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Sample Track 1:
"Boulez Boulez" from Rhythm Tree
Sample Track 2:
"Bokissa" from Rhythm Tree
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Rhythm Tree
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Baka Beyond, Rhythm Tree (March Hare Music) A Jungle Nightclub, African Royalties, and Solar Power: It Must Be Baka Beyond

A large tree, an indigenous forest community, and a solar-powered mobile recording studio. This is the latest installment of Baka Beyond. Band founders Martin Cradick and Su Hart have been visiting the Baka “Pygmies” of Cameroon regularly since 1992 relying on their skills of hunting and gathering for survival. Over a decade later they have two things to show for this longstanding reciprocal relationship: a new album called Rhythm Tree and a Music House, built from the wood of a single large tree.

Since the group’s seminal recordings Heart of the Forest (field recordings of the Baka) and Spirit of the Forest (music inspired by and written with the Baka), Baka Beyond has been committed to paying royalties to the Baka. The Baka choose how to spend their earnings and so far that has included the first jungle nightclub built and owned by an indigenous group, the creation of an association to give them legal status in Cameroon (where you can be arrested without ID), and a medical center using traditional remedies now underway.

Band members hail from Brittany, Cameroon, Senegal, Sierra Leone Ghana, and Britain, and meld the rhythms and melodies of Africa with Celtic traditions old and new. Guitarist and founder Martin Cradick says, “Rhythm Tree is the culmination of over 10 years of work for me. It’s where the music of the Baka and of Baka Beyond comes back together.”

“It was the amazing bird-like singing or yelli that first attracted me,” says lead singer Su Hart. “The women get together before the dawn to sing, enchant the animals of the forest and ensure that the men’s hunting will be successful. Song and dance are used by the Baka for healing, for rituals, for keeping the community together and also for pure fun. We try to do the same in Baka Beyond.”

In between trips to Africa, Baka Beyond has toured extensively and worked in their studio in Bath. Rhythm Tree is the the band’s first album since 2002’s East to West. Many of the tracks on Rhythm Tree have their roots in recordings made in the Baka’s Music House. Cradick and other band members helped oversee the building of the house, taking a multi-track recording system complete with a solar panel and battery on a visit in early 2004, and capturing the Baka’s music live.

“The music of the Baka somehow touches the music of many different cultures,” says Cradick. “I’ve always looked for the similarities in music from different places and the fast, yet gentle syncopated rhythms of the Baka somehow provide the perfect glue to join together different musical elements from different roots.” “It’s amazing to see how connected we are,” adds Seckou Keita, Senegalese kora maestro and percussion player . “We come from different cultures yet Baka rhythms such as Boulez Boulez are so similar to Senegalese rhythms.”

“The original idea of ‘Spirit of the Forest’ was to recreate the mood of the music sessions that take place many afternoons and most evenings in the forest,” says Cradick. “However none of the recordings really touches the raw energy that is present in the forest where everyone, young and old, would be taking part. I’ve known for a long time that I would have to, one day, get a multi-track studio to the forest, and now the technology has caught up with the idea.

The building of the Music House has created a more permanent base in the rainforest, which has opened up more possibilities for recording. Martin took a solar panel and battery in Jan 2004 and a multi-track system so that the Baka’s music could be captured live. The track ‘Kobo’ on Rhythm Tree was the first song to be recorded in this way.

“The Music House became my studio and it was great especially to record Loni singing ‘yelli’ as she was the ‘mysterious Baka woman singing deep in the forest” who opens both ‘Heart of the Forest’ and ‘Spirit of the Forest’.”

“We have had a stable line-up now for a long time and we are playing really well together as a band,” Cradick explains. “Meanwhile the Baka musicians have been developing their songs using the guitars that we’ve taken to them, and on Rhythm Tree we have been able to bring all these elements together. The next stage will be to have 2 more new albums, one entirely the live band, and another the Baka performing the best of their many songs recorded in the forest and the Music House.”