Cameroon: Mangambeu, an air of sanza, a dance, a culture…

AA/ Yaoundé/ Peter Kum

Funerals… A frantic pace… And a young dancer named Mangambeu… A most atypical story that takes us to the heart of Bamileke culture, where dance and spirituality are marvelously intertwined.

“It was on the occasion of the funeral of a notable bangangté, named Mafeun Biatat, that a group of young people danced our traditional rhythm animated by tam-tams”, tells Anadolu Agency his majesty Nji Mohnlu Seidou Pokam, king of the chiefdoms of Bangangté.

“The people who attended the funeral were carried away by the dance and the rhythm of these young people. Among the dancers, a young girl stood out and particularly caught the attention of the audience.

The young Dangmi Marie was the most applauded and called by the audience by her “genealogical” name in praise: “Mangambeu”, hence the birth of this rhythm and dance with us the Bangangtés”, continues King Pokam. .

Mangambeu is a traditional Bamileke dance and rhythm from western Cameroon. It is played by xylophones and traditional percussion such as the sanza by men and danced by both men and women. Mangambeu dancers take small steps, swaying their hips and sometimes leaning their torso forward.

This music accompanied by its dance, was born in the early 1950s in the town of Bagangté in the department of Ndé (Western region) on the initiative of a group of young people.

Just as in the secret societies in Bamileke country, each of which has a dance, the dance-music tandem has an important place in the Bamileke culture. These are two complementary elements among many others that form the very basis of the Bamileke tradition. Their execution is based on the celebration of a happy or unhappy event. It is therefore difficult to speak of one without alluding to the other.

Kleitz Gilles, author of the book “Cultural systems in Bamiléké country (West Cameroon)”, notes that “mangambeu is generally used to animate various ceremonies and festive occasions, ceremony celebrating a birth or a marriage for example”.

In the other chiefdoms, such as the Balengou and the Bamena who make up the great Bangangté chiefdom, the mangambeu, also called tchatcho, is used to celebrate the feats achieved by exceptional people.

Generally, mangambeu is characterized by modal music, oscillating between two chords. Despite this, there are few melodic instrumental improvisations that leave more room for rhythmic improvisations. What makes the characteristic of this genre is also the rhythmic complexity and the assigned roles.

– The sanza, the fetish instrument of mangambeu

The mangambeu is played with xylophones and especially with the sanza (traditional thumb piano). This instrument vibrates metal or bamboo slats, fixed on a wooden board with or without a resonator. The slats are fixed in such a way that they can be vibrated with the fingertips (thumbs).

Ringed, the slats can be slid to tune them. Noisemakers are sometimes added to this instrument, such as shells, bottle caps or tin rings.

According to Francis Ndom, Cameroonian musician, “only initiates can play the sanza because it is a means of communication between the living and the dead” in Bamileke country.

“Pierre Didy Tchakounté, the precursor of modern mangambeu who had grown up in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, in Bazou, one of the chiefdoms of Bangangté, went to the school of his uncles and they gave him all the science and the secrets of the ‘belap’, (the sanza).

Back in Paris where he was living, Pierre Didy Tchakounte presented the instrument to his teachers at the conservatory who studied it in depth and described it as “quintenic” (interval of 5 in the diatonic scale) and “diatonic” (which has the natural tones of the tone and semitone range).

From then on he embarked on traditional music, played this rhythm of western Cameroon called mangambeu using the sanza, chained tours and produced records so several thousand copies were sold, which made him at that time one of the rare black artists to be in the European music charts”, explains Arol Ketchiemen, in his book “The Icons of Cameroonian Music”.

Over time, the mangambeu born in the 1950s has undergone many changes and has been modernized.

Music today is most often made to make maximum profit, money. All means are good to achieve this goal. Cameroonian musician Pierre Didy Tchakounte (PDT) is the first to modernize this bangangté sound at the top of the mountain range in western Cameroon.

– Pierre Didy Tchakounté, the king of modern mangambeu

“Cameroonian artist-musician Pierre Didy Tchakounté is rightly considered the father of modern mangambeu because he managed to create a harmonious blend between traditional African instruments and modern instruments,” said Zenu Men, President of the organizing committee of the mangambeu festival.

“His albums” Mythologie du mangambeu “sold in Cameroon and abroad, have earned this worthy son of Bangangté the nickname of King mangambeu”, underlines Nadeige Laure Ngo Nlend, author of the book “Feminine voices of song in Cameroon: emergence and artistic recognition”.

This artist with a particular vocal timbre draws his inspiration from tradition and African instruments and has been able to mix them with Western pop, thus creating a harmonious blend between traditional African instruments and modern equipment to produce a mangambeu consumed locally and at the level international.

“The originality of his music has earned him worldwide success. Indeed mangambeu, of which he is the promoter, is probably one of the most difficult Cameroonian rhythms. From its author, it requires finesse, tact, insight, audacity, conciseness and naturally talent. So we see, does not become a traditional musician artist who wants.

Apart from learning in a school or with renowned artists, Pierre Didy Tchakounte (PDT) demonstrates a certain gift and a sense of creation and adaptation which gives relief to his genre even as he eradicates its kind of evanescence”, explains Angoula Angoula, administrator of the Cameroon music corporation (CMC), copyright regulator.

The sophisticated and modernized mangambeu definitely puts Pierre Didy Tchakounté in the limelight. Pierre explodes on radio sets and later on TV, something rare at the time. The melody and the depth of the text cement its reputation.

Even if thanks to his talent and his temerity, this West-Cameroonian rhythm performed mainly during funeral ceremonies has undergone a remarkable mutation and revolution, it has not departed, as the artist himself likes to say, of its sociological heritage.

Besides Pierre Didy Tchakounté, mangambeu is developed by other Cameroonian musicians such as André-Marie Tala, Tchana Pierre, Manu Dibango and Minks.

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Cameroon: Mangambeu, an air of sanza, a dance, a culture…