CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
I had the opportunity to speak with Louis Sarno when I travelled to Central African Republic to visit the Baku pygmies. Louis is an American musicologist and author of Song from the Forest. He combined recordings of Bayakan music with sounds of their surrounding environment into a two-CD/book package entitled Bayaka: The Extraordinary Music of the BaBenzl Pygmies. A movie based on his life called Oka! was released in 2011, as well as a documentary film Song from the Forest was shot in 2013. Louis Sarno died in 2017, he was 62.
After hearing a Aka song on the radio, Louis Sarno travelled to Central Africa Republic to record the song and experience it in first person.
Eventually, the Baka community moved into the rain forest which Louis loved. He was drawn to their sense of humour and their desire to live in the present.
Louis' fight for the cause of the Baka was limited by his financial resources. Some missionaries however were helpful in raising awareness of human rights.
His first impression of his journey was one of disappointment. The Baka lived on the edge of the forest in a village that was dirty and unkept.
Louis had some confrontations with authorities when he wanted to move the Baka to a new village but it all worked out in the long run. The Baka sense of community is changing now as the modern world is closing in.
In 1989, a national park was been developed however the Baka were restricted from hunting there.
Unprepared for his visit, Louis contracted malaria but stayed on enchanted by the Baka music at night and their secret world.
The future of the Baka is linked directly to the future of the rainforest. As the rain forest become parks for tourists, the pygmies are shut out. School is becoming more important and their culture is changing.
Louis would like to have access to the internet to connect the Baka people directly to the outside world.