Skip to main content

Oka! Soundtrack Release February 1 2012

From a media release:

Oka! soundtrack (Oka Productions - release: February 1, 2012)
Channeling the Waterdrum: Chris Berry and the Bayaka Pygmies’ Close Collaboration Resonates on the Oka! Soundtrack


African music master meets intensely creative, egalitarian hunter-gatherers to create gorgeously recorded, deeply complex score for feature film.

Beats fly from drums made of the living roots of towering trees, or from the surface of flowing water. Songs, born of highly complex structures, spring from multi-part improvisation. Rhythmic cycles extend to lengths that baffle outsiders’ ears. Music both expresses and creates the moment, with spontaneous compositions leaping out in joy, or contemplative flute melodies drifting through the late night village to encourage dreams and peace.

This is the music of the Bayaka (Pymgies) and the Oka! Soundtrack (Oka Productions; release: February 1, 2012). Directed by Lavinia Currier (Passion in the Desert) and starring Kris Marshall (Love, Actually), the film tells the story of ethnomusicologist Louis Sarno, a leading expert on Bayaka music who ignored a life-threatening disease to live for three decades among these forest hunter-gatherers and record their music. Filmed and recorded on location in the remote tropical forests of the Central African Republic, Oka!’s story, the film, and the soundtrack were intimately shaped by Bayaka artists.

Going far beyond previous recorded encounters with this unique music, musician and engineer Chris Berry used multitracking techniques generally left in the studio and brought them to the Bayaka’s home turf. He worked with the community to write songs and to harness the sonic qualities of everything from earth bows to midnight flutes, from resonant roots to cupped palms on water. The result is a crisp, lush perspective that captures the full glory of the Bayaka egalitarian spirit and endless musical creativity.

“You just can’t frame it like Western music,” Berry explains. “It’s very complex, and make no mistake: Bayaka musicians know exactly what they are doing. And the most ingenious thing about it is that while they stick to this order, everyone is free. They express that moment and get at the power and beauty of where you are, right there.”

In just such a moment, Essandje, a highly respected woman in the community, leaped into overdubs. At first, the Bayaka singers weren’t quite sure why they had to follow Berry’s suggestion, put on headphones, and sing over their previously recorded tracks in the thatched shelter Berry used as his base.

But Essandje got it (Her nimble, rich voice rings out on “Mua” and “Wild Yam”). And within days, so did everyone else, with her guidance. “When Essandje broke the barrier, that’s when the magic started happening,” Berry recalls with a smile. “After a few days, the women came to me and said, ‘We want to write songs, and we want do to it with you.’”

“The women are the stars of Bayaka music, “Berry says, “When the women start to sing, the men shut up.” Many Bayaka songs come to them in dreams. Etoo (“Yetoo’s Dream”) asked Chris to record the songs she had dreamed in the forest. “‘One day,’ she said, ‘I dreamed a song. When I woke up singing it, my husband was singing the same song,’” Oka! director Lavinia Currier recalls.

Berry’s recording rig was designed to make breaking barriers easy. He had honed it as part of a collaborative effort with globally minded composer Paul Winter, who had invited Berry to join in on a project chronicling the music found along birds’ migration routes. Berry, an American-born multi-instrumentalist who spent more than a decade in Zimbabwe studying the mbira (thumb piano), had recorded thousands of hours of African music, multitracking in the field instead of simply hanging a mic or two over musicians or grabbing a few catchy samples.

Bayaka sounds presented a particularly fascinating challenge: “A lot of the other African music I recorded had lots of rules and stable, regulated roles for the musicians and parts,” Berry explains. “But with the Bayaka, everyone gets to improvise if they stay within certain loose parameters. The music reflects their society, because no one is leader and no one is follower. They all play together, with four or more intermingling songlines. It’s like trying to record Mingus, Coltrane, Miles, and Dizzy, all soloing at the same time, yet all playing together perfectly” on tracks like the bawdy, intricate “Bottlefunk Girls.”

This complexity and freedom first gripped Sarno as he headed into the forest, and astounded Berry as he worked and played music with the Bayaka. Compositions feature rhythmic cycles that feel extremely long by Western standards: “We have a 12-bar blues,” Berry notes. “Just imagine a 54-bar blues, or a 67-bar blues, and you’re getting close to the Bayaka.”

Music is a constant activity, but not really a subject of intellectual discussion for the Bayaka. For the Bayaka, a person’s personality is expressed in song and dance. Berry had to spend time with them, dancing and singing (two concepts expressed by a single word, “eboka ” in Bayaka language), improvising and listening. In addition to striking songs, he heard an elder playing flute as he strolled past sleepers late at night (“Mboyo Flute”) and the subtle resonance of the earth bow (“Molimo”). “The earth bow may be the oldest instrument on earth,” explains film director Currier, who like Berry, worked intensively with the Bayaka musicians. “A length of twine is stretched from a bent sapling and anchored in the ground where there is a hollow resonance, then plucked like a double bass.”

Jubilant Bayakas returning from trading at a nearby village played the tree drum, a living forest trees whose roots boom below ground (“Tree Drum and Gano”). “The Gano is a storytelling song, related to the Bantu “Griot” tradition, and, distantly, to American blues,” Currier notes. “Many Gano songs tell of the Bayaka’s ancestors, when people were related to and spoke to the animals, to chimpanzees and gorillas.”

As he worked closely with the Bayaka, Berry was allowed to record a purely female activity, waterdrumming, when Bayaka women cup their palms to create bubbles of air that can be tuned and played with a marimba-like resonance (“Waterdrum”). The women performers, who usually make this music while bathing, agreed to dive in clothed while Berry risked several mics to capture the full, splashing effect.

Yet Berry also wanted to pass along more than just the sounds of his newfound collaborators; he wanted listeners and film viewers to get closer to the visceral experience of being there with musicmaking Bayaka. Berry thoughtfully added bass lines, percussion, and additional frequencies so that the recording would transmit the full feel of the performances, from the rumble of roots to the quiet bounce of the earth bow. He also knew he was creating sound to go with the film’s narrative of intense emotional journey and cross-cultural encounter.

“Making a soundtrack with musicians like the Bayaka is a translation process. If you don’t translate it, many listeners won’t get it. Yet most projects get over-translated,” Berry muses. “It’s easy to misunderstand music that’s so complex, that comes from a very different kind of community from our own. I hope this scoring approach becomes more of a trend when we’re dealing with other cultures; there’s a lot of mutual learning and growth to be had if we let others speak. If we let their voices come through.”

Comments

What Else Is Hot This Week?

Harlem Stage Digital Event: A Drop Of Midnight October 13 & 15 2020

From a release:Harlem Stage Digital Event:
A Drop Of Midnight
October 13 & 15 2020A two-part conversation with Jason ‘Timbuktu’ Diakité and his creative team around the developmental process of creating his autobiographical theater project, A Drop of Midnight. In this conversation Jason will take us on his journey to becoming one of Sweden’s chart-topping hip-hop artists and a best-selling author. He’ll also share the story of how a mixtape from Brooklyn traveled across the waters to the tiny village of Lund, Sweden and altered the course of his life forever. We will examine the impact of hip hop music and culture on the globe. How has hip-hop united communities of color globally?  How do you translate a personal story into a universal truth? How do you build a creative team? How has the current climate of social justice informed your artistic practice? Jason will read excerpts from the play and share some of the music. October 13—Part IIn this conversation A Drop of Midnight author…

So You Can't Go: Six Ways To Travel Virtually

So You Can't Go:
Six Ways To Travel VirtuallyTravel is limited for most of us in the world these days. For Canadians, it depends on the province you live in, but with the border to the US still closed, and other options limited at best, virtual travel from the couch can provide at least a view with a difference at a time when you may well need it most. Google Cardboard – VR On A BudgetYou don't need a lot of cash to get into travel via virtual reality. Google Cardboard is a line of VR viewers that are, well, made of cardboard, and are priced starting at $12CAD.If you check out this link, you'll find out how to download the software to your smartphone.At this link, you can get yourself an actual Google Cardboard for a hands-free VR experience. Google Cardboard apps offer a variety of ways to experience our beautiful planet, including Google Earth itself, which can take you anywhere, along with apps to view museums and cultural artifacts, and more.Ascape VRAscape has a huge l…

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …

Review: Night of the Kings / La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte

Review: 
Night of the Kings
La Nuit des Rois
by Philippe LacôteA France, Côte d'Ivoire, Canada and Senegal co-productionNow Playing In The New York Film FestivalImageAfter Venice and the Toronto Film Festival, Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings has moved on to conquer New York City. A young pickpocket (Koné Bakary), is incarcerated in the giant La MACA prison, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire. The prison offers a hostile atmosphere, where the guards have long given up keeping order and the prisoners run the show, albeit confined within the prison walls. They dance, sing, and mingle at will in a common area called The Jungle. There is a violent power struggle between Lord Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), who runs things, and the younger leaders of other factions. Blackbeard is old and infirm, and he knows he can't hold on forever. But, he does want to hold on long enough to leave on his own terms. Blackbeard designates the newcomer as the new storyteller - the griot - called Roma…

Blues/Rock: The Cole Patenaude Band - Are You Happy Now? (Independent / 24 July 2020)

Blues/Rock:
The Cole Patenaude Band - Are You Happy Now?
(Independent / 24 July 2020) Buy the CD Big vocals and infectious grooves make up this release from The Cole Patenaude Band. It's modern blues with a classic sensibility, anchored by solid musicianship and upbeat songwriting. 
Keyboard player Dean Thiessen and Patenaude on guitar trade off solos and melodic lines to keep it interesting through a range of bluesy style, incorporating rock and country, with a pop song sheen on songs like For the Money. Would You Be Mine is more Elvis-esque rockabilly, while How To Love is an acoustic song with folky storytelling lyrics and feel. 
Compromise is a standout track, with a snarly guitar line and a churchy organ swelling underneath a nice bluesy beat. Horns aren't credited in the notes, but I swear I heard some on this and a couple of the other tracks. 
As a husband, father, and full-time mechanic based in Langley, British Columbia, finding the time to make his music was a challenge…