THE MUSIC OF THE BAKA FOREST PEOPLE

Music has a central role in the life of the Baka. From an early age they have a keen sense of rhythm, as soon as a baby is able to clap it is encouraged to participate in all the communal music-making. There is music for ritualistic purposes, music for passing on knowledge, stories and the history of the Baka people, and music for pure enjoyment. There is no sense of performer and audience. There will be leaders in the music, for example when a story is told in song, but all will join in with the choruses, or with harmonies and with percussion accompaniment. This communal music-making constantly helps to strengthen the bonds between the individuals in the groups.

The sense of hearing is very important when living in the forest. It is rare to be able to see further than 50 metres when walking in the forest so the Baka navigate by "listening to the Forest". By recognising the different sounds made by different streams or rivers, by different camps, or even by different trees, and by talking to each other across surprisingly long distances in the forest, they are able to know exactly where they are in the thickest undergrowth.

This need to hear well coupled with the absense of background noise of cars, radios and machines that people in industrialised countries have to contend with, has meant that the Baka have developed an incredibly keen sense of hearing. Whereas in the cacophany of modern life in the West we learn to filter out unwanted "noise", the Baka learn to hear all sounds since they are all produced by the forest and are therefore all potentially important to their survival. This is shown in their music where they will listen very well to each other and can pick up new melodies very quickly.

The Baka believe that the forest is their good parent and that it looks after them. Indeed it does. It provides all their needs - food, clothing, shelter and tools. Like a good parent it is vigilant in watching over them, but like a human being it has lapses. Just as when the Baka are asleep sometimes things go wrong for them - the camp is invaded by army ants or a leopard steals a dog - things that they could have prevented if they were awake - they believe that if something bad happens to them such as bad hunting or an illness it must be that the forest is sleeping. They then use music and song to make things better again - to wake up the forest and make it happy. If things have been going well they will also sing, to share their happiness with each other and with the forest.

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