Baka Beyond the Forest
CD album out 4th May 2009
March Hare Music MAHACD 28
"It swings like crazy and deserves to be top of the World charts." Joe Boyd
If you have never heard Baka Beyond before prepare for something of unique and unusual beauty; if you know Baka Beyond you will no doubt agree that "Beyond The Forest" is their best work yet. The haunting, mystical vocals on the album were recorded on a solar-powered 8-track machine in the middle of the Cameroon rainforest which has been inhabited by the Baka Pygmies, an ethnic group of hunter-gatherers, for thousands of years. At night time the Baka Pygmy women perform powerful ritual singing ("yelli") to ensure a successful hunt. Back in the UK, Baka Beyond leader Martin Cradick deconstructed the original interwoven vocal lines and replaced some voices with bass and acoustic guitar. The result is a stunningly beautiful, other-worldly album. As well as offering a rare glimpse into an exquisite disappearing musical culture, buying this album also directly supports the Baka who face various problems such as being disenfranchised from the forest.
Cradick, who pioneered World Music fusion in 1988 with didgeridoo player Graham Wiggins in the band Outback, has been working with Baka Pygmy musicians since 1992 when he and his wife Su Hart first visited them in the rainforest. His first collaboration with the Baka, "Spirit of the Forest," was released to critical acclaim on Joe Boyd's label, Hannibal Records, in 1993. This album led to the formation of Baka Beyond which has become one of the top touring world music bands, pioneering African-Celtic fusion and wowing audiences across the globe. Cradick, a pioneer of multi-track field recording, also recorded the previous album "Gati Bongo" (2006) deep in the heart of the rainforest. "Gati Bongo" captured the Baka musicians' guitar music that had so inspired Baka Beyond. It has quietly become a classic, remaining in the iTunes top 100 world music albums for over two and a half years since its release.
Cradick has now returned to the source of his inspiration. In March 2008 he once again set up an 8-track studio in the Cameroon rainforest, this time concentrating on the Baka traditional music, especially the women's "yelli" singing. For thousands of years the Baka women have ensured the success of the hunt and their group's survival through exquisite, wordless yodeling. They sing into the night, ensnaring the spirits of the animals and giving the men the power to hunt. Hidden in these multi-layered vocals are beautiful melodies that Cradick has brought out and sensitively mixed to produce a remarkable album.
By replacing the interlocking vocals of Baka Pygmy women with bass and guitar and playing their rhythms on hi hat, Cradick has produced music that is strangely reminiscent of reggae. Although Pygmies themselves were rarely taken as slaves by the Europeans, they were the court minstrels of the ancient Congolese kingdoms. Their music is at the heart of the Central African sound and would have been carried to the Caribbean with the slaves. Cradick says, "I was genuinely surprised the way the music came out. I've played it to all kinds of people in England and Cameroon and many of them came out with the reggae connection." Could the roots of Reggae be in the rainforests of Africa?
Nearly 20 years of visiting the same extended family, playing music together and developing trust and friendship has made these remarkable recordings possible. Cradick and Hart regularly return to the rainforest to get further inspiration, and to oversee projects funded by their music. As with all Baka Beyond albums, the Baka's share of royalties will be administered through the charity Global Music Exchange to ensure that the money gets back to the Baka musicians and their community. Whereas "Gati Bongo" was led by the Baka men, these songs mostly involve Baka women. This will be a chance for the women to set up their own projects and directly control the income. Su Hart explains: "Whereas the men who played on "Gati Bongo" were very insistent on getting their share of proceeds, the women have asked for any royalties to be split equally amongst them all, even though some are much more prominent than others. We have already started some micro projects run by the women. If these albums are successful we will be able to expand these projects." (More information about Global Music Exchange is at www.1heart.org)
Baka Beyond will be touring to promote the new album through May (see dates below), joined by special guest singer Molara, Fela Kuti's niece and the original voice of dub dance pioneers Zion Train. And for people who want to hear the original singing unadorned, a companion album, "Baka In The Forest," will be released on 18 May.
More information from Cheryl McEnany tel: 310-207-1923
Baka Beyond Biography
listen to "Baka Beyond the Forest"
watch a film of the recording