His group Zangalewa satirized Cameroon's army from within and inspired "Waka Waka", the 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem.
One of the great stars of Cameroonian music, Jean-Paul Ze Bella, died on January 15 at the age of 71, after a battle with cancer. The singer and drummer was a founding member of the band Zangalewa, with which he performed until his retirement from the army. He continued to make music for the few years before his illness, but without the logistics of the military, he never achieved the fame of his earlier years. It remains an important element of Cameroonian popular culture. He has lived an extraordinary life, from his early days as a private to creating a potpourri of popular and influential music, including the worldwide hit song Zangalewa (Waka Waka). We asked Lyombe Eko, professor of media studies, to tell us more about him.
Who was Jean-Paul Zé Bella?
Jean-Paul Zé Bella was a multi-talented musician. He was a composer, singer, drummer, dancer and lyricist. He was an atypical musician. Its history is also a military history. He was a soldier whose music entertained the masses in Cameroon and beyond by satirizing the military and creating playful yet mocking caricatures of soldiers.
What is his legacy?
Zé Bella and Zangalewa are culturally significant in Cameroon as the group is unparalleled. It's an African version ofjester's privilege(Privilege of the jester). Cameroon's repressive government has given Zangalewa carte blanche to clown around, so that their caricatures and popular numbers soften the stark and brutal image of the army. However, they came across as suffering soldiers who spoke the language of the neighborhood and laughed at themselves.
The Zangalewa had a certain complicity with their listeners. They inserted into their music critical messages that the officers did not understand. Ultimately, Zé Bella and Zangalewa left their mark on Cameroonian music as master caricaturists and parodists who used humor and exaggeration to slip criticism that ordinary people could understand by “reading” between the lines of their words.
What happened to him in the army?
Zé Bella was recruited into the army and joined the musical corps of the National Gendarmerie in the 1970s. His talents as a drummer in his military band earned him a promotion to the musical corps of the Republican Guard, the elite guard of the first President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo.
When Ahidjo resigned in 1982 and ceded power to Paul Biya who has been the president of the country since then. When Biya came to power, things took a terrible turn. In 1984, the Republican Guard, whose officers and soldiers were mostly from the stronghold of Ahidjo in northern Cameroon, organized a coup and tries unsuccessfully to overthrow Biya. The uprising is crushed with extreme violence. The Republican Guard is dissolved and all its members, suspected of having participated in the coup, are executed and buried in mass graves on the road to Mbalmayo, in southern Cameroon. Others were sentenced to long prison terms. Zé Bella, however, was not involved in the coup attempt.
How did he create the band The Golden Sounds?
After the dissolution of the Republican Guard in 1984, Biya invited the Israeli government to create a new presidential security apparatus. Israeli generals created and trained a new Cameroonian Presidential Guard, and Zé Bella was part of the musical corps of this new guard. In 1986, Zé Bella and some of his colleagues decided to humanize the Cameroonian army, known for its extreme brutality and for having court-martialed civilian dissidents. Zé Bella therefore createdThe Golden Sounds. Their sounds weren't golden at all. The Golden Sounds play a potpourri of humorous, satirical songs, Boy Scout songs and songs from military training camps, which are as danceable as they are loaded with humorous irony.
The music of The Golden Sounds becomes a cultural phenomenon. The masterful arrangements of Zé Bella, in style makossa, were images of clever words, caricatures and parodies sung in the language of the street, the camfrEnglish expressive. It is a mixture of Pidgin English, French, Douala, Ewondo, Bassa and other Cameroonian dialects.
Zé Bella's medley songs glide effortlessly from one language to another, from one turn of phrase to another. Zé Bella was a music salesman who sold the public a lighter side of the authoritarian army.
How was the hit song Zangalewa born?
Ironically, it is the tightly controlled government broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio and Television Corporation (CRTV), which made Zé Bella and his group a household name, first in Cameroon, then in Africa and beyond. The Golden Sounds' most popular song was Zangalewa (the pot-bellied soldier). CRTV producers superimposed the grotesque military parodies of Zé Bella and the Golden Sounds onto footage of solemn Cameroonian military parades on National Unification Day. The effect is hilarious.
The Golden Sounds change their name to “Zangalewa”. Under Zé Bella's direction, Zangalewa became a military band that did not play traditional military music. It's a disciplined group that treats the military with an extreme joke, bordering on the ridiculous. His "insane" lyrics and exaggerated visuals in tunes like Zangalewa, 'Caporale grille' and 'Casque Coloniale' (fur pith helmet), satirized corrupt, pot-bellied soldiers, and even the country more broadly, to have yet “wore” a pith helmet.
Zangalewa was a hit song that quickly crossed the borders of Cameroon. CRTV sent a copy to the defunct Union of National Radio and Television of Africa Program Exchange Center in Nairobi, Kenya. Zangalewa was included in a collection of African music called African Musical Safari, and distributed in English and French to television stations across Africa. German television ZDF aired a snippet of Zangalewa as part of its 1986 World Cup programming. African DJs introduced Zangalewa to the African Colombian community in Colombia and the song became a hit in bars and clubs. night from cities like Medellin and Cartagena. So it's no surprise that Shakira fitted her for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
His song, Waka Waka, which means “vagabond” in Camfranglais, was a adaptation from parts of Zangalewa, the potpourri of “absurd” songs from scouts and army training camps, skilfully assembled by Zé Bella. Waka Waka became the theme song for the tournament, and a worldwide hit.
Lyombe Eko, Professor of Journalism and Creative Media Industries, Texas Tech University
This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.