Pygmy music

From Academic Kids

The Pygmies are a broad group of people who live in Central Africa, especially in Congo, Central African Republic and Cameroon. Music is an important part of Pygmy life, and casual performances take place during many of the day's events. Music comes in many forms, including the spiritual likanos stories, vocable singing and music played from a variety of instruments.

The African Pygmies are particularly known for their usually vocal music, usually characterised by dense contrapuntal communal improvisation. Simha Arom (2003) says that the level of polyphonic complexity of Pygmy music was reached in Europe in the 14th century, yet Pygmy culture is unwritten and ancient, some Pygmy groups being the first known cultures in some areas of Africa. Music permeates daily life and there are songs for entertainment as well as specific events and activities.

Formally Pygmy music consists of at most only four parts, and can be described as an, "ostinato with variations," or similar to a passacaglia, in that it is cyclical. In fact it is based on repetition of periods of equal length, which each singer divides using different rhythmic figures specific to different repertoires and songs. This interesting case of Ethnomusicology and Ethnomathematics creates a detailed surface and endless variations of not only the same period repeated, but the same piece of music. As in some Balinese gamelan these patterns are based on a super-pattern which is never heard. The Pygmies themselves do not learn or think of their music in this theoretical framework, but learn the music growing up.

Colin M. Turnbull, an American anthropologist, wrote a book about the Pygmies, The Forest People, in 1965. This introduced Pygmy culture to Western countries, many of whom were intrigued by the seemingly-simple lifestyle they led. Turnbull claimed that the Pygmies viewed the forest as a parental spirit that could be communicated with via song. Some of Turnbull's recordings of Pygmy music were commercially released, which inspired more ethnomusicological study, such as by Simha Arom, a French-Israeli who recorded a kind of whistle called hindewhu. The track was then used by Bill Summers, Herbie Hancock's percussionist, into the song "Watermelon Man", from Head Hunters, see hocket. In 1993, the popularization of Pygmy music spread with the release of Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez's Deep Forest. Though the fusion of New Age spirituality with sampled Pygmy music and soft techno was heavily criticized, the album was a multi-million selling success. Soon after its release, controversy continued amid accusations that none of the money made from recording was given to the Pygmy performers.

Pygmy styles include liquindi, or water drumming, and instruments like the bow harp (ieta), ngombi (harp zither) and limbindi (a string bow).

Discography

  • African Rhythms (2003). Music by Aka Pygmies, performed by Aka Pygmies, György Ligeti and Steve Reich, performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Teldec Classics: 8573 86584-2. Liner notes by Aimard, Ligeti, Reich, and Simha Arom and Stefan Schomann.
  • Music of the Rainforest Pygmies. Historic recordings made by Colin M. Turnbull. Lyrichord: LYRCD 7157.

Further reading

  • Abram, Dave. "Sounds From the African Rainforest". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 601-607. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External link

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