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SARNO, LOUIS - Song from the Forest: The Soundtrack

Format: CD
Label & Cat.Number: Gruenrekorder Soundscapes Series GRUEN150
Release Year: 2014
Note: absolutely stunning soundtrack to the documentary film about LOUIS SARNO, who lived 30 years with the Bayaka pigmies (a tribe of hunters and gatherers) in Central African Republic in the rainforest; this a selection from 1500 hours (!) of recorded Bayaka music => rich harmonic & beautiful chants and instrumental sounds ('tree drumming', 'earth bow', flutes..), along with nature field recordings & forest sounds, which fit perfectly together... comes with full colour booklet & extensive liner notes
Price (incl. 19% VAT): €14.00

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"This is the soundtrack album to the film “Song from the Forest”, which tells the story of Louis Sarno, an American who has lived for thirty years among the Bayaka pygmies in the Central African Republic. No outsider has had such access to this beautiful and musical culture, and this selection of the best of his recordings presents the sounds of this amazing people and their environment with a depth and richness never heard before.

SONG FROM THE FOREST: THE FILM /// Premieres in Germany: Showtimes
As a young man, the American Louis Sarno heard a song on the radio that gripped his imagination. He followed the mysterious sounds all the way to the Central African rainforest and found their source with the Bayaka Pygmies, a tribe of hunters and gatherers. He never left.

Today, twenty-five years later, Louis Sarno has recorded over 1,500 hours of unique Bayaka music. He is a fully accepted member of Bayaka society and has a son, Samedi. Once, when Samedi was a baby, he became seriously ill and Louis feared for his life. He held his son in his arms through a frightful night and made him a promise: “If you get through this, one day I’ll show you the world I come from.”

Now the time has come to fulfill his promise, and Louis travels with Samedi, age 13, from the African rainforest to another jungle, one of concrete, glass, and asphalt: New York City. Together they meet Louis’ family and old friends, including his closest friend from college, Jim Jarmusch.

Carried by the contrasts between rainforest and urban America, with a fascinating soundtrack and peaceful, loving imagery, their stories are interwoven to form a touching portrait of an extraordinary man and his son.

A modern epic set between rainforest and skyscrapers.

In the fall of 2009, I was traveling in the Congo River Basin when by chance I heard tales of a white man who was said to have lived for decades in the rainforest with a tribe of huntergatherers called the Bayaka Pygmies, for decades. I went to look for him. A few days later, I was standing in a clearing when Bayaka came running at me from all directions, brandishing spears and screaming. Suddenly, the noise ceased, and a tall figure detached itself from the undergrowth: a white man, two heads taller than everybody else, a Bayaka baby in each of his arms. Before me stood a legend: a lost, forgotten man, reborn in the Central African jungle. A man who once ate tadpoles for a month, who married a Bayaka woman, who survived malaria, hepatitis, typhoid, leprosy, and has recorded more than 1500 hours of unique Bayaka music. Before me stood the musical Herodotus of the Central African forests, the white Bayaka—Louis Sarno.

When we shook hands in this clearing, I instantly felt that something really big had happened in my life. How could I know that this was the beginning of a journey which would turn me—a writer and journalist—into a film-maker and which would take me across the globe for years to come? To me—a person without a real home, driven from place to place, a passionate hunter-gatherer of stories who has spent the past twenty years traveling to the most remote corners of the Earth—Louis Sarno is the most fascinating person I have ever met. He took a radical leap, accomplishing what I often imagine myself doing when I am on the road: leaving it all behind, starting over, becoming someone else. More than everything else I am impressed by his life’s work: the fantastic recordings of Bayaka music that we are proud to present in this soundtrack from Song From the Forest. (Michael Obert)

Beautifully mapping the entire range of music-making of a single community of hunter-gatherers across more than a generation, the Louis Sarno collection of Bayaka music and soundscapes is extraordinary, unprecedented, and unrepeatable. No field recordist has ever matched the depth and sensitivity of Sarno’s commitment to presenting a record of what it sounds like to live with an indigenous community. Sarno has developed a uniquely sensitive recording approach, refined through an acute listening that is only possible through permanent immersion in a culture.

Nearly all of the recordings on this soundtrack have been drawn from the Louis Sarno collection of Bayaka music at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. Louis continues to donate his exceptional recordings to the Museum with the long-term intention that they will benefit the community whose musical life they so beautifully present. (Noel Lobley, Ethnomusicologist, Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford University)

Through Louis Sarno’s recordings, Bayaka music has become famous around the world. I first spoke to Louis about his endeavours in the mid-nineties when I was putting together “The Book of Music and Nature”, which included some of his work. When I heard he was still down there, twenty years later, and that a film wasnbeing made about his life, I knew I wanted to help.

Central to Bayaka music is a sonic integration with the rhythms and melodies of the forest itself. We have tried to include selections from the vast archive that highlight the ways the human sounds fit into the natural sounds, as an inspiration for how human life as a whole might better be part of our surrounding environment, our true home. (David Rothenberg)

1. Yeyi-greeting / 4:30
Yeyi just means ‘yodel,’ and this is one of my favorite forms of Bayaka music. They used to go on all night, slowly moving through the village, and at dawn they’d be going on one last time, throwing leaves on the roof of each house. The new generation doesn’t do it the way it used to be done. This is the most recognizable sound in Bayaka music, pure vocal music, very beautiful songs. When they sing you can hear the forest all around them.

2. Women Sing in the Forest / 4:55
This is recorded in a bimba forest, where there is not much undergrowth, so you hear the singing echoing as if you were inside a natural cathedral. The Bayaka have this way of wandering into the forest, taking music from different forms, and improvising together as they collect water or gather mushrooms. I love the sound of women’s voices in the distance in the forest. The forest without that sound is incomplete. These are the most lovely voices on Earth.

3. Tree Drumming / 3:08
There is a certain kind of tree, the gooma that has big buttress roots. You hit it and it really resonates. Whenever the Bayaka come across a tree like this on the trail they hit it and play a little music. It’s kind of irresistible. Then they move on.

4. Bobé Spirits Calling / 5:53
I remember that camp, it was a beautiful one. The first evening, as the sun was setting, I saw this fire in the distance between the bimba trees. But it turned out to be the sun, at ground level in the forest, and you could barely see it through the trees at the horizon. The Bobé were really wild, spinning around and dancing wildly. That was the time when they buried Samedi’s grandmother. I had just came back from America, and I walked fifty kilometers in one day, and I heard she had died. The next day I set up to find this camp. We didn’t know where to go exactly, and it took us three days to find it. I was so moved by the place. The ceremony went on for two or three nights. This is a typical esimé, when the women move on from the usual melodic singing into something polyrhythmic. The Bobé are not human, they are animal spirits, and they use sounds that are beyond language. The Boyobi ceremony is not just music, it’s theater, dance, and myth, all blended together. Sometimes the Bobé spirits are naked in the moonlight, smeared with bioluminescent fungus. No crew has yet been able to film this!

5. Bayaka Night Insects / 4:52
Insects, yes, but also a few birds. That’s a type of cuckoo. I call it the “ngon go go” bird. There are two cuckoos and the rest is insects, with maybe a few tree frogs. Sometimes you get these moments in the forest where everything seems to come together like that. That’s why I spent so much time in the forest, because most of the time nothing much seems to be happening. But once in a while you get these beautiful moments, which you can only get by spending a lot of time out there. Years.

6. Louis Sarno Speaks / 2:32
Ewunji was an incredible guy, Samedi’s great-grandfather. He was known to go very deep into the forest, way into what’s now the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in Congo, and we just wandered around with spears, no hunting nets. You couldn’t survive like that now. The small animals have been decimated by poachers. Taking care of this should be the responsibility of the World Wildlife Fund, but they prefer to concentrate on big charismatic animals like elephants and gorillas, instead of the animals that the Bayaka depend on, small forest antelopes and monkeys. The Bayaka are no longer allowed to go into the park, but the poachers still go in there with shotguns.

7. The Flutes We Hear No More / 5:12
That was the only time I ever heard two flute players playing at the same time. Momboli and Gongé playing mbyo duets on Dec. 22 nd 1992. You are supposed to hear this music in your dreams, that’s why they usually play it alone at night, so it can get into your dreams. They play more or less in unison even though the Bayaka love vocal polyphony. This is a music you no longer hear anymore, since the last flute player died a few years ago. He gave me his flute and I had it in my house and could get a bit of a sound out of it. But when the Séléka raided my house last year during the insurgency, they destroyed everything, and they smashed the flute. This is a sound we will never hear again.

8. Net Hunt / 3:00
Well, that’s not actually a net hunt. That’s actually gida-gida, it’s a gorilla hunting game, they imitate chimpanzee noises. That’s from 1987, the very first time I went out into the forest. Just the men and boys are singing here. They make these fake spears and pretend to kill.

9. Earth Bow / 2:09
To make an earth bow the Bayaka take a sapling and bend it over, then attach a piece of twine to one end of the sapling, tie the other end to a piece of bark and hold it over a hole that they dig in the ground. This was Boungingi, and those are the same guys who were playing the tree drum. Just takes them a minute or so to make this instrument. Usually one person plays it, but there is always some extra percussion in the background.

10. Geedal / 2:28
That’s Balonyona, one of the greatest masters of the bow harp, the geedal. I recorded many hours of his playing, he really was the best player of this instrument. In 1991 he even went to Paris to play. It has six strings, you find it all over Africa. But the Bayaka way of playing is a bit different. They use fewer notes, and more rhythms. They play along with the pulses of the forest. It fits right in.

11. Flute in Forest / 5:16
That is a beautiful melody, the flute sounds so beautiful in the forest in the distance. That sound brings back so many memories of so many good times. Momboli played that melody a lot, and I recorded it often in the distance. You hear the night ambience swelling with insects, frogs, cuckoos, and the distant flute. So many good times… This music is really part of the whole forest world.

12. Water Drumming / 2:55
When the women bathe, they are always playing water drum. And sometimes they get these percussive melodies, this is a music for girls, and they are much better at it than the boys. Women will do it, too, and sometimes I’ve been far away when you can only hear the deepest sounds, and I think it’s the drum, and when I get closer, I realize it is women playing in the water. It is one of the few instruments Bayaka women are allowed to play.

13. Lingboku Celebration / 5:36
Ah, the Lingboku – women’s music. That is the one spirit they still have. They claim all the others have been stolen from them by the men. A lot of the lyrics make fun of male sexuality, it’s really an expression of female power. The men don’t like women to do it. But they don’t stop them. The men are not supposed to be present when they sing it. “The penis has no endurance and dies right away, but the pussy is always ready to keep going.” You ought to mark this song “explicit” on the CD. The dancing is quite explicit, too, the women look like they’re humping each other and if they catch men looking at this they’ll chase them away.

14. Moukouté’s Lament / 1:52
Ah, that’s little Moukouté. He appears in the film. At the time you recorded him for the film, he really wasn’t all that good at the geedal. But since then, he’s gotten a lot better.

15. Yeyi-Farewell / 5:32
What can you say? It’s beautiful. Yeyi. It’s the most pure Bayaka music. I never get tired of hearing these songs. They bring back so much musical wealth of these people. I don’t make recordings anymore. In some ways it’s easier to make recordings with today’s new technology, but I don’t love it the way I love those old cassette recorders. How do you write numbers on those tiny SD cards! They’re always getting lost. Many of the people I used to record are no longer alive. The new generation is just not the same." [label info]


"One of the various releases this week that is supposed to be a soundtrack. Here no film either, but just the recordings made by Louis Sarno, made in Central Africa with Bayaka Pygmies, a tribe of hunters and collectors. Sarno is not a visitor, but he lives there as a member and married, has a son and recorded 1500 hours of music and sounds. That's what the documentary by Michael Obst is about, about this rather unique field recordist. Sarno, who guides us through music from Bayaka and the place they live in, documents each of the fifteen pieces here in word. Flutes, tree drumming, singing, games, celebrations and such like are what we hear on this disc. Sometimes recorded from a distance, with the rainforest adding a whole additional layer of sound, which works very well. The 'Tree Drumming' reminded me of earlier Etant Donnes. I very much enjoy a release like this. Not because I know a lot about the subject of tribes or Non-Western music, and I am the first to admit I can't say
anything worthwhile about this, other than: I think this is a fascinating trip. Maybe it's because I was on holiday just now, and perhaps I would like to evoke the memory of holiday a bit longer? (I doubt whether Central Africa will ever be a point of holiday for me however). Just for now I can really enjoy all of this a lot. Strangely fascinating music. A sound documentary as well as something that you can enjoy from a purely musical point of view. Very nice variation in the world of field recording." [FdW/Vital Weekly #946]