The globe-trotting team over at Analog Africa are at it again, delivering another beautifully crafted package that shines a light and some of the lost scenes of yesteryear. After 15 years in the game, you’d think the label might be running out of rare gems to find, but here we are clutching 16 tracks of Cameroon garage funk which range from fuzzed-out freakouts to hip-shaking Latin groove.
An esoteric endeavor even by this label’s standards, main man Samy Ben Redjeb chanced upon this scene after time spent with the phenomenal Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Discussing their heyday and past sounds led Ben Redjeb to their old producer, and in turn, the premises of Niger's national radio station for a little crate digging. Drawn to one shelf in particular, he discovered a bunch of Cameroon 45s, nearly all bearing the mark of French music label Sonafric.
Thus began label head’s ‘Sonafric Safari, a trip which saw him travel from Douala to Yaoundé via Bamenda like some kind of vinyl obsessed Dr. Jones. Finds were scarce, as was any information, and it’s only now after hours interviewing various music figureheads that we get a snapshot of this underground scene that set 70s Yaoundé alright. With venues of the day hosting everything from soul nights to French yé-yé it’s no surprise that this compilation seems a bit more scrappy and scattershot than other releases but still filled with plenty of welcome surprises.
With the country at the time lacking any real recording industry or facilities, getting your song out there to the masses was a real hustle in itself, one often requiring the use of an Adventist church and an open-minded engineer. What’s left for history is a set of DIY tracks which willed themselves into existence through pure determination and a level of energy that still reverberates today.
The likes of Joseph Kamga’s ‘Sie Tcheu’ fit the comp's title admirably, boasting raw funk guitar, organ solos, and a bassline that refuses to quit. ‘Yondja’ on the other hand proves a more Afrocentric treat, the western funk groundwork mixed with spidery piano work, horns, and percussion that’s tighter than a diving bell. The Damas Swing Orchestra proves another winner, the group using its short track runtime to deliver a nocturnal groove while sprinkling samples of crowd cheers over the top. It’s smooth, a little jazzy, and about 15 years ahead of its time.
More than anything, the 16 numbers on show reveal what a melting pot the city’s club scene was at the time. French language numbers are belted out - at times off-key - while artists with names like Johnny Black do their best James Brown impersonation in recording rooms with just one mic. Once again this boutique label has moved mountains to give lovers of African music, as well as musicologists, a real treat. It may just be a glimpse, but damn does Cameroon circa 1975 sound like a lot of fun.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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