Various Artists: Pop Makossa - The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976​-​1984
An airy blend of funk and rumba make for a pleasant collection of vintage Cameroonian dance music, but never quite has its moment.
In the Douala dialect native to Cameroon, makossa is a word that refers to effortless movement -- let's fall, let's dance, let's surrender to the music. With elements of funk and Congolese rumba, the overwhelmingly rhythmic makossa musical style heartily encourages giving in to those urges. Analog Africa's new compilation Pop Makossa highlights the form with a dozen disco-laced Afropop songs recorded between 1976 and 1984.
Analog Africa followers know what to expect, for the most part: solid, retro-cool vintage songs from underrated artists. Obviously, there's brass alongside the quick percussion, and the strong James Brown influence prevalent in West African dance music from the era shows up on most tracks. What sets makossa apart is its lightness. It's not that anything here is unsubstantial -- the beats stick, and the passion is authentic -- but the grooves never stand still. Even slower songs move forward instead of drilling down, all crisp beats and vaporous guitar rising up into the air. It's the ease of highlife and the speed of Afrobeat, cool and warm but never too extreme. There's passion -- Clément Djimogne's "Africa" has a particular fire beneath it -- but as well as that passion is expressed, it's never aggressive.
Production values tend to vary, which is standard for Analog Africa, a label that values variance between its songs, but everything is listenable. Thinness in the electronics on tracks like Bill Loko's "Nen Lambo" certainly dates the material, but it's not too flimsy to stand in a modern context. Likewise, when Mystic Djim & The Spirits get the party started with "Yaoundé Girls", the voices may blend into the background, but the catchy guitar lines go a long way for the song.
With all that said, goodness alone does not make Pop Makossa a particular standout in the Analog Africa catalog, and for all the fine music on here, there isn't much that's truly memorable. There have been plenty of other, more innovative albums out of Cameroon that make a bigger impression; Francis Bebey, Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, and Sam Fan Thomas have all made music with more staying power than what's found on Pop Makossa. Of course, it's a great thing to give exposure to these tracks that would otherwise be lost -- but there's not a showstopper in the mix here. That sounds like nitpicking, but it's an important consideration for an album meant to showcase a specific time and place.
What Analog Africa always does well is no different here: the booklet is thorough and interesting, detailing a journey to track down the original makossa superstars for this album and telling their individual stories. Everything has been well-researched, sounds inviting, looks exciting, and has been certified as a good set of songs by locals familiar with the genre at hand. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Pop Makossa, it's just hard to pinpoint things about it that rise above any other Analog Africa album. Consider it a pleasant addition to your collection -- just don't expect to want to listen to it more than once.