In its northernmost reaches, Cameroon borders Lake Chad, and in the south it borders the Republic of Congo. Its longest border is with Nigeria, but it also includes significant portions of the central African rainforest, home of the famed hunter-gatherer pygmies (Baka). The Bantu peoples who would eventually populate much of southern Africa apparently originated in what is now Cameroon and Nigeria. So Cameroon is a physical and cultural bridge between west Africa and central and southern Africa. This pivotal location and the territory's 250 ethnic groups and varied topography have made for a complicated history. But the country has emerged with a remarkably strong sense of national identity.
By the time the first Portuguese arrived in 1492, this area had seen much migration, including that of slaves bound to cross the Sahara. Cameroon would soon serve as a significant source for the European slave trade as well. By the late 19th century, it had become a German colony, mostly governed via Fulani emirs. After World War I, it was divided between the French and the British. The French took a more active interest in developing the territory, while also suppressing its people. But by the 1950s, the French responded to nationalist sentiments by enlarging the powers of African assemblies. Independence came in 1961 following a good deal of haggling between Nigeria and the French and English controlled regions.
Cameroon's first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, ruled for 22 years and established substantial national unity and stability before turning over power to Paul Biya in 1982. Biya remains in power despite widespread corruption in his administration and a great deal of economic hardship, partly owing to the collapse of the oil market in the 1980s. On the musical front, Cameroon is something of a powerhouse. In the 1950s, before Camerooneans rallied around the homegrown makossa sound, the port city Douala moved to Nigerian highlife, Congolese rumba and Cuban music.
But the 50s and 60s saw a rapid development and rise of a danceable, modern music that still moves the nation today, makossa. These years also saw the rise of one of an African music pioneer, Manu Dibango, still the most significant Cameroonean pop musician ever. In rural Cameroon, acoustic groups playing folkloric assiko, mangambe and bikutsi music worked the town bar-rooms in the days before the makossa boom. Bikutsi, the frenetic roots music of the Beti people around the city of Yaounde, has now developed into an electric sound that rivals makossa. Banning Eyre, Courtesy Afropop Worldwide: www.afropop.org