Various Artists – Pop Makossa

Album Review | Analog Africa | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

The word Makossa, immortalised on the international hit by Manu Dibango “Soul Makossa”, comes from the Douala word to dance.  First and fore-most the Pop Makossa compilation is dance music.  Whichever of the 12 tracks, recorded between 1976 and 1984, you start with you will not be sitting down for long.  Makossa, typified by the Dibango hit is built round a heavy central bass beat with lots of Brass accompaniment.  What connects the music on this compilation is that it all comes from a period where Makossa was infused with funk and disco to make an infectious hybrid.  The label Analog Africa, do very much what is says on the tin, indulging in bigtime international crate diving and the musical equivalent of those Victorian plant collectors, tracking down forgotten classics or unheard gems from the past to make wonderful collections of African music.  Their tagline ‘the future of music happened decades ago’ sums up what is exciting about their compilations and their attitude to music, driven by the idea that the best music you’ve never heard was recorded, forgotten and languishes in this case in Cameroon.  The sleeve of the album, part Russian Constructivist poster with its giant red letters, part tribal art pattern, part mad Godzilla Science Fiction poster very much sets the scene for the eclectic music within, visually representing the collisions of folk and urban styles.  The album opens with Dream Stars’ “Pop Makossa Invasion”, a wonderfully chopped electric guitar, as funky as anything Chic ever did and a trance like vocal chorus stand out in a strong opener.  There is a wonderful lo-fi and otherworldly vibe to the track which has the feel of a shamanic long loose Fela Kuti piece.  This first track is the epitome of crate diving, so obscure, even within Cameroon itself, as to not as even been released at the time of recording.  “Yaounde Girls” from 1984 has a great rhythm, some superb analogue keyboard sounds and a bass line groove to die for.  The slightly phased woozy shifts through the track add to the feeling that is being played on a hot ghetto blaster in the past.  Or that the studio tapes have languished forgotten in humid obscurity and we now listen to their flawed beauty through a sonic patina added by time.  Bill Loko on “Nen Lambo” is a great energetic vocalist with the lilt and drive of an early Youssou N’Dour.  Again, the brass like stabs of early synth keyboards are wonderful analogue textures, while the bright pop production produces a track as infectious as the best of Kylie or anything by Stock Aitken and Waterman.  Eko’s “M’ongele M’am” has the percussion, brass and infectious call and response chorus of The Gibson Brothers’ “Cuba” and “Oh What A Life”, effortlessly demonstrating what a massive hit this could have been with international recognition on its release in 1980.  Hopefully labels like Analogue Africa will release us from the shackles of international distance and propel us by the ears to a future as musically rich and diverse as our gardens are, enriched by earlier botanists and collectors.  Olinga Gaston’s “Ngon Engap” from 1977 is one of the earliest tracks and its wonderful guitar line and beat perfect frenetic rhythm makes it my favourite track from the set, along with the looping guitar licks and solo on “Ye Medjuie” the next track.  The grooves continue with tight rhythms and superb vocals through tracks by Nkodo Si-Tony and Pasteur Lappe.  The Bass solo on “The Sekele Movement” and the songs raw rap like vocals are other gems to listen out for.  The liquid bass line on “The Sekele Movement” the rubbery shuffle underpinning the Mystic Djim and those wobbling notes on “More Love” serve to remind why Cameroonian bass players are renowned the world over.  Pat’ Ndoye’s “More Love” uses a simple lyric, superb vocals and an infectious hook in a way that worked worldwide for Bob Marley, to create an excellent feel good track.  Some fine Saxophone and Trumpet drive the middle section and means that even at eight and a half minutes there isn’t a wasted moment.  I’d defy anyone to remain still for this track especially as again the spirit of Fela Kuti looms large.  Clement Djimogne’s “Africa” layers simple riffs to build tension, while its treated vocals and tempo drive it on relentlessly.  Deni Shain, DJ, music producer and Analogue Africa associate travelled to Cameroon, travelled to Cameroon to finalise the project, license the songs, find archive photos and connect with the Artists.  His journey from the port of Douala to the Cameroon capital of Yaounde brought him into contact with the lives and stories of many of the featured musicians.  Shain met Bernard Ntone whose lone single as band leader, the infectious slab of Afro-funk Mussoloki was recorded on the sly using dead time at the end of a Manu Dibango session in 1977.  It took nearly a year but he managed to track down the illusive Bill Loko in Paris.  Sadly, Deni wasn’t able to meet Mystic Djin who had died in 2009.  Yet Mystic’s widow greeted him by saying she had always believed someone would coming looking for his music.  She was right the time for rediscovery of so much music through the efforts of Analogue Africa is finally here.  Dig deep on this album and back into the Analog Africa catalogue