Jean Pierre Simons (San Jose, California)
Music has this particularity of generously offering itself to whoever approaches it. It does this by offering a wide margin of listening latitude to the listener. It becomes therefore incumbent upon the said listener to develop or refine his own listening potential, so as to appreciate all the pleasure thus offered. It is, indeed, a matter of development, when it comes to appreciating and listening to music, the same way as it is when it comes to the other areas that require the psycho-emotional commitment from the listener.
Cameroon’s cultural diversity offers Cameroonians a wealth, whose exact measure is often only known once they are out of their country. Various rhythmic structures bring forth a complexity, rare and very beneficial to the musicians of this land. It can be said, without bragging that there is no rhythmic structure in the world that is not played somewhere in Cameroon. This offers the musicians who grew up in this environment, something unique when they find themselves on the international stage.
A fact of importance is the stunning laziness observed in the degree of sophistication of the musical ear of the Cameroonian public. It is rather disappointing to realize that such a public is yet to join the ranks of the "aware" who, when it comes to listening and appreciating music, have forever acquired a praising refinement.
The Cameroonian public has, for long, been sinking into this phenomenon of poor listening, and has, in a way, resigned to the mediocrity to the extent where it has forgotten to request from its musicians, the audio quality and sophistication in the production of their works.
Auditory Myopia in Cameroon?
It is true that it takes all sorts to make the world. It is equally true that all products resulting from music have their place in the realm of things. Not everybody would become an expert musician or expert in musical appreciation. It is, however, still desirable that the majority of Cameroon’s public develop this sophistication, which is indispensable to the appreciation of music, given the many things it affects.
As earlier said, music is far from being a simple medium of auditory pleasure. Let's consider, for instance, the lullabies sung by mothers to lull the child to sleep. It is not just a matter of a child listening to the sound of the mother's voice. For, if that were the case, all the child would have to do, would be to listen to that voice, or even listen to people around talk, to become tranquil. In fact, the vowel sounds pronounced in the soothing lullaby have an effect on the nervous system of the child through the sympathetic system and therefore, on the psychic centers.
If we keep in mind the harmonic relationship between musical notes and chemical elements in nature, thus in the child's body, we will realize the importance of that lullaby, seemingly not extraordinary. The repetitive aspect of the rhythm accompanying these sounds eventually produces a dynamic effect that has an impact. It is interesting to note that lullabies are always composed on a harmonic mode with abundance of notes called "conjoint", that is, with not too much gap between them in the musical scale. This facilitates a simple and natural harmonization.
Music therapy is not a futility. The art of using scholarly music for healing purposes has been a common phenomenon for many centuries. Another very simple demonstration to establish the relationship between our mood and the effect of music on us is available to all. All one has to do when in a bad mood and agitated, is to pick a piece of music that strongly suggests or inspires calmness, in order to realize that after only a few minutes of listening to the piece, our mood begins to change, and it eventually and completely stabilizes after about twenty minutes.
On the other hand, emotions can be transmitted to someone else through musical notes to which would be added the effect of a sustained thought. This means that a subject who is focusing on an idea or on an emotion, and who produces musical notes while strongly holding the thought or emotion in her or his mind will transmit the said thought or emotion to someone else without the use of words. It was certainly not by coincidence that ancient people understood that sacred songs would be composed on a mode very different from that destined to explode.
Music directly affects the individual who, in turns, affects the society in which she or he lives. The individual, who is continuously exposed to unrefined emotions, will become part of those emotions and will project them all around. It is not necessary to give here an exhaustive list of all the negative things that would then come as a result. However, let's not be scared of facts in considering some of these regrettable entities: Alcohol and other drugs abuse; tendency to run away from one’s responsibilities and to be in constant hiding when faced with the normal challenges of existence; despise for what is organized to produce a harmonious environment; trashing of the intellectual potentials; cynicism…etc. It becomes more and more difficult to the individual so affected, to produce ideas capable of elevating her or his surroundings, that is, likely to be intellectually or spiritually stimulating.
Engineering Cameroon Music
The different rhythms that compose the extremely rich Cameroonian musical background are for the most, "internationalizable" rhythms. It nevertheless requires some work that cannot come from an amateurish undertaking with a too poor of a vision. Some of the Cameroonian musicians have undertaken such work and must be encouraged in their endeavor. We can briefly cite Manu Dibango, of course…Richard Bona…Henri Dikongué…Justin Bowen…Ekambi Brillant…Jay Lou…There are many others who have sensed this great work and have been at it.
The beauty of their effort resides in the fact that they have understood that Cameroonian music has the international potential and cannot be confined to Cameroon alone. These leading musicians remain however a minority, compared to the intoxicating mass of those who remain rooted behind, essentially because of ignorance and the inability to produce high level work.
As a matter of illustration of the engrained complexity of the Cameroonian musical background, a good example is Makossa, which in itself, is an ingenious combination of three other Cameroonian rhythms: Assiko, Ambassibey and Essèwè. This means that these three rhythms can be played simultaneously. How do we bring these marvels to the international public? There lies the work of the Cameroonian musicians. This goes beyond our immediate focus in this article.
Other musicians in another part of the world have accomplished similar work. We experienced the fever of Reggae…why couldn't that be the case with Makossa? Here precisely lies a difference that is worth pointing out in the approach observed in these two music genres. When one reads the lyrics of the Reggae songs, as compared to the low-type Makossa tunes that the Cameroonian public falls for, is there a difference? Can one export these so-called Makossa lyrics to the international market with pride? I'll leave it to the reader to find an answer for that question.
Intellectual Myopia of the Cameroon Musician is Killing!
The intellectual myopia of some Cameroonian musicians that has lasted for too long must be replaced with a more healthy and elegant vision, more elevating, celebrated beauty instead of bestiality, more international thus encompassing, boosting our Makossa to the spheres of the Universal and…quite frankly, more sophisticated and therefore infused with real wisdom. It is the duty of Cameroonians to ask their musicians, to make products that are capable of passing the burning test of the international market.
It should be noted that our soccer players have done just that in their domain. This public must systematically refuse and boycott the products whose objective is to make a little money. These types of musicians are pollutants that add to the degradation of our manners. Such a request would be followed by an upward adjustment by Cameroonian musicians. It would be preferable that these musicians remained foresighted in order to be engaged in the creation of an elevated society. Unfortunately, a good number of them have missed the train. It is time the rhythm of decency and the melody of sophistication were imposed on them. A better Cameroonian society would certainly result from and that would work for the common good.
Jean Pierre Simons is a music scholar, artist & producer in San Jose, California - USA.