The two major musical styles of Cameroun are bikutsi, centered around the capital city Yaoundé, and makossa, from the coastal metropolis Douala. I've really been getting into bikutsi lately, and posting some of it here, but I love me some makossa also!
Makossa arose in the early 20th century with the intersection of the rhythms of the local Douala people and foreign sounds brought in by merchant marines, and mutated into a modern dance style by the '60s. Notable for its distinctive beat, the sound got a big boost with the success of Camerounian musician Manu Dibango and his 1972 international hit, "Soul Makossa," which ironically, wasn't makossa at all! Jean-Victor Nkolo writes in the 1994 book World Music: The Rough Guide:
...the fact remains that, with the exception of his bold venture (this is not his territory, say purists) into bikutsi with ' 'Mouvement Ewondo" on his Seventies album, and maybe another exception, "Idiba" (composed by Francis Bebey), Dibango, who is primarily a jazz musician, has never been the cup of tea of Cameroon's DJs, nor popular in the drinking parlours, nor has he cut any kind of figure in the clubs or on the dance floors.
Cameroonians generally consider "Soul Makossa" to be a hybrid - funky music with lashings of brass and a relatively strange rhythm that's good for signature tunes and other uses abroad, but is rarely played at home - and certainly not makossa. Anyone who listens will have difficulty finding any makossa in Cameroon that has a beat even close to that of "Soul Makossa"- or vice versa! The only "makossa" thing about the hugely successful track is the name, and Cameroonians are always lost when they have to dance to it. But while not a single Dibango track has been a dance success in Cameroon, his career has followed a very different path abroad, where he has been a figure of real importance...The '80s were the high tide of makossa, with a torrent of dance hits that swept Africa. Moni Bilé, Guy Lobé and Toto Guillaume are standouts of the period, but many more musicians made their mark. These slick, if somewhat formulaic productions, many from the stable of producer Alhaji Touré, were distinctive, often utilizing string sections to good effect, a rarity in African music. The good times couldn't last, though, and the '90s saw makossa somewhat eclipsed by the more rough-hewn bikutsi style.
Today's musical selection, the 1987 compilation LP Africa Oumba No. 1 (Blue Silver 8260), highlights music from an earlier makossa era - 1977 to be precise. The sound here is a little more relaxed but no less creative, and is downright addictive. All of the tunes here were originally released on 45s and LPs on the BBZ Productions label out of Paris.
Contributing the most to this compilation is bassist Jean-Karl Dikoto Mandengue, who cut a wide swath in the music scene of Cameroun and has been renowned internationally. He was born in Douala in 1948 and was a session musician in France by the '60s, joining the legendary London Afro-rock band Osibisa in 1973. His solo makossa recordings were mainly made in the '70s and early '80s, but lately he's made a comeback, and has long served as a mentor and inspiration to a younger generation of Camerounian musicians:
Jean Mandengue - Muna Munengue
A different version of "Muna Munengue" can be heard on this earlier Likembe post.
Ekambi Brillant was also born in 1948 near Douala, and in 1971 joined a local band called Les Cracks. Taking first place in a musical contest opened the way for his first single, "Djongele La N'Dolo." His first LP, Africa Oumba, was released in 1975, and he continued to record through the '80s.
Ekambi Brillant - Ngal'a Tanda
Abêti Masikini, who was not from Cameroun but from the Congo, was the subject of an earlier Likembe post.
Abêti - Bi Suivra Suivra
Jean Mandengue - Na Bolane Oa Nje
Ekambi Brillant - Ashiko Edingue
Jean Mandengue - O Danga Londo O Bia
Ekambi Brillant - Awolo
Abêti - Ngblimbo
Pierre "Didy" Tchakounté was born in 1950 in Douala, although his roots are farther north in the Bamileke country of Cameroun. Drawing on those influences he made a series of funky 45s in the '70s that were not really makossa per se but definitely established him as a force in the Camerounian music scene. In the '90s he became an officer in the French professional music associations SACEM and ADAMI. He continues to record and perform.
Pierre "Didy" Tchakounté - Meguela
Jean Mandengue - Mathilde
Ekambi Brillant - Nyambe
Jean Mandengue - Saturday Afternoon
Download Africa Oumba No. 1 as a zipped file here.