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African band kicks off World Music series

The culture-blending band Baka Beyond will open the CityMusic World Music concert series on Oct. 4.
The group fits into the genre of “world music,” a blanket term often used to describe any music outside of the western tradition. Baka Beyond is notable for its combination of musical styles from dissimilar cultures like Celtic and Cameroonian.
The first step in creating the band occurred when founder and guitarist Martin Cradick took a trip to Cameroon with his wife and fellow band member Su Hart. Cradick, at the time a member of an Australian influenced world music group named Outback, had seen a television program on the Baka pygmies who lived in the jungles of Cameroon.
He was enthralled with their musical ability and decided to make recordings of himself playing music with the Baka. Those recordings evolved into Baka Beyond’s first album, “Spirit of the Forest.”
The band was mostly comprised of British musicians when it released “Spirit” in 1993, but over time the group accumulated members from various nations, further making it a true representative of “world music.” The band has released six studio albums with a seventh due in October.
The group owes much of its African vibe to the percussion provided by Ayodele Scott of Sierra Leone and Seckou Keita of Senegal. Paddy Le Mercier, a native of the Celtic region of Brittany in France, shifts the cultural dynamic with his violin playing. At the center of it all are vocalists Hart and Denise Rowe who perform in the native tongue of the Baka, punctuating the lyrics with yelli, a fast paced Baka technique which sounds like birdcall.
“It was the amazing bird-like singing or yelli that first attracted me,” Hart said. “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.”
The band has also gathered acclaim for its live performances. The variety of instruments makes for a lively act, and the group encourages the crowd to put the dance floor to good use.
Cradick notes that one of the great things about Cameroon, musically and otherwise, is that it is influenced by a host of other African nations.
“People there call it ‘Africa in miniature,'” said Cradick. “So there are aspects about Cameroon that touch on lots of other countries in Africa.”
With so many influences on his group’s music, Cradick is hesitant to get wrapped up in assigning a genre to describe his band.
“Of course people are going to call it world music,” said Cradick. “But it’s really more about humans and about musicians coming together and playing.”
Cradick and his band mates have not forgotten the human element of their music. Cradick and the band formed Global Music Exchange, a charity foundation which helps direct money back to the Baka. Cradick helped the Baka record some of their own music and market it. The charity then distributed the royalties to the Baka community.
The funds have helped pay for basic necessities such as a small health care center as well as a new “music house” for the Baka. Cradick said that one of the most important contributions of the Global Music Exchange was providing the Baka with official ID cards.
“In Cameroon, all citizens are required to have a government ID card,” said Cradick. “But since the Baka live in the jungle, they often don’t get them and are treated like non-citizens as a result.”
Cradick is pleased with his band’s ability to help raise funds for the Baka.
“Well, it’s money that they’ve rightly earned,” said Cradick. “But it’s nice to know that we can give back to them for what they’ve given to us.”
Baka Beyond will play at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the Fawcett Center Auditorium.

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