Various Artists

Mvet Ai Mendzang: Beti - Cameroon

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Recorded in the 1980s (both in the field and at a German festival), this documents the stick zither (mvet) and xylophone (mendzang) of the Beti people in the south of Cameroon. The people believe the instruments speak and represent different members of the family, and the zither was used to accompany singers of traditional and love songs. It was a dying art when documented, and some two decades on, might have died out altogether, as most young people showed no inclination to learn the old epics. However, they make fascinating listening, with the zither played in a beautifully lyrical fashion. While that feasts on simplicity, the xylophone music is more complex, layering ideas -- in one case, one deliberately modern group (André-Band-Essé) offering something akin to meringue in its rhythm, an interesting case of a Latin rhythm crossing back to Africa (or perhaps it really originated there?). For the most part, however, there's a delicious minimalism to the sound of the interlocking xylophones and a slow sense of movement in the melodies.

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