"If we have to have a definition of 'world music,' this is it." –Andy Kershaw, BBC
Deep in the rainforest, the undergrowth is so thick you cannot see far ahead. So the Baka "pygmies" have acquired very sharp hearing and learned to find their way using sounds of streams and other far-off surroundings. Each sound is important for survival. The Baka sing to draw animals prior to a hunt, to wake the forest spirits to protect them, or even to stay in contact while traveling through the underbrush. Music is a part of everyday life, and everyday life is a communal effort with the forest.
Ever since UK-based Baka Beyond's Martin Cradick and Su Hart first lived with the Baka people along the Cameroon-Congo border in 1991, the Baka voice has gone far beyond the forest, becoming a significant element of their pioneering Afro-Celt sound. Their latest outing East to West—to be released by Narada World on February 11, 2003—furthers their planetary collaboration. The CD features musicians from the Brittany, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Sierra Leone, and United Kingdom. Global fusion for most acts means a concept or a sample; for Baka Beyond it's a way of life.
From the beginning, when Baka Beyond released their chart-topping debut album Spirit of the Forest and sister-album Heart of the Forest, the band ensured that the Baka people and their communities benefit directly for their musical contributions. Cradick's and Hart's initial visit with the Baka led to the creation of Global Music Exchange. The organization records endangered music and brings royalties back to the musicians' community; uses funds collected to carry out projects by and of benefit to the community; and encourages self-worth and respect for their culture by showing that it is appreciated in the wider world.
Cradick, leader and founder of the band, traveled back to the Congo rainforest to record the Baka people for East to West, the group's fifth release. Voices and percussion by a small group of Baka from in and around Lupe—a small village near the Congo Cameroon border—can be heard on two tracks.
Awaya Baka, which was written by Baka guitarist Pelembie, features a chorus sung by Baka children in the forest. Wandering Spirit is based on a dance that the Baka asked Cradick to take to the outside world, seamlessly combined with an Irish slipjig. The Celtic influence is strong this time around with a reel from Cornwall and songs from Scotland, but the constant pulse of percussion keeps the African side of things alive. The band is a collaborative music, honoring a lesson learned from the Baka people, "everyone is to be listened to." Baka Beyond's repatriation continued this November when Cradick returned to the Baka to help build a music house to preserve the culture locally, while their songs continue to reach a global audience.