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Mot'a Bobe
Henri Dikongué
Label: Tinder Records

If Cameroon is sometimes called "the hinge of Africa," situated at the point where the Atlantic coast of Africa takes an abrupt western turn towards the new world, then the music of Henri Dikongué might be considered the oil that keeps that hinge swinging freely between cultures.

Not your typical African musician, Dikongué mutes the rhythm in his music, letting his songwriting and composing take center stage, with a mini-orchestra creating a rich backdrop. Contributing musicians include Manu Dibango on saxophone and Dikongué’s cousin Catherine Renoir again adding vocals, as on his previous two albums. The resulting music is smooth, sometimes evoking more of France than West Africa–not surprising, since Dikongué resides in Paris. Elements of jazz intertwine with accordian riffs and intricate bass work and even an ocarina that sounds for all the world like Andean pan-pipes.

Underlying the sweet sounds, however, lies a fiery social criticism. The CD’s title, Mot’a Bobe, translates as "Hypocrisy," and Dikongué denounces this and other social and political woes in stinging lyrics, singing alternately in French, Duala, and Lingala. In "Clone" he takes on conformity: "Our differences are being wiped out/No more individuality/No more questions asked/All’s well that ends well/I am a clone and I am proud of it."

Like Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo and Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, Dikongué cloaks his social criticism in eminently listenable music. From the reggae influence on "Non Retour" (no return), to the African groove of "Bun’a Te" (each day), to the jazz piano on Ongele (remember), these are social-studies lectures you’ll want to hear over and over again.

©Scott Stevens--10/24/00

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