The video drew my attention because I recognized the melody that the kids were singing from a Senegalese Hip Hop song that every so often would get played at San Francisco's Little Baobab. I liked the song, but didn't know the artist, the origins of the melody, or the language, which prompted some interesting comments from Lamin and crew. Luckily a week later I was in Dakar and was able to track the song down from DJ Coco Jean at a local radio station.
Here is Didier Awadi with Zamouna.
For me the mystery was solved after I found Awadi's version...
...that is until I got this tweet a couple of weeks ago:
I answered, a little confused, and all of a sudden a flood of versions started popping up as Dave and I traded versions of the song.
Here is the Bubbling remix that he talks about:
We eventually found the original of that song which is Los Chicas del Can's El Negro No Puede. What I eventually realized is that the Los Chicas del Can version was written for them by Wilfrido Vargas, who like Juan Luis Guerra, has played with several African diasporic styles in creating his high energy version of 80's synth Merengue. It makes sense that he would adapt this tune from somewhere like West Africa. What's also interesting to note is that in some of the comments on the Youtube page people speculate to the meaning of the words saying that they were meaningless phrases made up by Wilfrido to sound African, but didn't actually reference anything.
The problem we had now was that Los Chicas del Can's version predates Awadi's Zamouna, the Liberian Whop video, and the Bubbling remix, and I'm convinced that the words mean more than nothing. Eventually Dave found a cover from Suriname that helped us connect the Bubbling remix to the Merengue original:
In the meantime while me and Dave were going back and forth, my friend Sonja re-tweeted the Zamouna video, which led to this exchange:
So now we have global proliferation and a potential origin. All I had to do was connect the dots to end up here:
The song is apparently a Cameroonian military song (click the link to watch the whole video) popularized in the 80's by the group Golden Sounds. A roughly translated French Wikipedia page explains a little more:
This song was apparently sung very often without understanding its meaning. The language is Fang since Za engalomwa word for a "Who did you sent?": The question of a Cameroonian military to another foreign-born, according to Guy Dooh Zangalewa group.
This song is interpreted in Fang. This language is widespread in Gabon, southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and a little east of Central.
So that's my story of an Internet musical mystery presented and resolved. We've found versions or mentions of the song in places far from each other in distance and language, places like France, The Netherlands, Rwanda, Suriname, The Dominican Republic, Senegal, Liberia, and Cameroon. The meaning of the words may escape most people who sing it, even some from the nation of origin, and I'm sure there are versions in other countries around the world, but with the help of Twitter and some tricky Youtube searching, we were able to track down the origin and proliferation of a truly global song that proves language is no barrier to a great melody: