A song on the radio inspires a middle-aged man to spend the last of his money on a one-way plane ticket to the Central African Republic in order to live with a group of Pygmies and record their extraordinary music.
Country Focus: Central African Republic (Republique Centrafricaine in French)
Song from the Forest: My Life Among the Ba-Benjellé Pygmies
By Louis Sarno
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
About the author: Originally from New Jersey, Sarno has spent the last thirty years living among the Bayaka Pygmies. He has a Bayakan wife and two adopted Bayakan sons. Sarno has recorded over 1,400 hours of music and forest sounds which have been digitized by Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum. Sarno’s work and life has drawn the attention of filmmakers as well as musicologists. The 2011 movie OKA! is loosely based on one of his unpublished memoirs. A 2014 documentary film (also called Song from the Forest) records his son’s first visit to America.
Total darkness posed extra problems for recording these ceremonies, but it did not stop me. I learned to operate my recorder by feel. I devised a way to rotate the cassettes from pocket to pocket so that I would not record on the same cassette twice and would know in the morning the order in which they had been recorded. I was convinced I was hearing the most sublime music on earth. It no longer resembled “Pygmy” music to me — it no longer even resembled African music. It was beyond all such distinctions, a world unto itself. I recorded everything, not because I thought the opportunity unique (on the contrary, I believed I would have countless similar opportunities), but from an urge to preserve as much as I could from what I now regarded as the happiest period of my life. I will long for these days, I told myself while living them.