Music of Cameroon

Last updated
Music of Cameroon
TamTam.jpg
Bamileke drummers
Genres
Specific forms
Regional music

The best-known Music of the Cameroon is makossa, a popular style that has gained fans across Africa, and its related dance craze bikutsi.

Contents

The pirogue sailors of Douala are known for a kind of singing called ngoso which has evolved into a kind of modern music accompanied by zanza, balafon, and various percussion instruments.

Traditional Music

Lela celebrations in Bali, Cameroon, around 1908. Four men play on holy lela flutes. The celebrations are directed by members of the Bali royal family. Playing Lela flutes Cameroon.jpg
Lela celebrations in Bali, Cameroon, around 1908. Four men play on holy lela flutes. The celebrations are directed by members of the Bali royal family.

The ethnicities of Cameroon include an estimated 250 distinct ethnic groups in five regional-cultural divisions. An estimated 38% of the population are Western highlanders–Semi-Bantu or grassfielders including the Bamileke, Bamum, and many smaller Tikar groups in the northwest. 12% are coastal tropical forest peoples, including the Bassa, Duala, and many smaller groups in the southwest. The southern tropical forest peoples (18%) include the Beti-Pahuin and their sub-groups the Bulu and Fang, the Maka and Njem, as well as, the Baka pygmies. In the semi-arid northern regions (the Sahel) and central highlands the Fulani (French : Peul or Peuhl; Fula : Fulɓe) form an estimated 14% of Cameroonians, while the Kirdi (unbelievers) are a general category, comprising 18% of the population, of various mainly Chadic and Adamawa speakers.

Beti

The Beti, or Ewondo, live in the area around Yaoundé and south into Equatorial Guinea. They are best known for bikutsi music, which has been popularized and become a rival for the more urban and accessible makossa of Douala. The name can be loosely translated as beating the ground continuously. Bikutsi, characterized by an intense 6/8 rhythm, is played at Beti gatherings including parties, funerals, and weddings.

Beti gatherings fall into two major categories:

A double sided harp with calabash amplification called the mvet is used during these ceremonies by Beti storytellers, who are viewed as using the mvet as an instrument of God to educate the people. The Ekang phase is intensely musical and usually lasts all night. There are poetic recitations accompanied by clapping and dancing, with interludes for improvised and sometimes obscene performances on the balafon (a type of xylophone). These interludes signal the shift to the bikutsi phase which is much less strictly structured than Ekang. During bikutsi, women dance and sing along with the balafon, and lyrics focus on real-life problems, as well as sexual fantasies. These female choruses are an integral part of bikutsi, and their intense dancing and screams are characteristic of the genre. Another type of ceremony is the mevungu, when women dance all night to abstain from sex during those hours for a period of nine days. The sso ritual is much-feared by Beti boys as it involves a series of tests to mark a boy's passage into manhood.

Bamileke drummers in Cameroon's West Province. TamTam.jpg
Bamileke drummers in Cameroon's West Province.

The earliest recorded popular music from Cameroon comes from the 1930s, when the most popular styles were imported pop music and French-style chanson. In Douala, the most developed city in Cameroon, accordions and ambasse bey music were common, with performers like Lobe Lobe, Ebanda Manfred, and Nelle Eyoum finding a local audience. Ekambi Brillant and the first major Cameroonian hit, "N'Gon Abo," set the stage for the development of makossa. Post-independence in 1960, a local variant on palm wine music called assiko, was popular especially Jean Bikoko and Dikoume Bernard.

The urbanization of Cameroon has had a major influence on the country's music. Migration to the city of Yaoundé, for example, was a major cause for the popularization of bikutsi music. During the 1950s, bars sprang up across the city to accommodate the influx of new inhabitants and soon became a symbol for Cameroonian identity in the face of colonialism. Balafon orchestras, consisting of 3-5 balafons and various percussion instruments (including the balafon, which is both a harmonic and percussive instrument) became common in the bars. Some of these orchestras, such as Richard Band de Zoetele, became quite popular in spite of scorn from the European elite.

1950s and 60s

The middle of the 20th century saw the popularization of a native folk music called bikutsi. Bikutsi is based on a war rhythm played with various rattles and drums and xylophone. Sung by women, bikutsi featured sexually explicit lyrics and songs about everyday problems. In a popularized form, bikutsi gained mainstream success in the 1950s. Anne-Marie Nzié was perhaps the most important of the early innovators. The next bikutsi performer of legendary stature was Messi Me Nkonda Martin and his band, Los Camaroes, who added electric guitars and other new elements.

Balafon orchestras had remained popular throughout the 1950s in Yaoundé's bar scene, but the audience demanded modernity, and the popular style at the time was unable to cope. Messi Martin was a Cameroonian guitarist who had been inspired to learn the instrument by listening to Spanish language-broadcasts from neighboring Equatorial Guinea, as well as Cuban, and Zairean rumba. Messi changed the electric guitar by linking the strings together with pieces of paper, thus giving the instrument a damper tone which emitted a "thudding" sound similar to the balafon.

Messi's style was immediately popular, and his hits, like "Mengalla Maurice" and "Bekono Nga N'Konda," became radio favorites throughout the country beginning in the early 1960s. Further innovations followed, as Messi replaced the handclaps and sanza with a synthesizer and the foot-stamping 6/8 rhythm to drums.

1970s

Later in the 1960s, modern makossa developed and became the most popular genre in Cameroon. Makossa is a type of funky dance music, best known outside Africa for Manu Dibango, whose 1972 single "Soul Makossa" was an international hit. Outside of Africa, Dibango and makossa were only briefly popular, but the genre has produced several pan-African superstars through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Following Dibango, a wave of musicians electrified makossa in an attempt at making it more accessible outside of Cameroon. Another pop singer in 1970s Cameroon was André-Marie Tala, a blind singer who had a pair of hits with "Sikati" and "Potaksima."

By the 1970s, bikutsi performers like Maurice Elanga, Les Veterans, and Mbarga Soukous, added brass instruments and found controversy over pornographic lyrics. Mama Ohandja also brought bikutsi to new audiences, especially in Europe. The following decade, however, saw Les Tetes Brulées surpass previous artists in international popularity though their reaction at home was mixed. Many listeners did not like their mellow, almost easy listening-styled bikutsi. Cameroonian audiences preferred more roots-based performers like Jimmy Mvondo Mvelé and Uta Bella, both from Yaoundé.

1980s

Ben Decca Ben-decca-1.jpg
Ben Decca

By the 1980s, makossa had moved to Paris and a new pop-makossa fused elements of Antillean zouk. Prominent musicians from this period included Moni Bilé, Douleur, Bébé Manga, Ben Decca  [ fr ], Petit-Pays, and Esa.

The 1980s also saw rapid development of Cameroon's media which saw a flourishing of both makossa and bikutsi. In 1980, L'Equipe Nationale de Makossa was formed, joining the biggest makossa stars of the period together, including, Grace Decca, Ndedi Eyango, Ben Decca, Guy Lobe, and Dina Bell. Makossa in the 1980s saw a wave of mainstream success across Africa and, to a lesser degree, abroad as Latin influences, Martinican zouk, and pop music changed its form. While makossa enjoyed international renown, bikutsi was often denigrated as the music of savages, and it did not appeal across ethnic lines and into urban areas. Musicians continued to add innovations, however, and improved recording techniques; Nkondo Si Tony, for example, added keyboards and synthesizers while Elanga Maurice added brass instruments. Les Veterans emerged as the most famous bikutsi group in the 1980s while other prominent performers included Titans de Sangmelima, Seba Georges, Ange Ebogo Emerent, Otheo and Mekongo President, who added complex harmonies and jazz influences.

In 1984, a new wave of bikutsi artists emerged, including Sala Bekono formerly of Los Camaroes, Atebass, a bassist, and Zanzibar, a guitarist who would eventually help form Les Têtes Brulées with Jean-Marie Ahanda. 1985 saw the formation of CRTV, a television network that did much to help popularize Cameroonian popular music across the country.

Jean-Marie Ahanda became the most influential bikutsi performer of the late 1980s, and he revolutionized the genre in 1987 after forming Les Têtes Brulées, whose success changed the Cameroonian music industry. The band played an extremely popular form of bikutsi that allowed for greater depth and diversity. Guitarist Zanzibar added foam rubber to the bridge of his guitar, which made the instrument sound more like a balafon than before, and was more aggressive and innovative than previous musicians. Les Têtes Brulées emerged as a reaction against pop-makossa, which was seen as abandoning its roots in favor of mainstream success. The band's image was part of its success, and they became known for their shaved heads and multi-colored body painting, done to represent traditional Beti scarification, as well as torn T-shirts that implied a common folkness in contrast to the well-styled pop-makossa performers of the period. They also wore backpacks on stage, a reference to Beti women's traditional method of carrying babies while they danced bikutsi.

It took only a few weeks for Les Têtes Brulées to knock makossa off the Cameroonian charts, and the band even toured France. While in France, Les Têtes Brulées recorded their first LP, Hot Heads , which was also the first bikutsi music recorded for the CD. Hot Heads expanded the lyrical format of the genre to include socio-political issues. Tours of Japan, Africa, Europe, and the United States followed, as well as Claire Denis' film Man No Run , which used footage from their European tour.

1990s

In the 1990s, both makossa and bikutsi declined in popularity as a new wave of genres entered mainstream audiences. These included Congolese-influenced new rumba and makossa-soukous, as well as more native forms like bantowbol, northern Cameroonian nganja (which had gained some popularity in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s), and an urban street music called bend-skin.

Les Têtes Brulées remained the country's most well known musical export, especially after accompanying the Cameroonian soccer team to the World Cup in 1990 in Italy and 1994 in the United States. A new wave of bikutsi artists arose in the early 1990s, including Les Martiens (formed by Les Têtes Brulées bassist Atebass) and the sexually themed roots-singer Katino Ateba ("Ascenseur: le secret de l'homme") and Douala singer Sissi Dipoko ("Bikut-si Hit") as well as a resurgence of old performers like Sala Bekono. Bikutsi's international renown continued to grow, and the song "Proof" from Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints , released to mainstream promotion and success in 1990, gained yet more renown from international audiences. Vincent Nguini also contributed guitar arrangements and performance to Simon's Rhythm of the Saints, which became an influential world music album, introducing many North American listeners to the wide range of instrumentation and genres.

In 1993, the Pedalé movement was born as a reaction to the Cameroonian economic slump. Youthful artists like Gibraltar Drakuss, Zele le Bombardier, Eboue Chaleur, Pasto, Roger Bekono, Mbarga Soukous, and Saint-Desiré Atango was a return to the aggressive, earthy sound of bikutsi roots. Meanwhile, Henri Dikongué, whose music incorporated, amongst others, bikutsi and makossa, began to release albums which met international success. He went on to tour Europe and North America. The most recent form of Cameroonian popular music is a fusion of Congolese soukous and makossa, a scene which has produced Petit Pays, Marcel Bwanga, Kotto Bass, Papillon and Jean Pierre Essome. Other popular genres include Bend-skin, mangambeu, and makassi.

Related Research Articles

Makossa is a noted Cameroonian popular urban musical style. Like much other late 20th century music of Sub-Saharan Africa, it uses strong electric bass rhythms and prominent brass. In the 1980s makossa had a wave of mainstream success across Africa and to a lesser extent abroad.

Balafon type of wooden xylophone originating in Mali

The balafon is a gourd-resonated xylophone, a type of struck idiophone. It is closely associated with the Mandé peoples of West Africa, particularly the Guinean branch of the Mandinka ethnic group, but is now found across West Africa from Guinea to Mali. Its common name, balafon, is likely a European coinage combining its Mandinka name bala with the word fôn 'to speak' or the Greek root phono.

Manu Dibango Cameroonian musician

Emmanuel N'Djoké Dibango is a Cameroonian musician and songwriter who plays saxophone and vibraphone. He developed a musical style fusing jazz, funk, and traditional Cameroonian music. His father was a member of the Yabassi ethnic group, though his mother was a Duala. He is best known for his 1972 single "Soul Makossa".

Soukous is a genre of dance music from the Congo Basin. It derived from Congolese rumba in the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1980s in France. Although often used by journalists as a synonym for Congolese rumba, both the music and dance associated with soukous differ from more traditional rumba, especially in its higher tempo, longer dance sequences. Notable performers of the genre include African Fiesta, Papa Wemba and Pépé Kallé.

Bikutsi is a musical genre from Cameroon. It developed from the traditional styles of the Beti, or Ewondo, people, who live around the city of Yaoundé. It was popular in the middle of the 20th century in West Africa. It is primarily dance music.

Les Têtes Brulées are a Cameroonian band known for a pop version of the bikutsi dance music. Their name literally means the burnt heads in French, but more likely is meant to imply mindblown or hot heads.

Soul Makossa 1972 single by Manu Dibango

"Soul Makossa" is a song released as a single in 1972 by Cameroon saxophonist and songwriter Manu Dibango. In 1972, David Mancuso found a copy in a Brooklyn West Indian record store and often played it at his The Loft parties. The response was so positive that the few copies of "Soul Makossa" in New York City were quickly purchased. The song was subsequently played heavily by Frankie Crocker, who deejayed at WBLS, then New York's most popular black radio station. Since the original release was so obscure, at least 23 groups quickly released cover versions to capitalize on the demand for the record.

Ndedi Eyango aka Prince Eyango is a Cameroonian singer, guitar player, songwriter, performer, and record producer. Popularly known as KING MOUAN NKUM, Le Roi Des Montages is the 3rd child of Eyango family. He made his professional debut in 1983. By 1986 Ndedi Eyango developed a musical style merging both pop and traditional Cameroonian Makossa music. The son of a pastor, Ndedi Eyango sings in French, Pidgin English, Douala, and Mbo'o languages. His biggest hit, "You Must Calculer" won best song of the year in 1987, best selling album of the year and Eyango won the Cameroonian "Best Artist of the Year Award".

Petit-Pays is a Cameroonian musician. In 1996, he had sold over 50,000 cassettes in one week at the release of his Double Album Class F and Class M. Petit Pays has over 35 albums to his credit and is the Cameroonian Musician with the highest number of Songs ever. He is also known as OMEGA, Rabba Rabbi, Turbo d'Afrique,Adonai,Le Neveu de Jesus,and recently his latest sobriquet of Effatta and famously Avocat defenseur des femmes. He is one of the most celebrated Cameroonian musicians of the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.He has a net worth of 3 billion FCFA and he is also into Construction and he has carried out projects. The first project was the rural road from Bangem – Enyandong- Tchocte – Elah in Bangem Kupe Muanenguba Division. The second project was the road Fonven – Njoagwi – Njentse in Lebialem Division. And the Third project is the rural road Njima – Mokono- Dora Barombi in Ndian Division. His music has evolved over the years adapting to contemporary African genres. He mixes native Cameroonian makossa with soukous, zouk, and salsa, leading to the portmanteau label of makozouk for some of his music. He launched his first album Haoussa in 1987, after working with makossa producers. In Haoussa, he says his father is Hausa and mother is Douala.

Ambasse bey a style of folk music and dance from Cameroon

Ambasse bey or ambas-i-bay is a style of folk music and dance from Cameroon. The music is based on commonly available instruments, especially guitar, with percussion provided by sticks and bottles. The music is faster-paced than assiko.

Dance in Cameroon

Dance in Cameroon is an integral part of the tradition, religion, and socialising of the country's people. Cameroon has more than 200 traditional dances, each associated with a different event or situation. Colonial authorities and Christian missionaries discouraged native dances as threats to security and pagan holdovers. However, after Cameroon's independence, the government recognised traditional dance as part of the nation's culture and made moves to preserve it.

Kristo Numpuby is a guitarist, bassist and singer born in Paris but raised in Eséka, South Cameroon.

Têtes or Tetes may refer to:

Ebanda Manfred Cameroonian musician

Ebanda Manfred was a Cameroonian makossa singer. He is also composer of the hit song "Amie" later made famous by Bébé Manga.

Mboko God is the second full-length studio album by Cameroonian rapper and producer Jovi, released May 20, 2015. Entirely self-produced under his producer alias, "Le Monstre", Jovi composed, recorded, and mixed the album in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

H.I.V is the debut album of the Cameroonian rapper and producer Jovi, released August 31, 2012. Entirely self-produced under his producer alias, "Le Monstre", Jovi composed, recorded, and mixed the album in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The album blends instrumentation and rhythms from traditional Cameroonian genres with Western hip hop beats and style, as well as influences from pop, rock, electronic and industrial genres, and includes samples from African musicians Tabu Ley Rochereau and Eko Roosevelt. H.I.V received critical acclaim for its use of punchlines, rhyming, and wordplay in Pidgin English, mixed with English and French. Jovi’s H.I.V album was highly anticipated in Cameroon following the release of his debut video “Don 4 Kwat” on October 14, 2011, which is seen as re-energizing the hip hop scene in Cameroon, which had largely been dormant and dominated by Bikutsi and Makossa genres. Originally released on iTunes for sale, the album was removed after one year, and became available for free download on Bandcamp on September 12, 2013, according to the website, as a "special edition of Jovi's debut album."

Reniss Cameroonian singer and songwriter

Kien Rennise Nde, known by her stage name Reniss, is a Cameroonian singer and songwriter. Reniss sings in English, French, Pidgin, and Ngeumba. Reniss became well-known in the African music scene after releasing her music video "La Sauce" on May 6, 2016.

Theatre of Cameroon consists in the theatrical plays produced across Cameroon. Its history dates back to the pre-colonial time, but it has gained wide popularity since the 1970s, with practitioners such as Daniel Ndo, Dieudonné Afana and David Kemzeu. It is made of different trends, some of them are more inflected by the European theatrical tradition, some others are more attuned to the indigenous performative styles. The comic genre is presently dominating so that laughter has become synonymous with modern Cameroon theatre productions, according to Bole Butake. Theatre of Cameroon is sometimes subdivided in traditional theatre, colonial theatre, and post-independence theatre.

Coco Argentée,, was born August 13, 1982, in Mbandjock, Centre Cameroon. This Cameroonian singer and songwriter lives in Belgium.

References