zondag 13 september 2009

In search of Hip Hop in Cameroon: Sssst… don’t rock the boat, part I (part II till IV, scroll down)

“Sssst… don’t rock the boat”, well that was the idea while being in Cameroon as a journalist on family visit. Cameroon is a central African country. An uncomfortable union between the English speaking Southern Cameroon and the French speaking Cameroun into the Republic de Cameroun. Under the 27 year long rule of Paul Biya the country failed to move up in the ladder of economic and social development. In the past and present day, free-opinion and free-press are two key ideas that do not mix in one sentence without comprehending ‘troublesome’. Thus dangerous territory for me, knowing my own character too well: speaking honestly, asking the right questions at the wrong times, to take a stand and to speak out… I promised myself to keep my focus on writing about music. To be specific to write about Hip Hop culture. It’s a safe subject, at least it looks safe on the surface. A nice cover to keep myself out of the political sensitive subjects and therefor out of trouble.


To study a ‘music-scene’ still allows anybody to have a closer look in the economic, social and political landscape of any country. Especially if it’s Hip Hop: the most outspoken, rebellious and biggest musical culture in the age of modern society. But I have to confess: I failed totally. I did not write about Hip Hop and the Cameroonian youth embracing the global culture and what they do with it on a local level. Instead I rocked the boat. I ran into floods, landslides, mismanagement, corruption and police brutality. And run into people afraid to say out loud what they said in private. Instead of being subtle and silently, I was outspoken: honestly loud, asking questions and taking stands. Attacking the ‘powers-that-be’ in which my own father in law is a big player. Call it a talent.

Other side of the story

Maybe that’s the whole idea of Hip Hop music, it never was meant to be a gentle nice background middle of the road something. Hip Hop is the way to rebel, to protest and to claim the place in society for those oppressed by main stream culture. Hip Hop is the voice of the multi cultural youth. A music culture that grew from the ghetto’s of New York, America. Where it enabled the black-hispanic-and-white-trash inner city youth of the 1970-’80 to express themselves. Giving them a total own way to rebel against the all white ‘be white, be rich, if not: keep your mouth shut!’ capitalistic Reagan-age dominance. To put a bit of context: wasn’t it Reagan and Thatcher that considered Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and tried to get rid of him? And was it not al-Gaddafi who welcomed the ANC training camps on Libyan grounds? So the people of South Africa could successfully overthrow a racist oppressive regime supported by the west? For me and many others around the world, Hip Hop music told me the other side of the story. It taught me what really was going on in the world.

Made the oppressed to be heard

The front leader of the most revolutionary group ever, Public Enemy, stated: “Hip Hop is the black CNN.” From New York, to L.A. to Rio and Amsterdam. To Johannesburg and Tokyo. Everywhere the multi-cultural youth worldwide had finally means to express them selves and rebel against the dominating mainstream oppressive culture. Hip Hop is the global culture that made the oppressed to be heard, on any local front. Demanding their space on this globe: ‘We are here and we are part of this world too!’ I sat with all the big American stars around the table during my career, as they often visit Amsterdam. Chatting about Africa’s heritage and its diaspora and about having family over there and here in the western world. Rose the question, how would this culture manifest itself in the Cameroon? Big artist go to Nigeria, Ghana, South-Africa. But how big is the chance hat the Cameroonian youth can see their idols perform live? This question triggered my quest: in search of Hip Hop in Cameroon, in Africa: the motherland.

Meet the music scene

On my search of youth in Bamenda and how they embraced the world wide Hip Hop culture in Cameroon, the biggest blockade was my family. As a respected adult from the middle/upper class I’m not supposed to go where the youngsters are. Where they play that ‘rough’ music, because - no serious - there is ‘witchcraft’ was one of the excuses. And a bunch of other reasons why not to go there where the sounds are calling for me. To illustrate, in the places we did visit, Dallas Cabaret and Ayaba Night Club my nephew and colleague George was ordered by my wife to bodyguard me when I needed to go pee. Maybe you can imagine that it was quite frustrating situation. “But, you’re white!”, “No shit, Sherlock?!” As a decent family in Africa we are ‘to good’ to be identified with the Hip Hop culture. No chance for me to meet the music scene. The two times that we stayed in the Ayaba Hotel (out of the house) and thus could be in the hotel’s nightclub and Dallas Cabaret… we had fun, but the music at Ayaba was boring.

Once I heard

It was easier for me to explain that there is crime in Amsterdam too, no really there is, than getting into a place where they played Hip Hop and RnB. There are more remarkable images of the ‘white men’s countries’. Once I heard a man stating seriously, with firm believe, he wanted to make it into Europe because: “In Europe the government throws money on the street at night. The one who gets up early enough is rich!” I gave up my effort to tell him it’s slightly different. That the western world can be a lot of fun if you’re originated from the right backgrounds and are successful. But it easily turns to be straight hell to many who can’t live up with the rat race. While joking that I really need to get myself directions to the mentioned street - it’s worth the money - I only could answer him: “So you have been told that the streets of London are paved with gold.” Made me wonder if it was really possible that people could be that naive. Better said, be that stupid. Luckily I spent my time with enough other people with whom it was a pleasure and an enrichment of the mind. But sadly, I could not go out to see the local Hip Hop scene. It is definitely somewhere, out there. But for now, I couldn’t find it.

Auke VanderHoek

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