"....fact of equal 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.....One cannot discern these things when too busy wiggling continuously, abundantly sweating all over the place, with the brains held hostage by the vapors of alcohol. And that is where the problem lies. Listening to music is a true treatment session; a session to practice the art of living. It is the equivalent of reading a good book, a good story intelligently conceived by the author. The pleasure is indescribable. Here, there is an elevating element pulling the psycho-emotional resources of the individual up, that is, toward fulfillment. A flower is blossoming in this process both sophisticated and beautiful! Music is far from being a simple media for the auditory pleasure. It happens to be one of the most mysterious forces given to mankind, provided the realm of such force is understood....."
By Jean Pierre Simons
[Music Scholar, Artist & Producer - San Jose, USA].
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. From this standpoint, it should be noted that the individual who creates the musical piece is not different from the listener of the music, both being mixed up in the maze of the multiple effects on the mentality. We will, later on, examine some of these effects. If it is true to state that " Tell me what you eat and I would d tell you who you are" it can be unequivocally said that: "Tell me what music you listen to and I would tell you who you are".
Music and Social Development in Cameroon
While we confine ourselves to Cameroon in order to circumscribe our analysis, this should however not obstruct, in any way, an applicable extrapolation suitable to other regions, given the universality of music. 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.
Having said that, another fact of equal 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. This refinement makes it possible to set the standard fairly high so that the products that make their way to the market are forced to maintain a certain quality standard, as well as for their contents. The informed public does no longer rush to the first product on the market simply because it provides long lasting wiggling. The product would have to provide an agreeable audio quality to the ears as well.
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.
It is self-evident that the responsibility of such a culture of "auditory myopia" is to be placed right at the door of some musicians who have populated Cameroon’s music world for quite a long time. Too eager and in a hurry to see their faces on the CD's jacket, these musicians have always and frankly too, consistently contributed to the spoliation with mediocre quality products, pushing anything bordering on sophistication to the gutter. Truly the lead in the system, these musicians have, at all times, striven for the lowest possible common denominator. If it is true that the commercial success of a product is a well-wished event that helps to keep it going, it is equally true that to drown in the mud of indecency and lowlife is not an artistic fatality.
It is just as true that a musician has a responsibility toward the society, which is, to avoid at all times to pull it to the gutter, to refrain from constantly nurturing the bestial instincts in the public, but rather to also endeavor to create works which are likelyto awaken the subtle and the little more refined emotions. This is where the importance of listening comes into play. It would be desirable to reach a point some day when the Cameroonian public would comment on a musical work in terms of the "beauty of the violins lines or that of the horns"… of the "beauty of the modulation line used"… of the "subtlety of the crescendo used"… of the "sudden surprise of the silence of the horns"… of the "romantic quality of the vocal arrangements"…etc. All these points have one thing in common: Listening. One cannot discern these things when too busy wiggling continuously, abundantly sweating all over the place, with the brains held hostage by the vapors of alcohol. And that is where the problem lies.
Listening to music is a true treatment session; a session to practice the art of living. It is the equivalent of reading a good book, a good story intelligently conceived by the author. The pleasure is indescribable. Here, there is an elevating element pulling the psycho-emotional resources of the individual up, that is, toward fulfillment. A flower is blossoming in this process both sophisticated and beautiful! Music is far from being a simple media for the auditory pleasure. It happens to be one of the most mysterious forces given to mankind, provided the realm of such force is understood. Let's think about it for a moment.
There are fundamentally, in the scale familiar to us, 7 basic notes and 5 of coloration, forming together what is called the chromatic scale. For those who don't understand what it is all about, just visualize a piano keyboard or a synthesizer. The white keys are the basic ones in different "registers" also called octaves whereas the black ones are of coloration; they too are organized in different octaves.
A demonstrable fact shows that a musical note is in harmony with a chemical element, a color and an organ or area of the human body. A logical extrapolation permits the inference that it is so as well, as far as the animal body is concerned. Let's consider the hundreds of millions of musical works ever created throughout centuries and we'll begin to sense that we are here faced with a tool that ought to be approached with a lot of diligence.
One should never become a musician if not by profound vocation, the same way as one enters various religious orders. The music profession should never be the place for recycling, where academic failures would receive the laundering alternative…"easy". In other words, one should become a musician the same way one becomes an engineer or a medical doctor, that is, through an academic pursuit with the option of becoming a musician. The ignorant musicians in Cameroon or elsewhere are a terrible mistake of an educational system that is yet to grasp all the ramifications of the Art in the life of human beings.
The Sophistication and Appreciation of Music in Cameroon: The Path Not Taken
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. It would be difficult to imagine a lullaby full of the big fifth (1) jumps, for instance. In contrast, let's consider something coming from the "hard rock" environment.
It is immediately self-evident that the nervous system is plunged into a state of agitation, incapable of calmness and balance; as a result, a certain state of mastery eludes it. In fact, the unfolding hype is potentially conducive to the most irrational behavior. 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.
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.
Curbing Music Myopia
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. © The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved
Note: (1) A "fifth" is the musical interval made of five degrees or "steps", between two musical notes. For example, between the C (do) and the G (sol) there are five degrees or "steps" (C-D-E-F-G…). This interval is therefore a fifth.