Various Artists

Africa: Les Dogon

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This fascinating collection of Dogon village music was an official production of the national French radio and television network and, although slickly packaged with elaborate photography, it is a bit lean on information concerning how the recordings were done. The Dogon, numbering several hundred thousand people at the time this record was released, live on cliffs and plateaus in Mali, are mainly farmers, and come out of a background rich in culture, science, and religion. The music here was obviously recorded outside in villages, as listeners are treated to cameo appearances by birds and dogs, the latter a particularly magnificent sonic occurrence that could make a listener eternally glad that recordings such as this were made. The album is divided side by side between songs celebrating life and songs celebrating death. Brilliant ensemble drum patterns interlink with two or sometimes three different vocal parts, including solo and choral statements and chilling falsetto whooping. Another captivating sound on the second side is the bull-roarer, a thin wooden or metal plaque with notched edges, which is spun through space to create a moaning sound that changes slowly. For the Dogon, this is more than a sound effect: It symbolizes their first ancestor who encountered death as well as recalling mankind's discovery of speech. The entire album captures a sense of time and place perfectly, and will become a favorite of listeners who like to do their world travel via the stereo system.

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