So' Forest,
Bikutsi Pop
(Naxos World, 2002)

Africa must be an amazing place to live. In all its history of colonizing, the Western world never met a wilder or more tenacious culture, and the effect that the West and Africa have had on each other is truly stunning.

"Bikutsi," the label of this CD informs us, is "a style of music from Cameroon that began with the spirited dance of Bantu fighters." And indeed, even if the label didn't tell us so, there is no mistaking the African origin of this music. However, there is a definite amount of Western influence as well. Many of the songs here feature rock 'n' roll drum styles, rapping (complete with scratching vinyl) and lyrics, or at least phrases, in French and English. Combined with haunting multi-voice choruses reminiscent of village singing a la Soweto and some very African yells and yips (the Bantu fighter influence), this folk-pop recording is hard to sing along with (being mainly in a native dialect) but so catchy you just gotta!

The instruments used range from the standard guitar and drum to more exotic harps, flutes, xylophone and banjo. The tunes run the gamut from standard Americanized synth pop (could be the Backstreet Boys or something except the lyrics are in African) to near gospel anthems to slow, new-agey ballads.

According to the liner notes, So' Forest sings lead vocals on all songs and is also the main guitarist, songwriter and programmer. His amazing, soulful voice mixes beautifully with the chorus and instrumentation. The exotic rhythms make for an enjoyable, mostly mellow, listening experience. Slow songs predominate but there are a couple of danceable numbers, namely "Rave" and "Shambada."

Thank you, Naxos World, for bringing is this fine recording from Cameroon.

- Rambles
written by April Chase
published 19 April 2003

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