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Jean-Paul Zé Bella: the crafty Cameroonian soldier who grew to become a world music legend

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Certainly one of Cameroon’s most influential music stars – Jean-Paul Zé Bella – handed away on 15 January on the age of 71 after a battle in opposition to most cancers. The singer and drummer was a founding member of the band Zangalewa and carried out with it till he retired from the navy. A part of the feel of Cameroonian standard tradition, he continued making music till he fell unwell. He lived a rare life, from beginning out as a lowly soldier to shaping the worldwide hit track Waka Waka. We requested media research professor Lyombe Eko to inform us extra.

Who was Jean-Paul Zé Bella?

Jean-Paul Zé Bella was a multi-talented musician. He was a composer, singer, drummer, dancer and spoken phrase artist. He was an atypical musician; his story can also be a navy story. He was a soldier whose music entertained the lots in Cameroon and past by satirising the navy and creating playful however mocking caricatures of troopers.

What’s his legacy?

Zé Bella and Zangalewa are culturally vital in Cameroon as a result of the band is unprecedented. It’s an African model of the jester’s privilege. The repressive authorities of Cameroon gave Zangalewa free rein to clown round, believing that their standard act softened the austere and brutal picture of the navy. Nevertheless, they got here throughout as struggling troopers who spoke the language of the individuals.

An elderly man sits in a chair with one hand on a walking stick and another gesturing. He is distinguished, in a jacket and tie.

<span class="caption">Jean-Paul Z Bella in an interview in 2020.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Screengrab/YouTube/R Gwladys Lebouda</span></span>

Zangalewa had a sure complicity with their listeners. They inserted important messages of their music that the navy high brass didn’t perceive. They left a mark on Cameroonian music as grasp caricaturists and parodists who used humour and exaggeration that bizarre individuals may perceive by “studying” between the traces of their lyrics.

What occurred to him within the navy?

Zé Bella was recruited into the navy and joined the musical corps of the Gendarmerie Nationale within the Seventies. His expertise as a drummer in his navy band led to a promotion to the musical corps of the Guarde Républicaine (Republican Guard), the elite guard of Cameroon’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo.

<span class="caption"></span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Toure Jim&#8217;s Data</span></span>

Ahidjo resigned in 1982 and handed over energy to Paul Biya, who has been the nation’s president ever since. When Biya got here to power, issues took a horrible flip. In 1984, the Republican Guard, whose officers and troopers have been principally from Ahidjo’s bastion in northern Cameroon, staged a coup and unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Biya. The uprising was crushed with excessive violence. The Republican Guard was dissolved and people members suspected of being concerned within the coup have been executed and buried in mass graves or given prolonged jail phrases. Zé Bella, although, was not concerned within the coup try.

When did he create The Golden Sounds?

After the coup try, Biya invited the Israeli authorities to create a brand new presidential safety equipment. The Cameroon Presidential Guard was shaped and Zé Bella grew to become a part of its musical corps. In 1986, Zé Bella and some of his colleagues determined to humanise the Cameroon military, which was identified for its excessive brutality and for court-martialling civilian dissidents. So Zé Bella created The Golden Sounds. Their sounds weren’t golden in any respect. They performed a medley of jocular, satirical, Boy Scout and navy bootcamp songs that have been as danceable as they have been loaded with joking irony.

<span class="caption">The unique track Zamina Waka Waka (Zangelwa).</span>

The music of The Golden Sounds grew to become a cultural phenomenon. Zé Bella’s masterful makossa-style preparations have been intelligent phrase photographs, caricatures and parodies sung within the language of the road, the expressive Camfranglais. It is a hodge-podge of Pidgin English, French, Douala, Ewondo, Bassa and different Cameroonian dialects.

The songs in Zé Bella’s medleys glided easily and effortlessly from language to language, and switch of phrase to show of phrase. Zé Bella was a musical salesman who was promoting the general public a lighter facet of the authoritarian navy.

How did the hit track Zangalewa come about?

Sarcastically, it was the tightly managed authorities broadcaster Cameroon Radio and Tv Company (CRTV) that made Zé Bella and his band a family identify, first in Cameroon and later in different African nations and past. The most well-liked track by The Golden Sounds was Zangalewa (The Pot-Bellied Soldier). Producers at CRTV superimposed the grotesque navy parodies of Zé Bella and The Golden Sounds over sequences of solemn Cameroon navy parades on nationwide unification day. The impact was hilarious.

<span class="caption">International hit Waka Waka was an adaptation of Zangalewa.</span>

The Golden Sounds modified their identify to Zangalewa. Beneath Zé Bella, Zangalewa grew to become a navy band that didn’t play conventional navy music. It was a disciplined band that handled the navy with utmost jocularity bordering on ridicule. Its “nonsensical” lyrics and exaggerated visuals in tunes like Zangalewa, Caporale Grille (Burnt-Out Corporal) and Casque Coloniale (Colonial Pith Helmet) satirised corrupt, pot-bellied troopers – and even the nation extra broadly, for nonetheless “carrying” a colonial helmet.

Zangalewa was a success track that quickly moved past Cameroon. CRTV despatched a duplicate to the now defunct programme trade centre of the Union of National Radio and Television Organizations of Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. Zangalewa was included in a set of African music referred to as African Musical Safari, and distributed in English and French to TV stations throughout Africa. German broadcaster ZDF aired an excerpt of Zangalewa as a part of its 1986 World Cup programming. African DJs launched Zangalewa to the Afro-Colombia neighborhood in Colombia and the track grew to become a success within the bars and nightclubs of locations like Medellin and Cartagena. It’s due to this fact no shock that Colombian musician Shakira tailored it for the lads’s soccer World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

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Her track Waka Waka, which is Pidgin English for “wanderer” or “rover”, used the refrain and the phrases “waka waka” from the unique track Zangalewa, the medley of “nonsensical” Boy Scout and military boot camp songs skilfully stitched collectively by Zé Bella. Waka Waka grew to become the theme track for the match, and a world hit.