Various Artists

Polyphony of the Deep Rain Forest: Music of the Ituri Pygmies

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Like most African countries, Zaire has a vibrant pop scene -- it was Zaire that gave us the famous Papa Wemba. Throughout Africa, popsters have been combining traditional rhythms with American pop, funk, and R&B, and Zaire is no different. But time-honored tribal music remains -- rhythmically rich, indigenous ceremonial music that continues to be untouched by western influence. Such music can be heard on Polyphony of the Deep Rain Forest, which documents a song-and-dance ceremony by a group of Pygmies in Mambasa, Zaire in 1983. Mambasa is a town at the entry to the Ituri Rain Forest, where Pygmies continued to live off of the land and feed themselves by hunting with bows and spears. The Pygmies believe that music placates the god of the rain forest, and their musical rituals are performed in the hope of making their hunting more successful. On this barebones CD, the Pygmies' singing and chanting is sometimes a cappella and sometimes accompanied by the likembe, one of Africa's thumb pianos. Either way, this music is as raw as it rhythmically exciting. For those with only a casual interest in African culture, Polyphony might be a bit too raw. But for the more seasoned world music enthusiast, hearing it is an adventure.