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Remnants of Cameroonian Music I
Ernest Kanjo / Friday, 24 April 2009 12:55

1231941912835Arguably, music provokes nostalgia more than anything else. For a while, this writer was in a trance when he watched "Mambo Penya", one of Bella Njoh's hit songs in the late 80s recently on TV. I had rewind my life to the good old days when local music and musicians meant something to Cameroon. On that same slot, I watched with unending appetite "Jolie Pupée", a captivating bikutsi piece done by Roger Bekono. I can vividly recall how we danced it like mad in my college days, both at home and in school. I was gripped by inexplicable feelings. Bella Njoh, Roger Bekono and many others mean a lot to us.

As a little boy, growing up in Cameroon, West of the Mungo, we held musicians in high esteem. They were simply demi-gods, who could hardly be seen physically, except on small screens. Before the coming of television, we could only savour their beautiful voices and melody on radio. So, one could not walk down the street one day and come across makossa icon, Ben Decca, for instance. One could not dream of ever having the opportunity of meeting Solo Mouna or Papillon who at 18 and 19 years respectively, hit the music road with explosive albums, "Madoudou" for the former and "Bosinga" for the latter. The coming of musicians to town was big news and announced months before they ever showed up. Usually, they would come in a team, comprising popular singers as they were skilful band boys and their producers. I cannot quickly forget grand concerts staged in Bamenda and Kumbo in the 80s by JR Nelson, Solo Mouna, Salle John, Misse Ngoh François, Hiogen Ekwalla of blessed memory, etc. A 1989 performance staged by Ateh Bazore and Roger Etia in Nkambe cannot leave my mind so soon. Even then, some of us, too young at the time, were not allowed to go to the halls, but were contented with wallpapers, radio reports and stories told by lucky elder brothers who squeezed their way in to watch the great singers. I also remember a cousin boasting how she burst through the crowd at the Bamenda Congress Hall and joined JR Nelson on stage. She was not only elated to have danced with the star, but became a star herself. "Henceforth, you guys should treat me like a Princess," I remember her warning us after her show with the makossa star.

I will not also forget how anything worn by a musician became fashion - the famous Dina Bell cap, Hoigen Ekwalla epaulet jacket, the Toucouleur shirt, etc. Even hairstyles were determined by the artistes. Each one they wore became fashionable.

Curiously at that time, the Michael Jacksons, Tina Turners, Steve Wanders, Billy Oceans, Madonnas, etc, made news as well. But they could not rob our local musicians, who were crowd pullers as well, of the sentimental attachment to their fans.

Behold, things went sour. The once solid relationship started giving way to a gloomy atmosphere, when piracy forced musicians to solely rely on royalties. As if that were not enough, copyright mathematics became more complicated than the science subject itself. Then hardship and frustration set in. All these happened to the utter disbelief of addicts of Cameroonian music.

At a recently meeting to deliberate on copyright issues, I had my eyes fixed on the legends, my ears closed to flurry of insults they rained on each other. The feelings were mixed: shock, sympathy, disappointment, anger, admiration then, frustration. The picture of once famous singers, today tattered and beggarly was awful. Then I was taken aback when a one-time music d'or (musician of the year) struggling to make his point from a hidden corner, in a thread-bare shirt was rudely snubbed. This musician's hit album [we use to compare it to the national anthem] had held the entire country spellbound for several months. Close to me was another star of the yesteryears, a skilful guitarist who hit the charts as well. He looked frail, unkempt and weary and kept murmuring in despair, probably cursing the gods of music. We left the hall that day with no consensus reached on their problem. On foot, many of them marched down the Yaounde Conference Centre hill, back to continue embrassing their new companion - hardship.

To be continued...

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