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With its southern frontier just six degrees north of the equator and its northern tip deep in the semi-desert Sahel, Cameroon is often referred to as "Africa in miniature" for its sheer diversity of people, languages, and climatic regions. It is slightly larger than the state of California, and features dense rainforests in the south and east, a tropical climate along the coast, and semi-desert conditions in the far north. At 4,095 meters high, Cameroon's active volcano, Mount Fako, is the highest mountain in West Africa.

Originally colonized by the Germans, Cameroon became a joint French and British colony after World War I. It achieved independence in 1960, and has had two Presidents in its history – the current is Paul Biya. Home to more than 16 million people, the country is officially bilingual, but only two of Cameroon's ten provinces are majority English-speaking. Crazy about soccer, Cameroonians are proud of their national team, perennially one of Africa's best, as well as their most famous player Roger Milla, who competed in four World Cups. Renowned world music star Manu Dibango is the most famous Cameroonian musician, whose 1972 album "Soul Makossa" is often considered the first disco record.

Online

BBC Cameroon country profile

Columbia University Library African Studies

Cameroon: CIA World Factbook

Cameroon: Lonely Planet

Cameroon: Wikipedia

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The Mvet is both an epic story and an instrument. It is present in the cultures of many African forest peoples related to the Beti/Fang tribes, including those in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo. The oral history is characterized by an Ekang phase, which includes spiritual and mythological topics (such as Nzana Nga Zogo). Such stories honor village leaders, recount stories of heroism, and inspire communities. These epic stories are played with a traditional stringed instrument called the mvet. Constructed with materials found in the Central African rainforest, the mvet is made of a long bamboo spine, with one or more gourds that resonate when a player plucks its strings.

Bikutsi translated means "beat the earth." Rooted in the cultural traditions of the Beti people who live throughout the country's southern and central provinces, Bikutsi music is an intensely rhythmic style, and for hundreds of years was composed with acoustic instruments such as the zanza, balafon, and various percussion instruments. In the 1960s, Cameroonian Messi Martin was the first to play traditional Bikutsi melodies on the electric guitar, and the genre began to fuse with other traditions. In the 1980s, the iconoclastic band Les Tête Brulées popularized bikutsi to a wider audience on a global scale. Today, more often than not, modern Bikutsi music has modern instrumentation with drum machines, bass guitar, and a shrill electric guitar riffing on the traditional melody lines. It has come to rival Makossa as the most popular Cameroonian music, even surpassing it in the center and south provinces, where it dominates airwaves, bars, and nightclubs.

Books & Journals

Assoumou Ndoutoume, Daniel. “Du Mvett L'Orage: Processus de democratisation conté par un diseur du Mvett.” (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1993).

Biyogo, Grégoire. “Encyclopédie du Mvett.” (Paris: Menaibuc, 2002).

Ndong Ndoutoume, Philippe dit Tsira. “Le Mvett.” (Paris: Presence Africaine, 1970). Tome I.

Eno Belinga, Samuel Martin. “L'épopée camerounaise: Mvet, Moneblum ou l'homme bleu.” (Yaoundé: CEPER,1978).

Online

BBC: Mvet

Wikipedia: Music of Cameroon

Africasounds.com article by Hortense & Charles Fuller:
"A History of Bikutsi Music in Cameroon"

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Everywhere we look, cultures are morphing in kinetic leaps and bounds. Towns grow into bustling cities as more people move from rural, poverty-stricken areas in search of a better future for themselves and their families. While modernization may offer some new opportunities, it can also threaten cultural diversity and historical traditions when it replaces the old with the new.

Finding sustainable ways to preserve the richness, authenticity, and uniqueness of communities while encouraging better access to economic and social development is a complex task. We hope that our story, and the dialogue that it stimulates, can serve as one positive step in this journey.

Online

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

UNESCO: Traditional Music in Africa

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