Boomkat Product Review:
Slamming, wiggly and searingly melodic bikutsi - a progression of makossa and soukous - from 1989 Cameroon, translating trad xylophone lines to electric guitar on catapulting machine rhythms...
“No shortage of colorful characters emerged from Cameroon’s bikutsi scene in the 1980’s and early 90’s. Gibraltar Drakus is one of the most enduring and enigmatic of the artists who helped transform bikutsi into a beautifully endless fabric of triplet rhythms that eventually reached ears around the world.
Following the advent of Cameroon Radio Television in 1987, bikutsi began to supplant makossa and soukous for domination of the local airwaves and the attention of cosmopolitan, thrill-seeking residents of Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé and beyond. Biktusi perfectly fused Beti traditional music and increasingly electronic, highly rhythmic guitar-based bikutsi. Mimicking the sound of village-based xylophone music by rigging a mute to electric guitar strings, bikutsi artists provided a relentlessly energetic dance format for those with a taste for music steeped in their hometown sensibility (countering the popular makossa that many felt sounded less indigenous).
By the early 1990’s, Les Tetes Brûlées were indisputably the most famous and influential artists in bikutsi, due in part to the innovations of their incendiary guitarist Théodore Zanzibar Epeme. Following their first European tour in 1987, the band blew up internationally but Zanzibar tragically, and mysteriously, passed away, which nearly brought an end to the band completely. In hindsight, the consensus among most Cameroonians is Zanzibar’s contributions to biktusi were transformational and immeasurable.
“Zanzibar is the one who taught me how to compose a song, and I learned a lot from Zanzibar musically. We spent whole nights working on methods and other approaches to compose beautiful songs. I owe half of everything I have today to Zanzibar!”
Swept up in all this was Gibraltar Drakus, who was the youngest member of Les Têtes Brûlées and was also the protégé of his biggest supporter, Zanzibar. So it was fitting that he dedicate his 1989 debut to their groundbreaking late guitarist who had meant so much to him. Drakus literally exploded from his first album Hommage A Zanzibar (1989), which sold over 100,000 copies despite rampant piracy. For the recording, Drakus made sure he engaged prolific producer Mystic Jim to record and mix the album. The innovation musically rests both within the guitar interplay and the discipline in the orchestration, which result in a mind-bending clockwork of cross-rhythmic harmony.”