THE FOREST VOICES TOUR
March 14th 2014
Concert at the British High Commission
We started the performance in the garden of the High Commissioner's residence with some traditional music and dance while the guests arrived. The band then played their modern songs, ending with a merge of old and new with Ngallo's Booma Dance (you can see this on the Feb 24th post).
It was a great end to an eventful day. . . . . . .
Early morning in Abong Mbang
In the early hours of this morning we were settling down in Abong Mbang. I was about to lie down on my bed roll under the eaves of Leonard's house when there was talk by a group of the musicians that they should find the night club. The distant sound of dance music was audible in the night calling the Baka with the promise of partying and dance. I thought to myself that it was better if I accompanied them, rather than let them wander off on their own with the risk of someone getting lost or arrested and delaying our departure for Yaounde and our concert for the High Commissioner.
Andi thought I was crazy getting up at 2 in the morning and heading out to look for a party, but I knew what it was like to be high on the earlier successful concert, and knew that they would rest on the journey and be fine for the concert in the evening.
We set off up the road and walked about 1km to town. Abong Mbang is really like something from the Wild West. Hastily built wooden houses jostle with workshops and lean-tos. Makeshift stalls selling food and cigarettes, even at this time of night. We were a strange crew, a white man and 9 "Pygmies". People looked, but we were just too unusual a group for anyone to give us any trouble.
We followed the music and found the night-club up a side street, bright lights and pounding music with a group of motorbikes and people around a food stall outside the club. We all entered and were a bit disappointed to find the club empty except for 3 people on the mirrored dance floor. We went in and sat at a table, bought beers all round and took in the atmosphere.
After a few minutes all the Baka started moving to the music. 5 minutes more and they were all standing and gyrating around the table. A few people came in and joined the dancing. I'm not quite sure what happened then, but within 30 minutes of arriving the place seemed to be packed and the atmosphere was electric.
The Baka have this amazing ability to find the "party essence" (I guess the Irish would call it the craic), amplify it and make any situation a party.
After a couple of hours of dancing we headed back to our beds, spread out around Leonard's garden, and got a few hours kip before leaving for Yaounde.
The road between Bertoua and Yaounde has been paved now for a couple of years so the journey isn't too long. We stopped in Ayos for "brunch". Ayos used to be where the tarmac road ended and the dirt road to Bertoua began. All the busses would stop here and there were bustling food stalls all along the high street. Now the public transport sails past on the tarmac'd road and the food stalls have mostly gone, leaving a couple that are a poor shadow of their former selves.
On from Ayos and almost at Yaounde when we are flagged down by the "Road Safety Officers". They've seen this bus with 4 white people on board - too good an opportunity to miss, so stop to find any "problems" that they can help solve. In Cameroon the officials are very keen to tell you that they are not corrupt like the Congolese, who demand money for any official function, however if they help you with a "problem" then you are obliged to give them a "present" (usually twice as much as the corrupt Congolese officers would demand). They discover that the fire extinguisher has no pressure. The driver goes to discuss the problem with them. We leave it to him and don't get involved.
Meanwhile the Baka have noticed some tiny vines climbing the trees next to where we have pulled up. "Sappa" they say, excitedly. They have spotted the tell-tell signs (if you know what to look for) of wild yams, a particular delicacy.
While they are amazed at the quantity of sappa to be found, the bus driver, his assistant and the road safety officers are amazed that so much food has been sitting right opposite them without their knowledge. We are allowed to leave taking our sack of wild yams with us.
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