Bayaka: Living In Harmony With The Rainforest

During my ethnomusicology degree program I was exposed to many kinds of music and one that intrigued me profoundly was the music of the Bayaka people of the Central Cameroonian rainforest. They create sounds that seem to mimic the creatures of the rainforest and blend sonically with their environment. 

By using a yodeling technique their voices add to the rhythmic complexity that is a key feature of their music.  There are examples of solo singing but much of their music is done in groups and it is done while working.  Singing collectively while accomplishing daily tasks helps to keep everyone in sync with one another.

Some of their tasks include making huts with tree branches, collecting larvae from ant hills, collecting bark from certain trees that have chemicals in it, and gathering fish from the stream.  During these tasks they make music collectively and create very complex rhythms and textures. 

They have an expansive knowledge of the forest plants and animals and know how to use the chemicals to their advantage.  They stun the fish with the chemicals from the bark and it makes them easier to catch. Being nomadic people who travel through the forest during the year they have to make camp from time to time which keeps them busy. The reason why they are nomadic is because certain plants, located at different areas of the forest, bear fruit at various times and they know when to gather them and how to use them.  By travelling to these plants year after year, they have created many pathways through the forest that they and their ancestors have traveled for generations.

Because of their intimacy with the forest and its inhabitants it is no wonder why they seem to be such a natural part of the soundscape.  Similar to the forest around them with its myriad of animal and insect sounds that seem to pulse in rhythm, the Bayaka create music that is just as polyrhythmic and sonorous.


This is a full recording of the many various musical circumstances from Louis Sarno’s research of the Bayaka.  One of the best examples of their sounds blending within the soundscape can be heard at 19:44.  Listen to this with your eyes closed for an even deeper experience.


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