Various Artists

Centrafrique: Anthologie de la Musique des Pygmees Aka

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This two-CD field recording offers a near-exhaustive account of the music of the Aka, one of the three Pygmy groups of Central Africa. This is fascinating music, rich in vocal polyphony and complex in its rhythms. The liner notes compare the typical piece to a classical passacaglia: variations over a repeated figure. The Aka, as a partially nomadic people, have very few instruments. For drums they use felled trees and they tap metal knives together or smack their legs with leafy swatches.

What gives the music its variety is that there is music for every activity in life. Songs before hunting, lullabies, children's songs (which are monodic instead of polyphonic and rhythmically simpler -- a nice contrast), funerary songs, even songs for raiding beehives for their honey. Of course, each function calls for a different style of music and different instruments. Sound quality is acceptable, ADD, like most field recordings. The liner notes are very useful in their general description of the culture and the music, but the track listings are often jumbled so that you cannot match the analysis up with the music. This album is a definite must-have for the collector of indigenous African music and may interest fans of the group Baka Beyond who would like to hear more of their "source material."