June 20, 2015
#Opinion | Beti Hip Hop, Central Africa's Unique Touch

African hip hop artists are in the kitchen making the recipe for the most comestible track, with the right amount of spices, originality, and an aftertaste of warm homey family meals. Do we even still do that? Family meals?

Anyway, right in the middle of the continent, some of the spices that grow abundantly are part of the Beti-Pahuin people, a Bantu ethnic group shared by Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe (that's what Wikipedia said). The traditional music of these people has grown to be a genre that is appreciated by the old generation for it is reminiscent of the good old days, and the newer generation because it is part of their identity. In Cameroon this music is sometimes perceived negatively because it is the root of most songs about sexual liberty. But, Beti music (this is the best appellation I could give at this moment) is also so permeable to hip hop that you have to believe in its ability to contribute to the manufacture of some of the best African hip hop tracks. Cameroon had an idea of how interesting the melange could be through Jovi's "Cash".

But Beti hip hop started way before then, with early developers like Krotal in Cameroon, Movaizhaleine and Ba'ponga in Gabon. Unlike Jovi, these three are originally from the Beti-Pahuin ethnic group and they were already introducing audiences to Beti hip hop in the early 2000. Knowingly or not, they gave the opportunity to someone like Jovi, who doesn't have a deep experience of the Beti culture like them, to polish the style and produce a song Cameroon is still completely crazy about.

The concept is still evolving. Ba'ponga just released "Mbolo Ata" where the Beti groove effortlessly fills a smooth hip hop template. An endearing piano riff is added to cacophonous noises and 808 controlled drops. From the get go, Compared to "Cash", "Mbolo Ata" seems different. In fact, Ba'ponga is on a slower tempo, he French raps and puts deeper meaning to his lines. But this only shows the different layers of this music.

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