Reviews June 21, 2017
Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984
Funk is widely known across the United States but, arguably, the genre's not-so-distant cousin makossa embodies what it truly means to be “funky.” Derived from the Douala phrase meaning “I dance,” makossa has been bringing listeners to their feet since its start in the early 1950s. Starting out as a dance simply called kossa, the genre has grown to see international success outside of its homeland, Cameroon. The most widely known artist was Manu Dibango, whose hit record “Soul Makossa” pioneered in the disco scene and later served as inspiration for songs from Michael Jackson and Rihanna. Though makossa has seen widespread acclaim, Pop Makossa delves into the lesser-heard songs of the genre recorded from 1976-84. Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb has been compiling tracks for Pop Makossa since 2008, and with good reason. The label is known for its knack of finding hidden gems as seen on past compilations like Senegal 70 and Space Echo, so it only makes sense that Redjeb would want to keep up the trend. The underground of makossa is filled with sounds that bridge Africa to the funk, disco and soul stylings of America in the 1970s and ‘80s, and Analog Africa succeeds in uncovering some far-out picks. The album, fittingly, starts with “Pop Makossa Invasion,” a bare-bones track by Dream Stars which premiered on Radio Buea in Cameroon but never saw an official release. You await additional instruments to join in on the groove being laid down by the guitarist, bassist and drummer of the group, but they never come in. Instead, your attention turns to the prominent bass line (a reoccurring trend on this album) and rhythmic chanting, instructing you to “do the pop makossa”. And “do the pop makossa” you will. Although the track keeps the instrumentation to a minimum, the beat slowly works its way through your head and you’ll find yourself bopping along in no time. However, the second cut quickly takes us up to speed on a trip into the nation’s capital with “Yaoundé Girls” performed by Mystic Djim and the Spirits. While the opening number is more of a slow burn, Djim throws us directly into the fire telling us the various ways (reggae, grooving, telling them good things) with which you can keep Yaoundé girls satisfied. Despite the fact that all of these compositions are from a vintage Cameroon era, their variation in sound would suggest that they’ve been plucked from all over the world, and even outside of it. The piano line on “M’ongele M’am” by Eko wouldn’t feel out of place with Donna Summer’s vocals layered on top, blasting out of Studio 54. The introduction on “The Sekele Movement” from Pasteur Lappé sounds like James Brown is about to greet us with his classic shout at any moment. Continuing our journey, Lappé serves as pilot and guides us into a tropical paradise, presumably located far across the galaxy as spacecraft-like sound effects litter his other song, “Sanaga Calypso.” This cosmic sensation is heightened by the album cover, featuring a highly decorated figure shooting laser beams out of its eyes. This supernatural being is juxtaposed with the Cameroonian town seen in the background, well reflecting the wide variety of sounds and influences heard on this album. Pop Makossa culminates seven years of careful deliberation as to which choice cuts should be included, but I believe the time was well spent as this record does an (inter)stellar job of highlighting the unique crossover sounds of the genre. You can stream and buy the full album here: