Tag Archives: Analog Africa

The Pop Beat of Makossa

Pop Makossa

Orchestre Eko, photo by Analog Africa.

The infectious rhythm known as Makossa was once the heartbeat of Cameroon, and dominated the streets and radio stations throughout Central and West Africa. Translated as “(I) dance” in the Douala language, spoken across Cameroon’s coastal regions where the genre formed, Makossa was very much at the heart of the country’s post-independence musical pride.

Names like Nelle Eyoum and his band Los Calvinos wrote the Makossa rule book beginning in the early ‘60s, declaring that any genre, instrument, or style could only add to Makossa’s musical flavor. Then, driven forward by Makossa’s “second wave” by artists like Francis Bebey, Eboa Lotin, and Jean Dikoto Mandengue, the genre began edging into the Cameroonian mainstream and, eventually, abroad. In 1972, a chance record store discovery of Cameroonian jazz pioneer Manu Dibango by New York icon David Mancuso brought Makossa to downtown disco through his biggest hit in Soul Makossa. James Brown caught the bug too, taking influence from (and arguably plagiarizing) André-Marie Tala’s Hot Koki on his 1973 single “Hustle (Dead On It).” Tala subsequently sued Brown, and won.

Makossa was a melting pot of influences from across the African continent and beyond—the biggest musical impact came from the Congo. In the 2005 publication Africa’s Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging, author Francis B. Nyamnjoh spoke of how Congolese rumba initially reached Cameroonian shores through Radio Léopoldville’s powerful transmitters from what is known today as Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other major influences were merengue from the Dominican Republic, the energetic tropical inclinations of Ghanaian and Nigerian high-life, and the traditional form of Cameroonian guitar music Assiko. These opposing forces all came together in the urban corners of the country in cities like Edéa and Douala.

In the new compilation, Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976 – 1984, Analog Africa celebrates the prime years of beachfront grooves by showcasing the tracks that kept Cameroon bumping throughout the decades.

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Album of the Day: Anchorsong, “Ceremonial”

Masaaki Yoshida has been composing electronic music under the moniker Anchorsong for more than a half-decade, first gaining attention for his 2011 debut Chapters, a laidback house record based on the DJ’s spontaneous live shows. On his second full-length, Ceremonial, the Tokyo-bred DJ broadens his scope of source material with an adventurous, thrilling set of intricate instrumentals that bear little resemblance to its predecessor.

Inspired by the discovery of The Vodoun Effect, a collection of obscure West African instrumentals from the 70’s, Anchorsong, who takes his name from Bjork’s 1993 “The Anchor Song,” emphasizes and incorporates complex rhythmic constructions and an expansive array of Afrobeat samples on Ceremonial, touching everything from surf rock to New Wave along the way.

“Mother,” “Last Feast,” and “Butterfly,” which merge polyrhythmic structures with brief, indistinguishable vocal snippets and crisp house beats, are the perfect showcases for Yoshida’s Afro-house hybrids. Even a song like “Expo,” which begins with a more traditional bass-driven sonic palette, continues to slowly build as Yoshida adds elements like guitar, hand drums, and marimbas to dense, stunning effect.

There are no cheap payoffs or ready-made club hits on Ceremonial. Instead, it’s an album that rewards repeated listens and careful attention. It seamlessly blends the DJ’s house minimalism with his newfound artistic vision, and the result is one of the most exciting instrumental LPs of the past year.

Jonathan Bernstein