Archives - African All Stars


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Chris Stapleton et Chris May






A large west African state bordered in the north by Nigeria, in the south by Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon has produced a strong urban music tradition which has grown up in parallel with other west and central African forms such as juju, highlife and soukous.


From the 1930s, mission schools set up their own marching bands, made up of xylophones and percussion instruments. One of their fonctions was to usher pupils into assembly. Outside school hours the bands also played dance musics, in a mixture of local and Western styles. Guitars and accordions made their mark around the saine time. 'We didn't have any proper bands in those days,' recalls Cameroonian polit.ician Ndeh Ntumazah. 'You'd never see a saxophone or tromper player. Only guitarists playing a kind of highlife and accompanied by a bottle player. "


Southern Cameroon, with its ports, and resultant early contacts with European traders and missionaries, saw the rise of a number of musical forms which mixed traditional and outside musics. One of the most popular was asiko, a percussion and xylophone music in which the acoustic guitar gradually rock a lead role. Guitarists also joined the ambasse bey groups, who played a faster dance rhythm, and would often, like the konkomba bands in Ghana, lead dancers through the streets. Makossa was a third, equally popular, folk dance. The name comes from the verb 'kosa', to remove suddenly and roughly, the dancers' movements simulating a form of striptease. Like asiko and ambasse bey, makossa changed with the times. It became a guitar and percussion music, and absorbed flavours from highlife, rumba and merengue, which became popular with the import of the 'Spanish' records.


The fifties saw the rise of a number of nationally-known musiciens who can claim to have pioneered modern Cameroonian music. The best-known were Salle John, an ambasse bey guitariste jean-Aladin Bikoko, one of the greatest of the asiko musiciens; and guitarist Ebanda Manfred, whose acoustic group, featuring two women singers and a bottle player, laid the foundations for modern makossa. Dance bands saw a similar growth in popularity. In the early sixties, John Gassa, a trompeter who had lived in Nigeria and worked with Rex Lawson, put together his own dance band in the chief port, Douala, mixing local rhythms with cover versions of Nigerian highlife tunes, rumbas and merengues and other dance steps, including the waltz and quickstep. It was the kind of mixture that would


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