Sunday, August 28, 2011

Motorcycle Taxi Riding Music: Andre Marie Tala

In the early1970s the Godfather of Soul, James Brown was touring Africa  including a stop over in the small west African country, Cameroon.  One of his Cameroonian fans, a budding singer and composer, Andre Marie Tala, managed to get a tape of some of his own music into the Godfather’s hands.  A little while later he bought James Brown’s latest release, The Hustle. Much to his surprise (and one assumes, pride and disappointment) he discovered that he was listening to his own song, one that he had included in the tape he had given to Brown on his visit to Cameroon!  Tala got legal help and filed suit against Brown for stealing his groovy tune.  The wheels of justice ground and spun but ultimately, Andre Marie Tala won. “I didn’t get much money out of the deal but it did make me famous,” he told an interviewer years later.

Tala’s song, Hot Koki, may be his most recognized (and notorious) song in the West but at home in Cameroon he has been a hit-making star for years. Along with Manu Dibango (whose own music was the pilfered without attribution and compensation by none other than Michael Jackson for his super hit Wanna Be Starting Something) Andre Marie Tala is one of his country’s biggest music stars.
Andre Marie Tala

His early life was marked with almost unbelievable tragedy. His mother died when he was just four years old. Several years later his father passed away. And at the age of 15 he lost his sight. Perhaps with no other option he threw himself into a life of music. He formed a couple of groups, one of which, The Black Tigers, included the guitarist Sam Fan Thomas, who later went on to achieve fame in his own right.  Tala, Thomas and the aforementioned, Manu Dibango, were creating and developing makossa Cameroon’s distinctive popular music that dominated the country from the 1960s on. 

Makossa is a type of music that is most popular in urban areas in Cameroon. It is similar to soukous, except that it includes strong bass rhythm and a prominent horn section. Makossa, which means  “dance" in Duala, originated from a type of Duala dance called kossa, with significant influences from jazz, ambasse bey, Latin music, highlife and rumba. While the makossa style began in the 1950s, the first recordings were not seen until a decade later. Artists such as Eboa Lotin, Misse Ngoh and especially Manu Dibango popularized the style outside of Cameroon in the late 1960s. Makassi is a lighter style of makossa. Makossa in the 80's saw a wave of mainstream success across Africa, and to a lesser extent, aboard, as Latin influences, Martinican zouk, and pop music changed its form. (Wikipedia)

Tala was a pioneer and innovator of the tchamassi style and in the 90s created bend skin which blended funk with folk rhythms and became popular with the motorcycle taxi drivers of Cameroon’s cities.

Tonight’s record is a great way to get to hear not just Hot Koki but to get acquainted with the wonderful makossa and bend skin sound of Cameroon as well as the creative genius of one of Africa’s best, Andre Marie Tala. 

            Track Listing:
01.   Bend Skin
02.   Koki (Hot Koki)
03.   Ye Nomtema
04.   Othia
05.   Odoya
06.   Muouop
07.   Mo Kwa Yie Mou
08.   Sadja Bouba
09.   Saya
10.   Me Te Ne Mse
11.   Soul Tchamassi
12.   Che Mutok
13.   Piego Hela

Listen here.

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