When I arrived in Cameroon, I expected there would be an interesting melange of music to be discovered here. After all, a culture rich with its own musical heritage, as well as the influences of French and English music that came with its colonial past, must have a diversity that would be enviable anywhere. And I’m sure that’s true if one explores far enough into the customs and traditions of the country. But soon after I arrived, I found an immediate musical phenomenon that I didn’t expect. It seems that Cameroonians love Dolly Parton and Don Williams.
At first, I attributed hearing the warblings of Parton as a joke played for laughs by a sidewalk vendor eager to attract customers. But I’ve since heard her songs played in multiple locations, so there seems to be a real affection for her jaunty tunes. The popularity of Williams is even more mystifying. A country singer who reached his peak in the ‘70s with his driving hit “Tulsa Time”, Williams seems to have been embraced by people in both Nigeria and Cameroon. It’s a bit surreal to be eating rice and beans in one of my favourite lunch spots and to be serenaded by Williams’ ode to “Amanda”, whom fate should have made a gentleman’s wife, at least according to the song.
But it’s now the first of December and that can mean only one thing – time to dust off the yuletide musical chestnuts for three weeks of non-stop holiday cheer. Now, I’m no Grinch when it comes to enjoying the music of the season; in fact, I made a point of buying one new CD of Christmas music every year when I was in Canada. Of course, I tended toward the more unusual of offerings to avoid an overload of the saccharine sweet banalities or melancholic broodings that tend to define playlists at this time of year. For my money, James Brown’s rendition of “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” or Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” were as capable of making one merry as anything in the catalogues of Nat King Cole or Der Bingle.
As the Northwest region of Cameroon is predominantly Christian, the Christmas season is now in full swing here, including the attendant anthems. My taxi ride this morning hummed along to Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child” on the radio, and I arrived at the office to find that our neighbours had “Jingle Bells” on a continual loop for twenty minutes, so that we could all have time to ponder the intricate meanings found in the lyrics. Exactly why are we dashing through the snow? And what is it that keeps us laughing all the way? These and other questions demand the kind of answers that can only come from the happy place that I send my mind when faced with the type of musical barrage that greeted me this morning.
And yet, I will happily endure all of the sentimental holiday stylings of Kenny G and Michael Bolton for the next three weeks, as it means a respite from my nemesis, P-Square. Long-time readers of my blog will recall that this Nigerian musical duo tortured me for my entire stay in Nigeria with their hit single “Do Me”, which is about as complex a song as the title suggests. The combination of a catchy beat and their status as homegrown musical superstars ensured P-Square’s song was played more or less continuously in cars, clubs, sidewalk kiosks and anywhere else that had access to a radio. The ubiquitous mobile phone adopted it as the hippest of ringtones. I’m quite sure that babies were lulled to sleep by the same Muzak version that graced shopping malls and elevators throughout the country.
Since my arrival in Cameroon, there has been one song that has dominated the airwaves like no other, and that is “Chop My Money”, which is Pidgin English for “Take My Money”. Of course, I was a bit confused by this, as “chop” also means “food” in Pidgin, so the song could also be “Eat My Money”. In any event, the song is inescapable and began to drill its way into my brain the way “Do Me” had years before. Other expats were similarly affected, none more so than a French couple who have the misfortune of living across the street from a nightclub, so they get to enjoy the song on multiple occasions each evening.
The song had become such a part of everyday life that comparisons to my experience in Nigeria began to creep into my head. It finally reached a point of needing to know more about my enemy, so I asked one of my afflicted French friends the name of the group that was responsible for this ear worm. When he said “P-Square”, I shook my head in disbelief that they had come back to haunt me for another year. And yet, I also have a certain amount of grudging respect for them. It’s one thing to dominate the charts in one’s home country, but to enjoy cross-border success on a level that I see in Cameroon, a group needs to be able to both tap into the current musical zeitgeist and to market itself as the best purveyors of it.
But it’s still an awful song.
This is best appreciated by hearing the music that goes with such memorable lines as:
If you see her eye-yies, eye-yies
You no go believe she’s looking at me
My temperature dey rie-yies, rie-yies
So, I invite you, at your own risk, to check out the band’s offering on YouTube at:
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And if you find yourself running for the comfort of your iPod or stereo to turn on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “9 to 5”, I completely understand.