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Grammatical Trends In Recent Cameroonian Hip-Hop (A Thinkpiece)
The saying* goes that one event is an anecdote, two events are a trend, and three are a thinkpiece. I'm jumping the gun here since I'm up to only two, and I'm not engaging in much thought, either. But I'm certainly not basing this post on knowledge, so thinkpiece it is (as in "I think — but do not know, and am too negligent to try and find out — that the reason Northwest Region isn't actually very far north is that the more northern part of British Cameroon was absorbed into Nigeria").

So the trend we are following is this: in the last year there have been two very good Cameroonian hip-hop tracks that (I think) make fun of elementary-school grammar lessons. Each is (I think) played for laughs; in fact both videos are emphatic pissers. But both make serious points: in Koppo's "Gromologie," that the core words of indigenous Bantu languages are worth using, as opposed to being shunted aside in favor of more grandiloquent French phrasing. Or that one shouldn't restrict oneself to proper French as opposed to the many available languages and pidgins. So the point is more about competing languages than about grammar, I'd say. If that is the point and I haven't got it backwards, and the song is in fact in favor of grandiloquence. Or maybe the song is about grammar. How would I know? I don't speak the language this guy is singing, which seems to be predominantly French but contains words from elsewhere. Nor do I know any Bantu languages. Or any language other than English. Google Translate isn't a great help here, partly due to the non-French words, I presume, though "Ils speak avec des mots, comme des bigs dicos," probably does more-or-less translate as "They speak with words, like bigs dicos." —I'm guessing that "speak" sneaks its way in via English. The Northwest Region and Southwest Region on the border with Nigeria were formerly part of British Cameroon. Cameroon is officially a bilingual country, but it has something like 250 languages, says Wikip, including a number of pidgin languages, among them Cameroonian Pidgin English and Camfranglais. Koppo mentions the latter. ("Les bindi intellectuels, tels que je ndem pêle-mêle Koppo rappe même quoi ? Du n’importe quoi Mais Camfranglais nous gui les points plus que jamais," which Google Translate recreates as "The intellectual bindi , such as I ndem pell-mell Koppo even rapping what? Anything But Camfranglais we guui the points more than ever.") I can't tell if the reference is negative or positive.

Here are the lyrics:

The other track is Tenor's "Alain Parfait (À L'imparfait)." I assume "Alain Parfait" is a Lady Mondegreen à la "Richard Stands" in the American pledge of allegiance. ("And to the Republic for Richard Stands," a child's misconstrual of "and to the Republic for which it stands.") This track is — I think — a kid's dream of mastering his French lessons contrasted with his actually botching them horribly. The serious point behind the comedy being — I think — that you don't have to be perfect; no one's perfect.**

Here are the lyrics:

Whatever languages or grammar systems Koppo and Tenor are drawing on, they love the words. They're rappers. They like rattling words around their mouths and juggling them with their tongues.

*Well, I think this is a saying, in that I read something maybe somewhat like this once, somewhere.

**At 3:25 the Tenor video inserts a brief clip of — I think — Les Têtes Brulées, though I can't tell you the significance of this, either musical or social. Tenor has fun going air guitar in imitation. (I look forward to his engaging with the Chuck Berry duck walk.) Les Têtes Brulées' style of music, bikutsi, was supposedly (i.e., that's what Wikip says) more earthy and indigenous than Makossa, a competing pop style. But (again according to Wikip) Les Têtes Brulées were plenty cosmopolitan and poppy, and back home in Cameroon were sometimes considered too "easy listening."

This entry was originally posted at Comments still welcome here, there, and anywhere.

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Fucked-Up Things In The Videos

Each video has a fucked-up thing that jumps out at me:

The Tenor vid casts an adult dwarf to play the schoolboy. Treating an adult dwarf like a kid is demeaning;* treating dwarfs as inherently funny is destructive; stuff like this reinforces the likelihood that dwarfs will be teased and picked-on and bullied and oppressed. The video makers were probably struggling with the idea of how to illustrate the song without making the boy seem too sympathetic, which'd have thrown off the feel of the video. They should've been creative and figured out a way other than casting a dwarf.

In a sequence starting at about 0:56 of the Koppo vid, Koppo is tripped up on the soccer field by an opposing player. The woman ref calls a foul on that player; he cups her tits in his hands, another player does the same to her rear-end, and she whistles fouls on them and gives them all a red card. Since I'm not comprehending the lyrics I don't know if or how this is supposed to integrate into the song (violation of proper language is a violation of proprieties, ha ha? or is it the use of big words that's the foul?) much less the culture. Seems like a gag and it's one that feels very wrong to me, even bearing in mind that I don't get it.

I didn't mention these in the post itself because I thought to do so would distort or overwhelm what the post was about. My guess is that the handful of people who read this blog already know what's wrong with these video scenes without my telling them. And the people who made these videos will never know I exist anyway. But this is the Internet; who knows who shows up?

Most great music in the world is made by people very different from me, and I'm just not going to call out all the sexism, racism, class stereotypes, and so on and on and on, the only real purpose of the calling out being to reassure you about me. I don't know. Maybe I'm not like you and maybe you shouldn't feel reassured. But every now and then maybe I'll have something interesting to say, or something not interesting but bearing repeating.

*The video makes a (to me) rather strange back-and-forth in casting children as the students and casting adults as the students; I suppose the dwarf can do double duty as a child and as an adult. This doesn't remove the bigotry, of course.

Edited at 2018-03-29 10:39 am (UTC)

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