Musical memories from Cameroon

Posted February 12th, 2008 at 12:35 am (UTC-4)

Yesterday, the Egyptian national soccer team, the Pharoahs, only needed one goal to beat Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, and win the Africa Cup of Nations for the sixth time. This morning, the Pharaohs-who were the defending champions- returned to Cairo International airport, where they were met by thousands of overjoyed fans. The Cameroonians, meanwhile, returned to Yaoundé, where their glum fans were still absorbing the team’s defeat. While soccer-mad Egyptians are enjoying the trophy, I imagine many Cameroonians must be nostalgic for their great soccer teams of the 1980s and 1990s.

And while I can’t bring back the 1984 Indomitable Lions of Théophile Abega who-under his leadership-won the 1984 African Cup of Nations, or Roger Milla’s 1990 squad, who brought Cameroon to the World Cup quarterfinals, I can hopefully relieve the nostalgic aches of some fans with a few selections from our archives.

Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel, from Douala, was one of the pioneers of Cameroonian modern music. Every weekend, throughout the mid-1960s, fans would flock to the bar ‘Le Flambeau’ where, with the help of his band Los Calvinos, Nelle Eyoum would keep Douala’s music lovers dancing through the night. Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel and Los Calvinos, along with Ebanda Manfred and Epée Mbende, laid the foundations for what became Makossa music. The story goes, although I have not been able to confirm this, that as Los Calvinos would work themselves into a solid groove, and the dancers would fall into the rhythm, the band would call out ‘Kossa, Kossa’-which is also the name of a children’s hand-clapping game. Eventually this dance call gave its name to a new style of music from Douala, the Makossa.

This reel was given to us by Radio Douala back in the 1960s; we don’t have an exact date, but judging by the music, and the tape stock, I am guessing probably around 1965-6. This is a two-track recording, featuring a lean line-up of two guitars, an upright bass, congas, and maracas. Unfortunately, there is no documentation accompanying this reel. The lineup is a mystery to me. I know that François Misse Ngoh was the guitar player for Los Calvinos for many years, before breaking away and launching his own successful career. I, however, I am not sure that he is the lead guitar player on these recordings (whoever the guitar player is, he is a wonderfully fluid soloist). I imagine that this reel is pretty representative of the pre-Makossa repertoire of Los Calvinos; the Cuban and Congolese rumba influences are obvious, and there are also some hints of highlife.

This next track is my favorite of the bunch. The band goes into a great percussion breakdown that gives a glimpse of the rhythmic changes that were to come with Makossa.

I don’t know if all of the tracks on this reel were recorded during the same session; and if they were, in what order they were recorded. The guitar soloist, however, does seem to get looser and more expressive in the final two songs.

Enjoy the music, and here’s to hoping the Indomitable Lions come back stronger in two years for the next African Cup of Nations!

9 responses to “Musical memories from Cameroon”

  1. Anonymous says:

    wow, matthew, this is AMAZING! i am loving all this incredible music. what a great thing you are doing here. i am going to tell all my friends about this.

    greetings from snowy toronto.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hí Amigo.

    Great Site, I love this Music Vinyls

    Best Regards,

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello Debashis…thanks for your encouragement, and for spreading the word!!

    Fabian, thanks for your kind words. The 1960s and 1970s are such a great era in African music. I have also been very much enjoying your blog…

    The Wganda Kenya 45s and Cuco Valoy lps you posted are fantastic!! Are new releases from Central and West Africa available in Colombia?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have been making calls to Cameroon all week to try and learn a little more about Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel. It seems he started his career in Douala when he joined , in the 1950s, the group Uvucot Jazz. This group was led by Epee Mbende Richard and also featured the singer Ebanda Manfred. I don’t think François Misse Ngoh is the guitar player on the tracks above. He did join Los Calvinos, but it was several years after these recordings. Nelle Eyoum retired from music in the 1980s and passed away in the mid-1990s. Most of his recordings were made by Radio Douala. He released a few 45s, but no lps.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As I mentioned, over the last week, I have been trying to learn as much as I can about Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel. I had been running into roadblocks until Mr. Dieudonne Nwaha, a journalist who works at CRTV Douala, called me this morning. He was able to fill in the following blanks in Nelle Eyoum’s biography. Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel was born on October 5, 1934 in Bonatene, Doula-Deido. His mother was a member of the Aboo ethnic group, from the town of Bonalea. He started playing music in 1950, picking up the guitar, and specializing in the region’s Assiko repertoire. One of his earliest passions was the music of the Congos, especially the music of Wendo Kolosoy, one of the region’s early stars from Leopoldville, the capital of the Belgian Congo. Sometime between 1950 and 1952, Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel met Wendo Kolosoy, joined the latter’s group, and toured the Belgian Congo playing guitar behind Wendo. In 1953, Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel recorded his first 78s in Leopoldville, for the famous N’Goma record company. Later that same year, for family reasons, Nelle returned to Cameroon. Back in Douala, he made his first recordings at Radio Douala, in 1958, with Mouelle Guillaume. The next year Nelle teamed up with Manfred Ebanda, and together, between 1959 and 1963, they made a series of recordings for Radio Douala; the most important of which, recorded in 1959, was ‘Dibala Basil’ (‘Basil’s wedding’), which is generally considered the first recording of Makossa music. Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel went on to form several groups, the most important being ‘Los Calvinos’, and ‘Le Negro Style’. Aside from his many Radio Douala recordings, Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel released thirty-five 45-rpm singles, and two lps. He participated, in 1973, in Cameroon’s first national music festival. Throughout the years he mentored several musicians, most notably, Ngallé Jojo, Ele Gustave Nkotti, François Missé Ngoh, Toto Guillaume, and Nkotti François. He was married and had three children. Nelle Eyoum Emmanuel passed away in 1994, after suffering fatal injuries in a traffic accident. A big thanks to our friend Mr. Dieudonne Nwaha for all the information!

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  7. Hello there! Very useful post! I’m very delighted that I was able to stumble upon your blog while looking on Google. Thank you for this excellent article!

  8. Terri says:

    Hello! I’m looking for contact info for a Cameroonian band called Negro Style who perform the song “Makoune”. Does anyone know how to contact them?
    Much thanks for any help you can provide!

  9. Ezequiel says:

    Very efficiently written article. It will be useful.



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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