Negrissim’s Long Awaited Afrofuturist Comeback

Dzekashu MacViban

Negrissim' - The Bantoo Plan, Vol. 1, 2012

When Sadrak and the Sassene brothers (Evindi and Sundjah) decided to form Negrissim’ in 1995, little did they know that they’d created what would become one of Cameroon’s most influential pioneering hip hop crews, which would later win accolades from Senegal to France. Sometime later, Boudor joined the group and in 2000 they released their first LP, Appelle Ta Grand-Mère, which chronicled life in Douala, as well as Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital city, highlighting a pessoptimist quotidian and dreams of the millennium in a language which is close to that used on the streets, but not devoid of poetry and wordplay (politicien/politichien & mécanicien/mécanichien). Appelle Ta Grand-Mère’s release in 2000 occurred a year after MC Solaar, one of the first rappers to have popularized rap in France, featured on the remix of Missy Elliott’s “All in My Grill” and was preceded by Saïan Supa Crew’s song “Angela”. This period was monumental to French rap, though it was a decade away from the early 90s, which is considered the golden age of rap music.

 
Their 2012 album, The Bantoo Plan, Vol. 1, highlights an eclectic style, which is the product of musical experiment as well as maturity of voice which is steeped in the alternative and underground musical style that has become their trademark.

 
This 16-track album, performed in French and Bassa is a fusion of traditional and urban sounds, as well as experimental electronic and afrofuturist music, an approach which Negrissim’ refers to as ‘hip hop from the bush.’ In spite of all the experiments in this album, the group does not shy away from their role as social and political commentators, constantly alluding to societal issues, a highly welcome approach given that a lot of their contemporaries glory in ego-tripping, thus, we hear allusions like “je viens du même bled que Yannick Noah et Dieudonné” in “Abongué”.

 
In 2002, after two years on the road, Negrissim’ relocated to Dakar, a decision which was partly influenced by the increased measures to censor their music in Cameroon. Their journey on the road as well as their experience in Senegal would later heavily influence the content of their second album, La Vallée des Rois, which many consider to be the quintessential Negrissim’. The album was performed in French, Pidgin English and Bassa and made use of a lot of word play and neologisms.

 

 

Sadrak kept a diary during their sojourn which highlights their experiences in the northern region of Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. These experiences would later find voice in his spoken word performance known as Le Rap de Bon Voyazinage, performed after a residency in France.

 
Over the years, Negrissim’ has organized concerts in Togo, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and France; taken part in festivals such as Ouaga Hip Hop 2 and 5, Festival Banlieue Rythme 2003, Senegal Hip Hop Awards 2004, Fête de la Musique 2006, Nancy Jazz Pulsations 2007 and they have been on stage with Ministère Amer, Positive Black Soul, Pee Froiss, Dakar all Stars, Daara J from Sénégal, Smockey and Yeleen from Burkina Faso, Baponga and Movaizhaleine from Gabon, Apkass, and Les Nubians among others. They have as well featured in a documentary Fangafrika – La Voix des Sans-Voix by Stay Calm Productions and West African Hip Hop, produced and broadcast by TV5 MONDE.

 
Their album The Bantoo Plan, Vol. 1 was highly anticipated because, for a while now, the members of Negrissim’ had relocated to different places— Sundjah in Italy, Evindi in Sweden and Sadrak shuttling between Europe and Cameroon, while Boudor left the group— but have nevertheless been working on an album, and the group was enriched by the presence of DJ Max (Maxime Chevillotte), from France.

 

 

 
Using simple language, Negrissim’ questions the society while celebrating their Africanness in an epoch marked by alienation. While Sadrak’s voice usually soars, it doesn’t overshadow that of the Sassene brothers, who are excellent rap artists in their own merit, always searching for the best way to express their artistic restlessness. Some of the songs that stand out in The Bantoo Plan, Vol. 1 include: “A Bongué”, “Masque”, “Hip Hop Développé”, “Un Son Pour Avancer” and the experimental electro psychedelic track “Je rêve de faire un gosse à une extraterrestre”, a track which they describe in an interview with Afrik.com as a song for the future, whose goal is to introduce the audience to a rap and electro fusion which doesn’t yet have a place in mainstream rap.

 
“Un Son Pour Avancer” and “Je rêve de faire un gosse à une extraterrestre” stand out as the most experimental and afrofuturist songs in the album. Coined by Mark Dery in “Black to the Future”, Afrofuturism is an emergent cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of colour, but also to review, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past.

 
In justifying Afrofuturism’s fascination with science fiction, Dery argues that “the sublegitimate status of science fiction as a pulp genre […] mirrors the subaltern position to which blacks have been relegated throughout history.” But, perhaps, the best theorization of Afrofuturism in black music comes from Aaron Sandhu, who quotes Goodman, when he opined that “Afrofuturism has also been understood as a response to the idea that ‘authenticity’ in black music must be necessarily tied to ‘keeping it real’, or to the ‘street’ and therefore chaining the essence of “blackness” to the conditions of depressed urban existence with all the stereotypes of sex, drugs, violence and hyperconsumption this cliché entails.”

 

 

The video for “Un Son Pour Avancer” is set in a place that looks like a music laboratory (within a cave/bunker) which has traditional instruments as well as modern instruments and some people are connected to machines while Sadrak is dressed in a difficult-to-tell mock version of a dictator or revolutionary, and he ends the song by alluding to the importance of childhood, innocence and imagination when he says:

 

Si tu ne connaissais pas du tout ce rythme
C’est que tu ne connaissais pas la folie mon cœur d’enfant
Si tu ne connaissais pas du tout ce rythme
C’est que tu ne connaissais pas la folie mon cœur d’enfant
Si tu dis que tu ne kiffe pas le rythme,
C’est que tu n’as pas encore libérer ton âme d’enfant

In the song “Masque” they refer to masks as a metaphor for hypocrisy and the artificial lifestyle that characterises the modern era (“Tell her that in the dot-com and dot-fr epoch, girls and women of the world are being auctioned”), then they go on to enumerate the various forms in which our lives are being ‘masked’ when they say:

 

Les yoyettes sont masqué
La France, masqué
Ma famille, masquée
L’église, masquée
Toi-même qui nous écoute là-bas, tu es masqué
Les frères dans le hip hop, masqué
Le ciel, masqué
Nos sexes même sont masqués, aux préservatifs
Les cuisses des femmes, masquées…
Pistolet silencieux, masque à gaz
En l’ombre, le diable orchestre la mascarade

The group professes their love for their land or country, in “Pour la Terre”, as their lyrics testify, but this love turns into deception when they think about the rebellious youths who are killed by the powers that be in Cameroon.

 
Far from being a pioneer of Cameroonian hip hop and rap, Negrissim’ stands out as probably the most influential and innovative group on the Cameroonian hip hop scene, though they are far from being the most popular group; experimental and alternative music crews are far from popular nowadays. Furthermore, the fact that Negrissim’ spent about a decade in Senegal accounts for the fact that they are not well known in Cameroon. Negrissim’, probably, never aimed to be a mainstream crew, and this can be seen by their choice to be socio-political commentators as well as their desire to experiment with sound, creating a fusion of traditional and urban music which has recently led them to flirt with Afrofuturism.

 

Originally published on This is Africa

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