It began as a form of music chanted during wakes to comfort the mourners. It is now part of Cameroon’s cultural mainstream and a powerful form of expression for frustrated youth.
Mbole (pronounced “embolei”) was developed in a poor neighborhood of Yaounde, the capital of the Central African country, about a quarter of a century ago.
It began as something of a funeral vigil between the chanters who devised and sang the lyrics and the “responders” who used buckets, saucepans, or other paraphernalia to sing the lyrics and provide the rhythm. .
A professional record label that “invited people, created circles, and started playing to entertain people.”
“Initially, mbole was stigmatized. People saw it as gutter music, like rap,” he said.
“But underneath the image, it was malleable and captivating.”
Mbore spread to weddings, baptisms, and other ceremonies, and became more sophisticated as instruments such as keyboards, large West African drums, and djembe were introduced.
About six years ago, mbole began to enter the mainstream and is now hailed as a national music genre.
“There is no TV station or radio station that hasn’t aired Mbore,” said Yannick Minja, who made a documentary about the rise of Mbore.
“There was Afrobeat that came from Nigeria, but when you listen to Mbole you hear all the sounds of Cameroon,” he said, referring to traditional musical forms called bendskin, makossa and bikzi.
“Mbole is Bikuzi’s grandson and Makossa’s nephew, but as soon as you hear it, you feel Cameroonian,” said Lionel Marongo Beringa, who performs under the pseudonym Petit Maro.
– Neighborhood roots –
Despite its media success, mbole remains a diverse form of expression and rooted in impoverished neighborhoods.
Poverty, drugs, and anxiety are recurring themes among young performers, some of whom occupy near-iconic status in the neighborhood.
In 2016, Petit Maro recorded his first Mbole hit, “Dans mon kwatta” (“In My Neighborhood”), which depicts life in Nkordongo, a desolate area of Yaoundé.
The district is a warren where wastewater flows as streams through narrow unpaved streets.
Many houses do not have doors, just a cloth covering the entrance hanging over their shoes to indicate that people live there.
Young people in the neighborhood run around with the sound of voices and djembe.
“Petit Maro can sing,” said 15-year-old fan Herman Sohn. “He sings about peace and hope and a lot of good things.”
Female singers are also making their way into the genre, which is “still very male-oriented,” said Jeanne Manga, 29, who founded the all-female mbole group as performer Jay Nee.
Mbole, she said, is a good way to denounce sexism.
“In my lyrics, for example, I’m talking about a man who seduces a woman and expects sexual favors in return,” she said. It gives me an opportunity.”