What did Cameroon sound like in the 70s and 80s? What sound gleamed dancehalls and bounced of the shimmering shirts and oily curls of dancers shaking off stress at the end of the week? What rhythms reverberated the nuances of ever-changing lives for young Cameroonians who grew up in the new found freedom of independence? What songs fought off the advances of highlife from Ghana and James Brown’s irresistible funk? Analog Africa’s latest compilation tape has all the answers.
Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976–1984 it’s a cosmic kaleidoscope characterising an infectious dance sound popular in Cameroon and the word over. The 12-track tape contains song that show the birth of the sound following the influx of the synthesizers, deep popular cuts and rare unreleased gems. The tape also follows in the growing popularity of such nostalgia compilations like Ghana Soundz Vol.1 & 2, Doing It in Lagos and the Habibi Funk movement, that unearth classics which have grown stale and give them new life, introducing them to new audiences and entreating those who lived through them to reminisce.
What is Makossa? The genre originated from the Douala word for dance, “kossa” and was popularise by refrains and chorus of popular Cameroonian songs in the 1950’s. The musical form and dances existed over the years but its christening came from the smash hit by Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa. The international hit laid down the core elements of a Makossa hit with a skeletal, hollow repetitive refrain layered over funky synth chords, harsh brass highlife loops and simmering jazz drums. Indeed, the chorus, “mamako, mamasa, maka makossa” led it to international acclaim when Michael Jackson sampled it on his song “Wanna Be Starting Something”. Today Makossa exists in a slightly different incarnation, which is well documented by this write-up.
Soul Makossa became one of the world’s first disco hits and encourage musician in Cameroon to further explore the dance sound that borrowed heavily from their indigenous musical knowledge bases. Years of experiment with this traditional sound and playing around with the modern gifts of synthesizers, electric guitars and drum machines took the music to its peak, and this is where your journey begins on the tape . On this compilation, you get a wide scope of the music from pulsating dance numbers about Yaoundé girls to mercurial and mystic home-recorded brilliance.
Nen Lambo, off Bill Loko’s 1980 album, Salsa Makossa is one of the polarising records on the compilation. Bill Loko’s strong vocal presence lights up this soulful and funky song, with warbly space age synth chords and highlife electric guitar lines similar to something from Kojo Antwi or Youssou N’dour. It is this inherent familiarity that fuels the compilation. Ngon Engap by Olinga Gaston is another favourite of this project. The songs leans heavily towards the funk side of Makossa with a Parliament like synth guitar leads and pacy traditional drums and the core, accompanied by the signature repetitive chorus that is essential to any Makossa song. Pop Makossa gives listens a range of moods and feeling from cosmic space age funk to light and steady soulful blues.
Regardless of the mood, the songs on this compilation certainly warm up to you. The album provides a sonic portrait a people at the time when this music was engineered. From Yaoundé Girls to Africa, it charts the history of popular Cameroonian music. Despite it being in exercise in nostalgia, the tape introduces the music to new fans. The success of William Onyeabor’s classics today further emphasis the fact that African electronic music is timeless. It also showcases a broader scope of the African soundscape, beyond popular highlife and afro-beats that are slowly becoming a dangerous singular narrative around African music.
Analog Africa by compiling this tape open up a portal of rediscovery where listeners can travel into the stories of the artists, producers, DJs and dancers who brought the world a disco craze like non other. We are allowed to peek into this magical space where the traditions and indigenous knowledge of the people from Douala to Yaoundé collided with soukous, rumba, funk, disco and highlife. Pop Makossa is just a preview which would hopeful lead to a further investigation of this infectious dance sound, of which many different variations continue to exist. For now, all we have is a chance to relive it through the music that survived.
The Album will be released via Analog Africa on June 16. Purchase Pop Makossa here!
Written by Hakeem Adam.
Photo Credit: Analog Africa