Features & Business
Cameroon is home to numerous distinct ethnic groups.The Beti, or Ewondo, are among the most numerous, and live in the area around Yaoundé and south into Equatorial Guinea. The Beti are best-known for bikutsi music, which has been popularized and become a rival for the more urban and accessible makossa of Douala. Bikutsi is characterized by an intense 6/8 rhythm, and is played at all sorts of Beti gatherings, including parties, funerals and weddings. The word bikutsi can be loosely translated as beating the ground continuously. Beti gatherings fall into two major categories: * Ekang phase: the time when imaginary, mythological and spiritual issues are discussed * Bikutsi phase: when real-life issues are discussed.
A double sided harp with calabash amplification called the mvet is used during these ceremonies, by Beti storytellers, who are viewed as using the mvet as an instrument of God to educate the people. The Ekang phase is intensely musical, and usually lasts all night.
There are poetic recitations accompanied by clapping and dancing, with interludes for improvised and sometimes obscene performances on the balafon (a type of xylophone). These interludes signal the shift to the bikutsi phase, which is much less strictly structured than Ekang. During bikutsi, women dance and sing along with the balafon, and lyrics focus on real-life problems, as well as sexual fantasies. These female choruses are an integral part of bikutsi, and their intense dancing and screams are characteristic of the genre. Another type of ceremony is the mevungu, when women dance all night in order to abstain from sex during those hours for a period of nine days. The sso ritual is much-feared by Beti boys, as it involves a series of tests to mark a boy's passage into manhood.
Later in the 1960s, modern makossa developed and became the most popular genre in Cameroon. Makossa is a type of funky dance music, best-known outside Africa for Manu Dibango, whose 1972 single "Soul Makossa" was an international hit. Outside of Africa, Dibango and makossa were only briefly popular, but the genre has produced several pan-African superstars through the 70s, 80s and 90s. Following Dibango, a wave of musicians electrified makossa in an attempt at making it more accessible outside of Cameroon.
Another pop singer in 1970s Cameroon was André-Marie Tala, a blind singer who had a pair of hits with "Sikati" and "Potaksima".By the 1970s, bikutsi performers like Maurice Elanga, Les Veterans and Mbarga Soukous added brass instruments and found controversy over pornographic lyrics. Mama Ohandja also brought bikutsi to new audiences, especially in Europe. The following decade, however, saw Les Tetes Brulées surpass previous artists in international popularity, though their reaction at home was mixed.
Many listeners did not like their mellow, almost easy listening-styled bikutsi. Cameroonian audiences preferred more roots-based performers like Jimmy Mvondo Mvelé and Uta Bella, both from Yaounde.