R&B song than an Afrobeats song even though Phantom’s production is rife with Afrobeats elements, like the simple percussion-driven drums, backing saxophone riffs and rattling drum rolls. Oxlade appears on the song with a verse that sounds off technically, almost as if his voice was recorded over the phone. Even lyrically, his verse falls a bit short of the direct storytelling style employed by both Libianca and the other featured artiste, Chlöe (formerly known as Chloe Bailey). The latter brings her wealth of R&B experience in both her melodic choices and delivery, turning in a feature that adds a unique dimension to the song.
“People” is the penultimate track on Walk Away. This kingmaking song is Libianca in her element; delivering honest and vulnerable lyrics with soaring melodies and emotionally charged intonations over a spacious Afrobeats-influenced instrumental that allows you to focus on the emotions she is trying to pass across. In a BBC interview, she reveals her struggles with cyclothymia, and how her personal experiences birthed the song. This honesty and relatability is what propelled the song to the heights it reached, as millions of people across the world could immediately connect on many levels. The backing vocals and harmonies from various voices also add an interesting subliminal dynamic to the song, sounding almost like a support group; with multiple voices coming together so Libianca is no longer alone.
The EP closes on a more upbeat note with “Jah” and its uplifting strummed instrumentation. Lively Afrobeats drums provide the rhythm as Libianca appreciates the role of Jah in maintaining her peace regardless of what may be happening in her earthly relationships. While not necessarily a gospel tune, the song does present a similar air of gratitude, hopefulness, and appreciation. Released as a single to precede the EP, “Jah” feels slightly disjointed from the rest of the EP in tone but can still tie in with the others thematically.
Walk Away firmly signals the arrival of a new star. Straddling both worlds as an American and African act, Libianca is uniquely positioned to capitalise on two large musical markets. She has already gotten a taste of massive success, yet – thankfully – that doesn’t seem to have diluted her core tenets. With this being her debut release, it has done a magnificent job of introducing the world to Libianca’s unique artistry. Marrying the melodies of Afrobeats with the emotion of R&B, Libianca has weaponised her voice and her pen to connect authentically with her listeners.
Her songwriting talent is undeniable. She doesn’t need layered wordplay or entendres. She tells stories as they are – plainly and honestly. This allows her to cut the fat and get straight to the emotional nucleus of whatever she is singing about. And that nucleus is what keeps people relating to her songs. Add to this, her lyrics are delivered via crystal clear, masterfully controlled vocal performances. Libianca’s singing is impeccable. Each tone rings true, each note holds firm, each melody draws the ear in, and each emotional strain convinces the listener.
This stellar singing is performed atop very effective production. The instrumentals she works with allow her voice to be the focus of the song while lending the necessary colour and flavour to the full package. Shizzi’s production on “W.O.M.S” is a standout here, but every track holds its own in the production department. And the engineering is also mostly spotless. Apart from Oxlade’s feature appearance, the vocals and instrumental layers are combined expertly and come across efficiently no matter how you choose to listen. Speaking of the features, Libianca was very wise with the rest of her featured artistes. Each one brings a version of themselves that injects their unique personalities but also gels intimately with the atmosphere Libianca fosters.
Some people wondered whether Libianca would face the same fate as many artistes who go viral for their big break; whether she would struggle to repeat the creativity that took her to stardom; and whether she would be a one-hit wonder. These worried parties can rest easy now. Walk Alone is positive proof that everything “People” was, was not a fluke. Libianca has the potential to be a serious force to be reckoned with. Her artistry is built on powerful writing and captivating singing. With those in her bag, there is almost no limit to what she can accomplish stylistically, thematically, and commercially. I hope she continues to make us cry with vulnerability and emotion. Wherever the Libianca train is heading, I am now firmly seated on board, ready to enjoy the journey.
Lyricism – 1.8
Tracklisting – 1.5
Sound Engineering – 1.7
Vocalisation – 1.7
Listening Experience – 1.5
Rating – 8.2/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media. His music can be found across all platforms and he welcomes interaction on his social media @Yinoluu.