Divided in All, United in Music

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It's groups like Sahel Hip Hop that are emblematic of music's unifying role in Cameroon. This pretty awesome hip-hop collective raps in French, English, and Fufulde.

In a country with as much historical tension and linguistic division between French-speakers (or Francophones, who constitute about 85% of the population) and English-speakers (Anglophones, who make up the remaining 15%) as Cameroon, music serves as a truly positive unifying force. Whether it’s sung in the local dialects, like Cameroon’s own makossa and bikutsi melodies, in French, like the omnipresent Ivorian and Cameroonian copy-cat coupe decale, or in English, like the dance club imports from the U.S. and Nigeria, music here rapidly diffuses across cultural and linguistic lines.

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A group of loyal subjects singing on the grounds of their Chefferie, or Chief's Palace, in Bamougoum.

Living with Anglophones, and having met many Anglophones in my travels in Cameroon thus far, I’ve heard an earful on more than one occasion about the political, linguistic, and cultural grievances that they have, most of which are legitimate. Whether the subject is political under-representation, the lack of true bilingualism (despite its official status) when dealing with government officials, or the differences in educational mentalities, once you get an Anglophone Cameroonian started, be ready for a Francophone-bashing diatribe.

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Sometimes, divisions between Anglophone and Francophone become so great that fighting becomes the only solution... Okay, I'm joking. These two kids were playing around in Bangangte after a hard day of Model School.

And if you’re lucky, the speaker will be so frustrated that he’ll burst into bouts of Pidgin English (“Masa, this man he bin kam chop ma do small small!” – “Man, he came and took some of my money (referring to corruption)!” – the proper response is probably “Ashia.” – “Sorry.”). Despite the second word of the language’s title, it’s incredibly difficult to understand when spoken quickly, and this gives you an excuse to zone out and ignore the fuming Anglophone in front of you.

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Why can't all Anglophone-Francophone relations be as cordial our Peace Corps parties back during training, in Bangangte?

However, these very same people will have your heated discussion interrupted by an incoming call in the form of a popular French-language song. And if you’re extremely lucky, this will be followed by several seconds of head-bobbing and possibly some minor (but still impressive) dance moves, before the call is picked up and you’re able to make your escape.

The man might pull out these dance moves, which my host brothers displayed to me in the summer.

He might pull out some dance moves like these, which my host brothers kindly displayed to me this summer.

When it comes to music here, all allegiances are thrown by the wayside. I’m confident that one out of every two Cameroonians is an official, card-toting member of the Celine Dion fanclub, much to my auditory chagrin. And even if you live in the northern provinces, where the Fulani language Fufulde is the lingua franca and the reach of Islam means a more conservative slant to social relations, if you pose the line “If you do me…” to Hausa man, he’ll nine times out of ten reply “I do you” (a la P-Square’s booty-shaking hit song, “Do Me” – see below).

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What better way to enjoy Nigerian club hits than at the club? These three chiefs (yes, all three are actually local chiefs) recently realized that at our local nightclub.

Music is undoubtedly important to every society, whether as a tool for coping with hardship or as a way to celebrate life’s successes. But here in Cameroon, as in much of Africa, music has been embedded in local culture for generations and generations, and has become an inseparable part of the fabric of life. Music (and dance, as I will cover in a later post) is often thrown into daily conversations and blended into everyday actions in a way that I’ve yet to see or hear about in any place outside of this continent. And though it has evolved from its clapping/drumming beginnings to encompass a range of foreign, religious, and linguistic influences, it still continues to serve as a social foundation for the vast majority of Africans.

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Another advantage of being a chief: you can have all your wives sing for you, or for foreign visitors, as they did for us in Bamougoum.

Who can complain when Abidjan’s Magic System and Kingston’s Sean Paul (arguably the most-heralded of French-language and English-language artists here, respectively) can both bring Anglophones and Francophone Cameroonians to the dance floor, hand-in-hand (well, maybe a bit less innocent than that), at clubs across the nation?

Anglophones and Francophones engaged in a heated chess match, during my chess club at Model School.

Anglophones and Francophones engaged in a friendly (but intense) game of chess, during one of my Chess Club meetings in Model School.

Speaking of which, I must take my leave. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are taking on Morocco in a few hours in their final World Cup qualifer. A win promises a berth to South Africa next year, while a tie or a loss might not be enough for Cameroon. I’m obviously hoping for the former, not the least because it’ll guarantee a crazy fun night involving loads of Anglophone and Francophone music. If we get a victory, I’ll be forced to partake in the festivities. Consider it a selfless service to Cameroonian national unity.

Us Peace Corps volunteers are all for national unity!

We Peace Corps volunteers are pro-national unity!

P.S. Check out some of the currently-biggest tracks that are blasted from cheap Chinese radios and pirated CDs throughout the country!:

Ex-Maleya – Yelele: Probably the most popular song in the country right now, and one of the guys is American!

P-Square – Do Me, No One Like You, and Roll It: These Lagos-based brothers can get all of Cameroon, from Douala to Maroua, rocking like no other.

D-banj – Fall in Love: Another Nigerian artist with a tune that’ll be stuck in your head for awhile…

Magic System – Zougloudance, Meme Pas Fatigue, and  Un Gaou a Oran: One of the most internationally-renowned African groups; they’ve been around for a while but are still ridiculously awesome, and not to mention, danceable.

Can’t forget the coupe decale, the love of my life since I went to Africa for the first time, in Fall 2006:

DJ Zidane – Guantanamo (reminds me of my days dancing to it back in Abidjan and Burkina Faso…)

Dollar DJ – Wolosso

The dance craze known as BOBAROBA!

DJ Arafat – Des Belles

Teeyah – Coupe Decale

Pointy-Nini! (a type of really long, pointy dress shoe that’s really popular in Cameroon, and in my wardrobe.)

DJ Tchoucou Tchoucou – Kedjevara

Franky DiCaprio – Fatigue Fatigue

Some (mostly-American) Western imports. Bear in mind that there is a lag in terms of how long it takes for pop music to reach Cameroon. For example, this morning was the very first time I heard Jay Sean on the local radio.

Alicia Keys – No One

Akon – Don’t Matter

Sean Paul and Rihanna – Break it Off

Akon – Beautiful

Akon – Sorry, Blame it on Me

Sean Kingston – Me Love

Hugo Nyame – Pardon Madame: If you live in Cameroon, you have undoubtedly heard this song.

Petit Pays: He’s been around for a few years, but he’s still nearly universally-loved in Cameroon.

Papa Zoe – Ndorty Man: Never heard of the artist, but this song’s pretty popular in Cameroon, as well as in my living room.

The Hausas (who are virtually all Muslim and mostly live in the North) have their own type of music as well, like this song from northern Nigeria.

The biggest religious song in the country (which, fittingly, isn’t even by a Cameroonian artist). Props to God’s power in creating catchy hits!

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    […] Here’s a blog post by already-returned Volunteer Kevin which, among other things, includes a bunch of links to Youtube videos of typical music to hear in Cameroon. […]


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