Various Artists

Music of the Rainforest Pygmies

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For many fans of African music, this politely packaged album was the very first sonic glimpse of the musical world of several different pygmy tribes. Few people would not admit to some sort of fascination with these miniature people of the Congo. And even in these highly edited, practically miniaturized bits, their musical world is endlessly fascinating. If the phrase "those pygmies blow everybody away!" was overheard in a conversation, no doubt the subject would be pygmy music. In a continent of music that routinely leaves listeners speechless, count on the Mbuti, Lese, Bera, and Nyari peoples for musical brilliance that often comes about as a routine part of someone's day, rather than as the result of hundreds of hours of study and practice at Juilliard. The trouble with this Lyrichord production is that better collections of pygmy music were to follow, especially recordings with a clearer, more expansive sonic quality. However, this type of music is not exactly over-recorded, so there are plenty of reasons to have a complete collection. This collection was put together by the renowned ethnologist Colin Turnbull, and he puts the best foot forward by starting the first side out with "Elephant Hunting Song." This may be all a listener needs to become positively intoxicated with pygmy music. The sound of thunder in the distance at the end of the track underscores the delight of these types of field recordings: One is instantly transported to the Congo, without ever having to consult a travel agent. Listeners hear girls singing about their boyfriends and giggling, showing that the pygmies have their own variations on Connie Francis and/or Britney Spears. The five-string harp featured at the start of the second side is another highlight. There are also songs accompanied by this harp, by a stick zither, and by the sanza or thumb piano, an instrument that seems to appear with variants throughout the African continent. The songs chosen cover signposts in life both large and small: "Marriage Celebration Song," "Funeral Song," and "Honey Gathering Song" are among the titles Turnbull attached to these performances. And of course there is the strange bonus track at the end of the first side. The story is that Turnbull was pressuring villagers to produce the oldest song they could think of, so they eventually obliged with this, clearly recognizable as "Clementine." Is this folk song of pygmy origin, or were the natives having a bit of fun at the expense of the anthropologist? Listeners can decide for themselves, but might want to reference Floyd Westerman's hilarious "Here Come the Anthros" for additional input.

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