The Music of Cameroon: Makossa

When most people hear the word ‘makossa’, Michael Jacksons “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” or Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” come to mind. Most people unfamiliar with African music don’t know the origin of the famous and catchy phrase “mamako mamasa maka makossa”.

Makossa is the name of a popular Cameroonian genre of music made famous in the 1960's by artists such as Eboa Lotin and most notably Manu Dibango. As far as the origin of the word makossa goes, many say it comes from the Douala word “kossa” which means to dance. Although this resonates well with the genre’s powerful bass and brass instruments that are used to create the feel good vibe that pushes listeners to dance to the beat, others argue that the word is an interpretation of Cuban artists’ ad-libs spoken during their live performances that date back to the 1950's.

As with many other genres of African music, makossa's origins can be traced back to the Cuban Salsa and a popular Congolese genre, Rumba. Although makossa is often compared to Soukous, it can be argued that Soukous was strongly influenced by Makossa or vice versa depending on the source.

Manu’s “Soul Makossa” released in 1972 set the ground for the genre. Shortly after its release, makossa quickly swept throughout the African continent and even reached success overseas especially in France thanks to its large population of African people. To this day, “Soul Makossa”  has been reinterpreted at various times and in different styles, but the original remains the most popular.

Over the years, with the success of the artists spreading throughout the African continent, artists worldwide started to incorporate certain elements of this powerful dance music into their own songs. One of these famous artists, arguably one of the world’s most popular performers, Michael Jackson, incorporated Dibango’s famous ‘mamako mamasa mama makossa’ (slightly altered to ‘mamasay, mamasa, mama makossa’) in his famous “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”.

More recently, makossa gained newfound success on the international stage when Shakira came out with “Waka Waka”, the 2010 World Cup’s official anthem. Although she never stated this publicly, Shakira was highly influenced by a Cameroonian band Golden Sounds’ popular 1986 military song Zangaléwa:

Zaminamina oh oh,
 Waka waka eh eh,
 Zaminamina zagalewa,
 Anawam ah ah

Makossa originated in Cameroon but its success has spread much further than its continental borders. Makossa the type of music that is almost impossible to not vibe to both audibly and physically, and with an added boost  the immortalization of  Michael Jackson's “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, makossa will never die. Clearly old makossa tunes continue to influence newer music in various genres, the question is: what is next for Makossa?

What do you think?