Perhaps the best known style of music known abroad is Makossa, which has inspired artists as famous as Michael Jackson. Heavy on horns and bass rhythm, Makossa is most popular in Cameroon’s cities and has itself been influenced by other kinds of music, such as jazz and Latin. The final verses of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ were borrowed from Manu Dibango’s international hit Soul Makossa.
Bikutsi is another popular style of contemporary Cameroonian music. The name comes from words meaning “thump the earth” – a reference to the dance that frequently accompanies the music. It originated with the Beti ethnic group and some of its renowned performers include Lady Ponce and Ama Pierrot.
Bikutsi influences have found their way into music by Paul Simon and other Western performers. Both Makossa and Bikutsi are decades-old genres and both have found success abroad. Newer local styles of music, less well known in other countries, include New Rumba, Makossa-Soukous, Nganja and Bantowbol.
Cameroon’s hundreds of languages and ethnic groups provide the country’s musicians with endless inspiration for new songs and new styles of music. Cameroonian emigrants have helped spread knowledge of the music to other parts of the world and few other African countries can boast a music scene that has had the success and influence of Cameroon’s. “We have some great artists and Cameroonian musicians are well known internationally,” says Ama Tutu Muna, the country’s Culture Minister. “If you want to discover the richness of music, come to Cameroon.”