The “Polyphonic singing of the Aka Pygmies of Central Africa” was officially added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008, but four decades earlier the musicologist Simha Arom had already discovered the music of the Mbenga (Aka/Benzele), Baka and Mbuti (Efé) populations. He described their collective contrapuntal improvisations as being characterised by a level of polyphonic complexity that European music would only reach in the 14th century.
Starting from the 60s, when the records of the UNESCO Collection curated by Arom were released, Central African music has been internationally discovered, studied and used as a source of inspiration by composers such as Christian Wolff, György Ligeti, Steve Reich, Jon Hassell, and Herbie Hancock (with the famous opening track of the album Head Hunters), amongst others.
During its 2014 edition AngelicA hosted a concert by Ndima (a word meaning forest in the Aka language) a group of artists (singers, dancers and musicians) part of the Aka Pygmies tribe.
The concert was a huge success (it had to be replicated on the same night, due to high demand from the public) and like all concerts that are part of the festival it was recorded.
However, for this double album of i dischi di angelica, we decided to use the field recordings that Roberto Monari, sound technician and long-time collaborator of the festival, had carried out a few months earlier while being hosted for several days by two Pygmy tribes Mbenzelé and Aka, and living with them, in the far North of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the North-eastern (Mbenzelé) and North-western rainforests (Aka) of Ouésso in the Shanga region respectively, near the border with the Central African Republic and Cameroon.
The complex musical technique of these populations is learnt orally since early childhood, and it is completely different from that of the surrounding populations: voices (including a peculiar use of yodelling, with an alternation of head and chest voice that creates an individual identity) and hand clapping are enough to create sophisticated polyphonies and counterpoints; occasionally simple string, wind or percussive instruments are used, or quite simply the water in the ponds which is skilfully played with the hands, traditionally by women and children.
The music of the Pygmies permeates every aspect of everyday life: music dedicated to forest spirits, rituals for hunting or to facilitate a rich harvest, nursery rhymes or lullabies for children, songs of grief or entertainment, or relating to divination or sexuality… singing takes place all day, and the rhythm of the stories and the voices is forged and developed – as proved by the original and continuous sequences on these records, which are the fruit of spontaneous events that took place during Monari’s stay with the tribes – in a sound context as rich and diversified as that of the sounds of the equatorial forest in which they live – an environment, and a culture, whose survival is nowadays increasingly endangered.