Friday, February 1, 2019

Bikutsi Traditions



Making their first appearance here at Likembe are Les Veterans out of Cameroun, leading practitioners in the '80s of the rootsy, gritty bikutsi style.

The style of music most associated with Cameroun is the cosmpolitan makossa sound of the port city of Douala. But the country has a multiplicity of languages, cultures and religious traditions, so much so that it is often called "Africa in miniature." Bikutsi is the style most associated with the Béti peoples around the capital city of Yaoundé. Jean-Victor Nkolo discsusses the origins and history of bikutsi at some length in a chapter of the 1994 book World Music: The Rough Guide, to which I would refer you. Here's a representative passage, though:

...Originally, bikutsi was a blood-stirring war rhythm - the music of vengeance and summoning to arms, sounding through the forest. It used rattles and drum and the njang xylophone or balafon. Then, for decades, if not centuries, Beti women tricked the Christian church, as well as their own men, by singing in the Beti tongue and by using complex slang phrases reserved for women. While clapping out the same rapid-fire rhythm, they sang about the trials and tribulations of everyday life; they discussed sexuality, both theirs and their men's; and they talked about sexual fantasies and taboos. In the middle of the song, a woman would start a chorus leading to a frenzied dance of rhythmic foot-stamping and harmonious shaking of the shoulders, the back and the bottorn in that order: shoulders-back-bottom-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap. The whole thing was accompanied by strident screams and
whistles. These, in short, are the origins of bikutsi. The bellicose themes are no longer significant, but many women still perform the old folk dances, across the sprawling hills of Yaoundé city and beyond to the south....
When bikutsi was modernized, electric guitars replicated the melodic patterns of the balafons. Nkolo credits the creation of the "modern" bikutsi style in the '60s and '70s to Messi Me Nkonda Martin of the very influential band Los Camaroes (their 1979 LP Ressurection Los Vol. 1 has recently been reissued and is highly recommended!). The genre has continued to evolve. Briefly making a splash in the late '80s and early '90s were Les Têtes Brulées, who were the beneficiaries of a fair amount of publicity in the "World Music" scene but quickly disappeared. Other practitioners have been Chantal Ayissi, Sala Bekono, Mbarga Soukous and the controversial Katino Ateba. Wherever the music has gone, it's remained true to its gritty, unrestrained roots.

True to their name, I believe Les Veterans were associated with the Camerounian military in some capacity or other. They flourished in the 1980s but I don't know if they're still active. I'm aware of five albums they recorded and several 45s. This recording, 1986's Traditions (Ebobolo-Fia TC 010), has not been made available online before now to my knowledge. Enjoy!



Les Vétérans - Osun



Download Traditions as a zipped file here.


3 comments:

Rétros World Music said...

Do you have any Douglas M'Bida LPs by any chance? Thanks for this one anyways.

John B. said...

I don't think I do.

Sergio Billard said...

Thanks