Music and culture of the Baka, rainforest people of Central Africa
Come and join in at the festival workshop with Su Hart: playfully learn new singing techniques or begin to sing for the first time in ages, all welcome!
Music is the binding force for the Baka, who live in extended groups in the rainforests of Cameroon. Their listening skills, awareness and knowledge of the natural world from this unbroken ancient culture are remarkable. They are said to be the first humans to sing and cure illness and argument with song, they sing to enchant animals, bring luck in the hunt, to soothe babies and unite the group but mostly have great musical fun!
Living in a world of trees, only hearing natural sounds, means that from birth the Baka learn to listen acutely as it is vital for their survival. This sonic awareness leads them to become exceptionally musical. Song and dance permeate their lives both for ritual and for fun. The women sing “yelli” to ensure luck in the hunt. Important initiations are accompanied by special rhythms and dances, which unite the group and create harmony. Not only are the Baka amongst the most musical people, they are also some of the poorest on earth.
Cultural Fair Trade
Following Martin Cradick and Su Hart’s first visit to the Baka in 1992 a fruitful musical partnership has grown and evolved. They formed the band Baka Beyond and produced 2 albums from their initial visit: “Heart of the Forest” & “Spirit of the Forest” – songs inspired by the Baka. Baka Beyond believes in giving back to the source of their inspiration, they call it “cultural fair trade”. Royalties are returned through the charity Global Music Exchange, named “One Heart” by the Baka Women, either directly to individual musicians, or for sustainable projects decided within the Baka community. A large performance space has been built (see below for a video documentary), as well as work in health and education. With the forest and therefore their lifestyle under threat, it helps that the Baka’s music and culture is appreciated worldwide.
Spreading the Baka culture and understanding
The Baka have initiated Su and Martin into their music and have asked that they spread their culture beyond the forest. Su (a trained teacher) has worked in schools at all levels, with choirs, in the community, at festivals and in prisons. They also run Baka culture camps together and teach at university level.
Their work with the Baka Forest People, who originally inspired their sound, has meant that Sue Hart and Martin Cradick have taken several months off each year to work with the Baka in Cameroon, repaying the debt of their music.