BAKA BEYOND Interviews

BAKA BEYOND
Willing spirits by Anil Prasad
Interview dates: October 11, 2000
© Copyright 2001 by Anil Prasad. All rights reserved.

The increasing elasticity of Western musical thought spurring the incorporation of world music elements into once static forms has resulted in some truly imaginative releases in recent times. But it’s one thing to integrate distant musical ideas and another to actually immerse oneself in the spirit, culture and everyday lives of the people whose influence is sought. British composer and guitarist Martin Cradick took the latter approach when first planting the seeds for what became Baka Beyond, a renowned act known for merging the music and ideals of Cameroon’s Baka Forest People with other West African and Western sounds.

"I don't believe new ideas or art forms appear out of nowhere, but always through the marriage of previously established ideas that fuse and create a new one," said Cradick, 39, of the philosophies behind Baka Beyond’s approach. "This can be seen in many areas from the rise of Renaissance art when the Christian world met the Muslim world, to the birth of blues where African and European music met. In traveling around the world, playing music and jamming with people of very different musical traditions, I try to find where the similarities are. Once you find them, you have a starting point to build from. If you dogmatically stick to your own tradition and refuse to bend at all then it becomes impossible to find a fusion. This is true in life as well."

Baka Beyond’s music is steeped in joy and celebration. The band’s line-up includes four musicians from West Africa and four from Europe. Together, they explore the realm of acoustic dance music full of addictive melodies and rhythms built around influences from the Baka Pygmies. The uplifting sound is captured in all its splendor on the group’s fourth and most recent studio release Sogo.

Like previous Baka Beyond albums, Sogo offers reflections of Cradick’s ongoing association with the Baka. The roots of that relationship reside in his initial desire to learn about the Baka first hand after being introduced to their life’s philosophies via the media. He found himself so enamored by their outlook that he and his wife, Baka Beyond vocalist Su Hart, chose to pack a tent, tape recorder, camera, guitar and mandolin and set off to spend six weeks living with them and absorbing their values and beliefs.

"We first saw them on a Channel 4 documentary by Phil Agland," said Cradick. "The way music was so incorporated into everyday life and the way it was approached with such fun and irreverence struck a chord with me. At first it was a dream to go and visit them, but a series of coincidences fell into place so that in December 1990 we set off to Cameroon, spending New Year’s Eve in Moscow airport to witness the end of the USSR and arrived in Cameroon in 1991."

Although Cradick knew the trip would be transforming, he couldn’t have predicted how influential the Baka’s musical perspective would be on him.

"Their music is at once simple and incredibly complex," he explained. "It is a backdrop to their whole life. It is very common to hear someone playing an instrument or singing on their own. The other everyday sounds and conversations fall into the rhythm of that music until the whole camp is singing and playing along. It isn't possible to see when the conversations stop and the music starts.

"For the Baka, music is used both for spiritual things and general enjoyment. The same songs can be used for both aspects depending on the circumstances. Much of their music, particularly the polyphonic singing, is composed of many relatively simple parts that create a much more complex whole. The individual parts on their own are meaningless. As a result, the music is used to hold the group together and to heal differences. We witnessed several occasions when there had been a big argument, but the people later played music together and completely healed any rifts through the togetherness achieved in their music-making.

"The Baka and other Pygmy groups are respected throughout Africa for their music. This starts from the moment they take part in any social interaction even as babies. From the moment they enter the forest world, every sound they hear is of importance to their life. In the forest you can't see far, so sound is how you know what is coming, where you are, where your food is and where danger is. As a result, all the Baka learn to listen. In our world, there are many sounds that are irrelevant to our lives, especially in an industrialized country. We therefore learn from an early age to filter out irrelevant sounds. In other words, we learn to not hear. I believe this is why the Baka are such phenomenal musicians. Ninety percent of music is the ability to listen sensitively. For the Baka, that ability is their survival."

Cradick’s trip took place when he was still one half of the now-defunct Outback, an acclaimed worldbeat act that combined Cradick’s deft acoustic guitar skills with Graham Wiggins’ ebullient didgeridoo approach. Prior to visiting Cameroon, Cradick had already recorded a piece with Outback called "Baka," an upbeat tribute to the people he soon found himself inextricably linked to.

"When we first went to visit, the idea of an album didn't exist," he said. "But I did have the idea of recording a version of "Baka" with them and they were very happy to assist. I thought we could release it as a single—Outback with the Baka—to raise money and awareness for them. I felt the only thing you can really export without ecological ramifications is culture. In the end this didn't happen, but Spirit of the Forest and Heart of the Forest did, so we were able to set up a charity to handle the money earned and to make sure they got their fair due from the sales."

Spirit of the Forest and Heart of the Forest represent two sides of how Cradick’s initial encounter with the Baka affected him from a musical standpoint. He wanted to ensure the world had a chance to hear the Baka’s music in all its naked, unadorned beauty. From that desire emerged Heart of the Forest, a release solely credited to the Baka Forest People. The disc offered up a fascinating and engaging collection of field recordings representing the vocal, string and percussion traditions at the core of the Baka’s music. In contrast, Spirit of the Forest, the first Baka Beyond release, found Cradick reworking the Baka source material by merging it with Northern European influences.

"Spirit of the Forest was really an experiment. It was recorded in my bedroom studio. While I was recording it, I had no real thoughts about whether it would be released or how it would be marketed," said Cradick. "I had a load of recordings made in the Cameroon rainforest of myself and various Baka musicians sitting around playing music. I listened to the guitar lines and rhythms being played and re-recorded them at home, then worked out vocal melody lines that had been improvised at the time and recorded them with Su. Finally, I improvised mandolin over these backings and asked my old friend Paddy [Le Mercier] to improvise some violin."

Spirit of the Forest and Heart of the Forest were released simultaneously on Joe Boyd’s Hannibal label in October 1993. But just prior to the albums becoming available, Cradick had yet to formally consider building a performing unit around the name Baka Beyond.

"At this stage, Baka Beyond as a band didn't exist," said Cradick. "Meanwhile, Outback's old agent had booked a concert at a festival in the U.K., but had forgotten to mention that Outback had split up. He also forgot to tell us that we had a gig. About two weeks before this concert he suggested that I do it as Baka Beyond. Liking a challenge, I agreed and found some musicians who could perform the songs and we had a surprisingly successful concert considering the short notice. So, Baka Beyond, the band, came into existence in August 1993."

A series of well-received live performances followed and the two albums were met by great acclaim. Baka Beyond’s success in both arenas played a role in the direction of The Meeting Pool, the 1995 follow-up album that balanced Cradick’s initial vision with more contemporary elements.

"The Meeting Pool was a mixture of the band's influence and the original concepts behind Spirit of the Forest," said Cradick. "We were in a strange position in that Spirit was selling very well in the States—far better than in the U.K.—and meanwhile the band was evolving in its own direction. Tom Green's unique keyboard style helped the band fit into the fringes of the English dance scene in such clubs as Whirligig. In making a new album, I didn't want to completely change tack as far as our audience in America was concerned, but also wanted to provide some creative space for the musicians with whom I was working with live at the time. So, The Meeting Pool represents where the ancient meets modern and the acoustic meets electronic."

Further U.K. and European tours followed the release of The Meeting Pool and the group developed a loyal following—something captured on the Live and Pedal-Powered release recorded with a rig deriving electricity from The Amazing Rinky Dink bicycle-powered sound system. But at the end of 1996, vocalist Kate Budd departed to look after her children. Further, Cradick’s own son Milo was now a toddler and demanding more attention. These factors contributed to putting further touring on the back burner and set the stage for the approach represented on the group’s next release, 1996’s Journey Between.

"As touring wasn't on the agenda, Journey Between was very much a studio album incorporating performances by many musicians which I recorded both in Africa and at our new studio in Bath that was being built while the recording was going on," said Cradick. The disc’s arrangements of Celtic and Senegalese pieces are largely influenced by Cradick’s Cornish roots and Le Mercier’s Breton background—all bound together by what Cradick describes as "the spirit of the Baka."

"When the Baka play their rhythms and dance, they believe that particular spirits take over the dancers and musicians," he explained. "On one hand, they know that the dancer is someone dressed up, but that doesn't contradict the idea that it is a real spirit dancing. I can only relate to this in the context of my own experiences. When playing music in a live situation—when you feel it getting really good—it is as if you become separated from the music. The music is being played through you, not by you and the audience is just as much part of that process as you are. I see this as the same process as the Baka ritual dances. The music has the ability to manifest this spirit which everyone is part of and is part of everyone. Different types of music create different spirits. I don’t mean that they manifest a physical entity, but rather an atmosphere or mood."

After Journey Between, Baka Beyond changed direction to focus on the concert trail again. It resulted in the group’s most solid line-up to date and a new emphasis for its next recording.

"In order to promote Journey Between, I invited Lakh Niasse, a Senegalese drummer I met in Ziguinchor, the capital of Senegal; Nii Tagoe, an excellent percussionist and dancer from Ghana who is now a resident of London; and Ayodele Scott, a percussionist from Sierra Leone who lives in Devon, to join the band. At last we had a truly West African rhythm section to complement the Celtic roots of Paddy, Su and myself. This made the live show much stronger and created a genuine cross-cultural blend with each musician bringing something of their own musical experiences united within the context of songs based around the music and basic rhythms of the Baka.

"Sogo, our latest release, was an attempt to capture this new live energy that we had created in new songs and a new album. Previous Baka Beyond albums had been more conceptual with the main aim of creating certain moods, without any thought as to how it may be produced live. Sogo is the first Baka Beyond album that sounds pretty much as we do as a live band—a few overdubs here and there excepted. I still see live performance and producing an album as two totally different things, although they can sometimes coincide."

The Baka rhythms embraced by the group differ from traditional Western notions of rhythm. In fact, for the Baka, both rhythm and melody are group-focused activities that largely adhere to a "greater than the sum of its parts" philosophy. "The music of the Baka is characterized by complex interactions of simpler parts," said Cradick. "The melodies heard in the singing are a combination of different people’s parts. This is also true of percussion parts where simple rhythms syncopate and create more complex rhythms. This means that the rhythmic patterns have to be quite strict and there isn’t room for participants to drift off into their own interpretation—at least at a basic level.

"When you get a group of people playing music in this way, the spirit created is very different from that when everyone is playing in a more competitive way. However, if the music is entirely like that then it becomes trance-like and is maybe not so interesting in a performance situation. The egos are important, but need to be restrained to a certain extent so that a group ego can emerge. The individual egos can then pop up occasionally, but if one person is too dominant it kills the group spirit."

The Baka are fairly compensated for their contributions to Baka Beyond’s music via the One Heart charitable organization. Helmed by Cradick and Hart, its goal is to help the Baka maintain their forest and lifestyle in a rapidly-changing world.

"Initially, all money earned by the Baka such as publishing for all songs on Heart of the Forest and some songs on Spirit of the Forest—plus their share of sales royalties for all songs where recordings or samples of their music is used—was put into a building society until the best thing to do with it was decided," said Cradick. "Since the first visit, we have returned three times and have built up a picture of their wishes and needs. Over the last few years, we have been building up contacts with people both local to the Baka and development experts to make sure that the money is spent in the best way possible, and in the way the Baka wish."

Despite Cradick’s best intentions, there have been roadblocks to delivering the funds.

"The Cameroonian authorities found out about our charity and tried to get hold of the money to administer it themselves," said Cradick. "Their proposal included spending most of the money on highly dubious consultancy fees. As yet, we have not received a reply to our letter of several months ago questioning certain details."

Cradick recently returned to Cameroon to hold detailed talks with the Baka in order to begin more concrete development projects. The trip also found him assisting in the delivery of tools and clothing the Baka have requested in order to build a palm oil plantation. Cradick hopes he can continue encouraging One Heart’s funds to go towards similarly positive ventures—particularly in light of some of the perilous impacts money can have on a socio-economic system previously devoid of its influence.

"The Baka live in a cash-free economy," said Cradick. "When any of them do have money, it is usually spent on alcohol as this can be shared out easily and the local villagers can get the money off them. It is quite a sensitive issue as the money is theirs, but the social implications of suddenly giving them large amounts of cash are quite severe.

"It should be pointed out that although the Baka we stayed with are living from hunter-gathering in the forest, there are changes happening there with encroachment on their land, expansion of towns etcetera, so that their life is changing. We are aiming to help them cope with this change and to preserve as much of the forest as possible. It would be terrible to see the same thing happen to them as has happened to the Pygmies of the Great Lakes region where they have become the lowest of the low city beggars."

Cradick also has great hopes for the future of the Baka’s music.

"When we returned the second time with copies of Heart of the Forest and Spirit of the Forest, the Baka were much more interested in Spirit than Heart," said Cradick. "This disappointed me a bit because I wanted them to realize the power and value of their traditional music. Also, they didn't recognize it as their music, but really liked it. The third time we returned, we noticed how many more of them—the younger men particularly—could play the guitar. They were very keen to create a clearing in the forest solely for playing music. What pleased me was that this interest in developing their guitar-based music didn't seem to have affected their enjoyment of the traditional stuff that they continued to play as well."

Apart from Baka Beyond and One Heart activities, Cradick runs March Hare Music, an Internet-based independent label located at www.baka.co.uk/shop devoted to releasing live Baka Beyond recordings, his side projects and those of his musical associates.

"I know many musicians who have some great recordings that will never be heard by anyone else since they sit on a shelf and stay there because they aren't commercial enough to interest A&R men," said Cradick. "The Internet could change this as it is possible to have a very specialized market spread across the world, whereas previously you needed a certain concentration of interest to make it viable to produce records to sell."

Beyond leveraging the Internet, Cradick has some time-tested advice for creative musicians trying to get their music out to a broader audience.

"Make the music that is in your heart, but if you want to make a living from it then find that part of it that is also relevant to other people," he said. "The business side is all about getting people to hear your music, so be creative. There is more than one way to do this. For instance, when Outback started, we were selling cassettes while busking and making a reasonable living doing so. If we had accepted a normal record deal when Joe Boyd first saw us, we would have lost our means of making a living. We therefore managed to negotiate a deal that suited both parties where we didn't get an advance as such, but were able to get cassettes and CDs at cost price providing that we sold them direct and not to retail outlets. Ultimately, to carry on takes hard work, dogged determination and a sense of humor."


Illustrate the evolution of Baka Beyond from the first CD to Sogo.

M.C :"Spirit of the Forest was really an experiment. It was recorded in my bedroom studio. While I was recording it, I had no real thoughts about whether it would be released or how it would be marketed. I had a load of recordings made in the Cameroon rainforest of myself and various Baka musicians sitting around playing music. I listened to the guitar lines and rhythms being played and re-recorded them at home, then worked out vocal melody lines that had been improvised at the time and recorded them with Su. Finally, I improvised mandolin over these backings and asked my old friend Paddy [Le Mercier] to improvise some violin."

At this stage, Baka Beyond as a band didn't exist. Meanwhile, Outback's old agent had booked a concert at a festival in the U.K., but had forgotten to mention that Outback had split up. He also forgot to tell us that we had a gig. About two weeks before this concert he suggested that I do it as Baka Beyond. Liking a challenge, I agreed and found some musicians who could perform the songs and we had a surprisingly successful concert considering the short notice. So, Baka Beyond, the band, came into existence in August 1993.

The next album, The Meeting Pool was a mixture of the band's influence and the original concepts behind Spirit of the Forest. We were in a strange position in that Spirit was selling very well in the States—far better than in the U.K.—and meanwhile the band was evolving in its own direction. Tom Green's unique keyboard style helped the band fit into the fringes of the English dance scene in such clubs as Whirligig. In making a new album, I didn't want to completely change tack as far as our audience in America was concerned, but also wanted to provide some creative space for the musicians with whom I was working with live at the time. So, The Meeting Pool [1995] represents where the ancient meets modern and the acoustic meets electronic.

After the release of The Meeting Pool, the band toured in the U.K. and Europe and built up a loyal following particularly on the U.K. festival circuit. A taste of what this period sounded like live can be heard on Live and Pedal-Powered recorded with the amazing Rinky Dink bicycle-powered sound system. By the end of 1996, Kate Budd had to give up touring due to having to look after her children every weekend. And my son Milo was now a toddler and demanding more attention and we moved house. All these factors made touring impossible, so I set down to record Journey Between.

As touring wasn't on the agenda, Journey Between was very much a studio album incorporating performances by many musicians which I recorded both in Africa and at our new studio in Bath that was being built while the recording was going on. In order to promote Journey Between, I invited Lakh Niasse, a Senegalese drummer I met in Ziguinchor, the capital of Senegal; Nii Tagoe, an excellent percussionist and dancer from Ghana who is now a resident of London; and Ayodele Scott, a percussionist from Sierra Leone who lives in Devon, to join the band. At last we had a truly West African rhythm section to complement the Celtic roots of Paddy, Su and myself. This made the live show much stronger and created a genuine cross-cultural blend with each musician bringing something of their own musical experiences united within the context of songs based around the music and basic rhythms of the Baka.

Sogo, our latest release, was an attempt to capture this new live energy that we had created in new songs and a new album. Previous Baka Beyond albums had been more conceptual with the main aim of creating certain moods, without any thought as to how it may be produced live. Sogo is the first Baka Beyond album that sounds pretty much as we do as a live band—a few overdubs here and there excepted. I still see live performance and producing an album as two totally different things, although they can sometimes coincide.

Since Sogo’s release, the band continues to evolve. Unfortunately, because Lakh stayed too long the previous time he was in the U.K., he was refused a visa and so a week before we were due to start rehearsals for the tour to coincide with the release we had to find a drummer. Luckily an excellent drummer, Tim Robinson, was free for the first half of the tour. But unfortunately he was already booked up—by Stackridge of all people—for the second half. Then a Senegalese friend, Seckou Keita, who I knew as a brilliant kora player and percussionist, told me he also played the drum kit. He was free for most of our bookings so I had no hesitation in recruiting his services. The future possibilities with the combined talents of the current line-up are huge."

Compare the vision of the current band to the ensemble behind Spirit of the Forest.

M.C: "The current band is a truly multicultural group using basic Baka rhythms to unite all the different styles that they bring to the band. Spirit was an experiment. I had no idea at the start of the project what would come out at the end. It was more a direct collaboration between the Baka's music and my own interpretations and inspirations from their music. The current band has many more diverse influences, but they are still held within the framework of the spirit of the Baka's music.

Take me through the creation of a piece on Sogo to illustrate how a Baka Beyond piece can come about.

M.C: "I always start with the rhythm first and work from there. When we started recording Sogo the band was pretty tight, but all the songs we were playing had all been recorded before on the previous albums. So, we recorded the whole set we had been doing live. I then isolated the drum and percussion parts and used them as backings for new songs. Take the track "Bilabo" as an example. The original backing was for "Do Good", a song we perform regularly live, but for some reason has never made it onto a studio album. The drum and percussion parts were cooking, so I transferred them into Pro-tools—a computer multi-track recording program where I could edit them easily. Then I gave a tape of the rhythm to Su who worked out a vocal part. I then decided the basic structure of the song, where the vocal parts, instrumentals etcetera should go and edited the rhythm track to fit the changes. I wrote a guitar riff to complement the vocals and recorded that over the rhythm track. Guide vocals were recorded and bass and violin added. Finally, the vocal parts were all recorded. For me, the best thing about digital recording is that you can afford to make mistakes.

This means that you can be very free when, for example recording a solo and you can then take risks and let the muse take you, knowing that any mistakes can be edited out and any little bits of brilliance can be put into an appropriate place in the song. Once you start getting involved in multi-tracking you have removed yourself from live music. You have to then create the illusion that everyone is playing at the same time. If that is achieved by sampling, looping, or any other means, as far as I am concerned there are no rules. If you want it live then go to a concert or buy one of our live CDs."

Describe your philosophy for bridging different musical styles, influences and philosophies.

M.C: "I don't believe new ideas or art forms appear out of nowhere, but always through the marriage of previously established ideas that fuse and create a new one. This can be seen in many areas from the rise of Renaissance art when the Christian world met the Muslim world, to the birth of blues where African and European music met. In traveling around the world, playing music and jamming with people of very different musical traditions, I try to find where the similarities are. Once you find them, you have a starting point to build from. If you dogmatically stick to your own tradition and refuse to bend at all then it becomes impossible to find a fusion. This is true in life as well."

Is Baka Beyond a band in a traditional sense? One gets the idea that it's largely focused on your vision.

M.C: "Over its history Baka Beyond has been based on my vision, so it isn't a band in the same way Outback was. However it is now a band of musicians held together by mutual respect with myself as the leader. It needs a single vision to hold together such a large number of talented people and that's my job."

Describe your bandleading approach.

M.C: "I see it like a football team. Each musician has a role in the team. If the goalkeeper suddenly starts behaving like the center forward then it wouldn't work. If everyone has to be told at all times what to do, it wouldn't work either. I have to provide a framework in which everyone can flourish. I wouldn't say I always achieve it, but that's the aim. Baka Beyond's music is different in that the Baka's approach to music is always an underlying ideal. Their music isn't at all based on egos. If any one ego is too strong it can spoil the spirit inherent in the music, so I do sometimes have to keep band members' egos in check, but also have to give them enough room so that they don't feel restricted. A delicate balance, but with eight musicians an important one."

You mentioned that Baka Beyond is an attempt to create music free of ego. It's a difficult concept for the Western mind to comprehend. We're very used to the idea of ego being a prerequisite for great art.

M.C: "The music of the Baka is characterized by complex interactions of simpler parts. The melodies heard in the singing are a combination of different people’s parts. This is also true of percussion parts where simple rhythms syncopate and create more complex rhythms. This means that the rhythmic patterns have to be quite strict and there isn’t room for participants to drift off into their own interpretation—at least at a basic level. It was certainly very hard to find people in U.K. who understood this concept, which is why the band is so much stronger now that it has a West African rhythm section.

When you get a group of people playing music in this way, the spirit created is very different from that when everyone is playing in a more competitive way. However, if the music is entirely like that then it becomes trance-like and is maybe not so interesting in a performance situation. The egos are important, but need to be restrained to a certain extent so that a group ego can emerge. The individual egos can then pop up occasionally, but if one person is too dominant it kills the group spirit. Let me elaborate on my use of the word "spirit.

When the Baka play their rhythms and dance, they believe that particular spirits take over the dancers and musicians. On one hand, they know that the dancer is someone dressed up, but that doesn't contradict the idea that it is a real spirit dancing. I can only relate to this in the context of my own experiences. When playing music in a live situation—when you feel it getting really good—it is as if you become separated from the music. The music is being played through you, not by you and the audience is just as much part of that process as you are. I see this as the same process as the Baka ritual dances. The music has the ability to manifest this spirit which everyone is part of and is part of everyone. Different types of music create different spirits. I don’t mean that they manifest a physical entity, but rather an atmosphere or mood. This is the problem with the inadequacies of our language to express these things.

When living with the Baka, these type of things become normal. I think that the crazy people who complain about heavy metal music being satanic have a point. Where I disagree with them is that I do not see it as anything to be frightened of."

What's your perspective on spirituality? And how has the Baka's take affected it?

M.C: "Spirituality is hard to talk about since the language is so open to misinterpretation. I don't believe in a God who sits in the clouds judging people, yet I do believe that we are all connected on a spiritual level. The Christian idea that "God is Love" appeals to me and the idea that love can transcend the laws of cause and effect to cause miracles. Living in the forest with the Baka has meant that I have witnessed things that can't be explained by normal science. There you are surrounded by life in a way that is unique. Everything around you is alive and connected to everything else so it reinforces the idea that the earth is one entity of which we are all just a small part.

Another aspect to spirituality that has recently come to me is the whole idea of ancestor worship. In the West we have the idea that this is a "primitive" form of religion, but having experienced a few different ceremonies in various forms it strikes me as being quite sound. If we look back far enough in our ancestors, eventually we see how we are all related, further back still and we are related to other animals, further back again and we are related to all life. So as a metaphor for "God" who is meant to be all encompassing it seems quite a good analogy to me. Everyone has ancestors so everyone has a direct line to God. Respect for your ancestors leads to respect for life and all other beings. As soon as a monotheistic religion emerges with a priest class, then your direct line of communication with God is broken and other people start telling you what is and isn't correct.

How did you go about choosing band members for the group? And what key personnel shifts have there been over the years and why?

M.C: "To create the positive spirit that the Baka's music demands it has to be more than just a professional relationship between musicians. This is why its taken so long to realize the vision that really started before the existence of Outback in 1988. It has taken this long to meet the people I am currently working with and for them to have sufficient faith and trust in me to be happy working with me. It’s a two way thing."

Outside of the musical, what perspectives on cross-cultural collaboration and cooperation does Baka Beyond represent?

M.C: "It shows that it is possible to work with people of many different backgrounds. England has always, for thousands of years, been a country of immigrants and that is what gives it its diversity. I wish more people would emphasize the positive results of immigration which so outnumber the negative results.

I understand that the seeds of Baka Beyond were planted a couple of years prior to Outback wrapping up when you went to visit the Baka Forest People. Tell me about what spurred you to visit them.

We first saw them on a Channel 4 documentary by Phil Agland. The way music was so incorporated into everyday life and the way it was approached with such fun and irreverence struck a chord with me. At first it was a dream to go and visit them, but a series of coincidences fell into place so that in December 1990 we set off to Cameroon, spending New Year’s Eve in Moscow airport to witness the end of the USSR and arrived in Cameroon in 1991."

Describe your lifestyle when spending time with them.

M.C: "In one word: hungry! Seriously though, we lived in a tent amongst their leaf-covered mongolu huts. Food was mainly gathered and hunted from the forest, supplemented with plantains that came from villager's plantations where the Baka sometimes worked. To live in a state of comfortable, but perpetual hunger, the Baka would work hard on average about three days a week, leaving plenty of time for socializing and playing music. hunting was with spears, often using dogs to flush out or find the quarry and various forms of fishing. We took several fishhooks and this became a popular pastime particularly for the children."

What were some of the things that fascinated you most about the Baka?

M.C: "They were almost telepathic with each other. When entering a new camp and greeting them they would all answer as one. They were also the most hospitable people you could hope to meet. They were non-judgmental and accepting of your strange ways."

Describe their approach to music and what makes it unique.

M.C: "Their music is at once simple and incredibly complex. It is a backdrop to their whole life. It is very common to hear someone playing an instrument or singing on their own. The other everyday sounds and conversations fall into the rhythm of that music until the whole camp is singing and playing along. It isn't possible to see when the conversations stop and the music starts.

For the Baka, music is used both for spiritual things and general enjoyment. The same songs can be used for both aspects depending on the circumstances. Much of their music, particularly the polyphonic singing, is composed of many relatively simple parts that create a much more complex whole. The individual parts on their own are meaningless. As a result, the music is used to hold the group together and to heal differences. We witnessed several occasions when there had been a big argument, but the people later played music together and completely healed any rifts through the togetherness achieved in their music-making.

The Baka and other Pygmy groups are respected throughout Africa for their music. This starts from the moment they take part in any social interaction even as babies. From the moment they enter the forest world, every sound they hear is of importance to their life. In the forest you can't see far, so sound is how you know what is coming, where you are, where your food is and where danger is. As a result, all the Baka learn to listen. In our world, there are many sounds that are irrelevant to our lives, especially in an industrialized country. We therefore learn from an early age to filter out irrelevant sounds. In other words, we learn to not hear. I believe this is why the Baka are such phenomenal musicians. Ninety percent of music is the ability to listen sensitively. For the Baka, that ability is their survival."

Tell me about some of the Baka's key musical instruments and their approach to playing them.

M.C: "My favorite instrument is the ngombi na péké which is a type of harp. It is played in a rhythmic, hypnotic way as an accompaniment to singing, or sometimes on its own. It is similar to the mvet which is played further north in Cameroon, however the sound is much more mellow. Many African instruments of this type have buzzers and dampers on the strings which give them a percussive quality that often isn't so pleasing to Western ears—the mvet is like this. The ngombi, however has a very mellow tone which mixes with the ever-present song of the insects.

All the instruments the Baka play they make themselves. They tend to all be played in a cyclical, repetitive rhythmic pattern. When they play guitar, these same patterns are mimicked. This has become the basic background idea to most Baka Beyond guitar lines."

M.C: Contrast the Baka approach to life, family and music to that of Britain.

"The Baka are hunter-gatherers. They live for the moment and have very little concept of saving things for tomorrow. If they have food they will eat it. if they have more than they need at that moment they will share it. If they are hungry and others around them have food they will ask for a share of it and will not be refused. Only when they are hungry and they haven't had meat for a day or two will they bother to hunt for more. Hunger is the natural human condition. There is virtually no sugar and no fat in the diet. You don't miss this, but when you taste some you immediately want more.

In Britain, we have an abundance of everything we need. Foods full of fat and sugar are everywhere and people do not have the same need to share things. On another level, life with the Baka was far more familiar than, for example life in Northwest Cameroon where there are many little kingdoms each with their own unique and unfamiliar rituals. It seemed to me that the way the Baka live is probably how humans had evolved to live in the first place and therefore was understandable, if unfamiliar.

In fact much of it wasn't so unfamiliar. Camping out in the woods has always been something I've enjoyed doing from my childhood. Sitting around a campfire, sharing a smoke and playing music together has been a favorite pastime since being a teenager. It was this that probably attracted me to them in the first place. Here were a people to whom this way of life was totally normal, not just something you do on holiday. The main difference was that you had to find your own food by gathering it from the forest or hunting it with spears. This is probably more familiar to many people in America than it is in U.K. where meat comes wrapped in plastic in a supermarket, not from a living creature.

Family relations are the same the world over, with ups and down. There is a great deal of respect for each other, and women are on a very equal footing to men. Everyone finds their place and respects each other's strengths and weaknesses. Pygmy men have been shown by anthropologists to spend more time on childcare than any other group of men studied.

As for music, the Baka do not use music in a performance sense. It is something that everyone present participates in. It is used for many purposes such as ritual, healing, bringing the group together after an argument and for fun. They have a strong belief in forest spirits and their music and dance are closely associated with this. I have seen friends who I got to know well performing ritual dances and they become unrecognizable as the spirit takes them. At the same time, in the middle of the dance, the intensity may die down and people will laugh and joke irreverently until suddenly the rhythms and dance is going full tilt again. Somehow, this irreverence gives the proceedings more power, not less. It is as if they are responding to something genuine, not just a series of rules and dogma. It is difficult to talk about since the language of such things is so easy to misinterpret or misunderstand. Everyone has their own idea of what is meant by such words as "spirit" which maybe aren't the same as another persons.

That's why people argue so much about religion. When the Christian missionaries first came across the Baka and told them about God and Jesus, the Baka assumed they were talking about their god, Kumba but just called him a different name. Out of respect whenever they were talking to missionaries they used the Christian names, but when on their own they reverted to their own. This respect for other people's beliefs could teach us a lot."

How have their philosophies affected your life?

M.C:" I am no longer a vegetarian yet feel I have more respect for the animals I eat than before. As far as music goes, I have learned how important it is to listen. I have also learned that music is a form of magic. Again, language here can be confusing, but "magic" is the best word I can find in our language. As a musician you have the power to change people's emotions through the sounds you make. In effect, the music you make casts a spell over the people it reaches, so it is important to me to make that a positive experience. The nature of the Baka's music is to spread joy and this is something that we always aim to do at a live concert."

Describe your current relationship to the Baka.

M.C: "There are a few individuals who we got very close to and who we consider as friends, although communication from afar is very difficult. We have visited three times, the last time with our son who was nearly three and I am going back at the end of November this year to visit them and further the work of the charity "One Heart" that is setting up positive ways to use the money they have earned. I am sure that they look at us to a certain extent as "patrons." They have always linked themselves to other people for their own benefit although this has led to problems as well. For example the villagers believe that they "own" them.

Living with them as they do, hunting, gathering, fishing and playing music with them has broken down a lot of barriers and has enabled us to gain a level of trust that would be hard for one of the local Bantu villagers. The journey to visit in November and December is to deliver some basic supplies that they have asked for and to continue discussions with them as to what their real needs are. We will be going with an anthropologist who lived for three years with another Pygmy group in Congo which isn’t far away who has a very good understanding of their ways and speaks their language which will make it much easier for them to speak freely."

Can you elaborate on what you meant when you said "…the villagers believe that they ‘own’ them?"

M.C: "The Baka have, as far as we can tell, always lived alongside farming communities. There is a complex relationship whereby the Baka are vitally important for religious ceremonies and initiations for the Bantu, and the Bantu are important for the Baka because they provide easy food from their farms and a source of metal tools and other things not available in the forest.

Each Baka family is associated with a Bantu family. However, the Bantu really consider that the Baka are their property. They will work on their farms in exchange for food and are given very little respect. It isn't as simple as a slave-owner relationship. It is probably less work for a Baka to work for a few hours in a plantation and to come home with a load of plantains than it is to go into the forest and find, for example, wild yams.

It is therefore in their interest to work on the plantations. Also, if they are badly treated they will just get up and go off into the forest where the Bantu don't dare follow. the difficulties emerge when the forest is degraded or cut down so that the Baka have no escape. Then the Bantu's concept of "owning their Pygmies" becomes more alarming. As long as the forest is there and the Bantu farmers still believe in their traditional spirits, the Baka are OK. Without the forest the Baka have nothing—except possibly their music."

How did the Baka first respond to your idea of recording them for the Spirit of the Forest and Heart of the Forest albums?

M.C: "When we first went to visit, the idea of an album didn't exist. But I did have the idea of recording a version of "Baka" with them and they were very happy to assist. I thought we could release it as a single "Outback with the Baka" to raise money and awareness for them. I felt the only thing you can really export without ecological ramifications is culture. In the end this didn't happen, but Spirit of the Forest and Heart of the Forest did, so we were able to set up a charity to handle the money earned and to make sure they got their fair due from the sales."

Describe your charitable organization in more detail. What motivated you to create it, how is it administered and what are its larger goals for the Baka?

"Initially, all money earned by the Baka such as publishing for all songs on Heart of the Forest and some songs on Spirit of the Forest—plus their share of sales royalties for all songs where recordings or samples of their music is used—was put into a building society until the best thing to do with it was decided.

The Baka live in a cash-free economy. When any of them do have money it is usually spent on alcohol as this can be shared out easily and the villagers can get the money off them. It is quite a sensitive issue really as the money is theirs, but the social implications of suddenly giving them large amounts of cash are quite severe.

Since the first visit, we have returned three times and have built up a picture of their wishes and needs.

Over the last few years, we have been building up contacts with people both local to the Baka and development experts to make sure that the money is spent in the best way possible, and in the way the Baka wish. The second-to-last time we were there, the Cameroonian authorities found out about our charity and tried to get hold of the money to administer it themselves. Their proposal included spending most of the money on highly dubious consultancy fees. As yet, we have not received a reply to our letter of several months ago questioning certain details.

During our last trip, I returned with Jerome Lewis [an anthropologist who lived with the Bambenjelli Pygmies in Congo for three years as well as visiting Pygmy people in Rwanda, Zaire and Central Africa Republic] to hold detailed talks with the Baka group concerned to start more concrete development projects. We also delivered tools and clothing that the Baka have specifically asked us for in order to create a palm oil plantation.

It should be pointed out that although the Baka we stayed with are living from hunter-gathering in the forest. There are changes happening there with encroachment on their land, expansion of towns etcetera, so that their life is changing. We are aiming to help them cope with this change and to preserve as much of the forest as possible. It would be terrible to see the same thing happen to them as hashappened to the Pygmies of the Great Lakes region where they have become the lowest of the low city beggars."

How have the Baka Forest Peoples reacted to Baka Beyond's output?

M.C: "When we returned the second time with copies of Heart of the Forest and Spirit of the Forest, the Baka were much more interested in Spirit than Heart. This disappointed me a bit because I wanted them to realize the power and value of their traditional music. Also, they didn't recognize it as their music, but really liked it. The third time we returned, we noticed how many more of them—the younger men particularly—could play the guitar. They were very keen to create a clearing in the forest solely for playing music. What pleased me was that this interest in developing their guitar-based music didn't seem to have affected their enjoyment of the traditional stuff that they continued to play as well."

How does Baka Beyond's music translate into a live context?

M.C: "If you want to hear what Baka Beyond is like live then we have some recordings from this summer available from our website. However, the atmosphere of a live concert is never captured on a recording. There is no substitute to going to a concert.

From our point of view, it is always more enjoyable in situations where the audience is allowed to dance. This helps the Baka-type vibe and breaks down barriers between performer and audience so that we can all have a great time together. The Baka have a word—"bé"—which means both "song" and "dance." They can't imagine one without the other. There are many occasions where we have played at a venue where we have been told "no one ever dances here" only to find that after the first number half the audience is out of their seats and up dancing.

I realize that there are places and people that don't want to dance, but want to watch what's going down and enjoy it in a different way. Because we have some top performers in the band, there is plenty to watch. The music is groove-based but there is room within that for a fair amount of improvisation and people particularly enjoy watching Paddy on the violin and Nii on percussion—both of whom are virtuosos."

How have you evolved as a performer and guitarist since Outback?

M.C: Well, I play in more than one key now! It has been nearly eight years and whereas with Outback I almost exclusively used a pick, I mainly fingerpick in Baka Beyond. It is difficult for me to say how I've evolved as I have been living it. I suppose I see myself as more a producer and arranger than a guitarist. As a performer, I probably express myself more freely on the mandolin than on the guitar, particularly in a live context. Unfortunately, I don't play mandolin live with Baka Beyond, although that could soon change with Seckou Keita playing with us who is a fantastic Kora player as well as a great drummer. The kora and mandolin seem to compliment each other very well."

Describe your current approach to the guitar.

M.C: The guitar is a unique rhythm instrument. I am definitely more of a rhythm than lead guitarist. I enjoy playing kind of rhythmic lead parts. It is chance really that I am known as an acoustic guitarist. I had always played electric guitar until about a year before Outback started when I started busking solo acoustic guitar using delays to build up the sound. It was the mix of these tunes I had been busking and Graham's didgeridoo that created the original Outback sound. I see the guitar as the link between the drums and percussion and the melodies in the music."

Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?

M.C: "I learned classical guitar between the ages of 14 and 17 at school. I gave up once I had to learn strange arrhythmic, atonal pieces for grade seven that I didn't like as pieces of music and couldn't memorize. From there, I played with a series of ensembles playing entirely improvised music on the electric guitar. When I was about 20, I started playing in bands that played songs, but with a considerable amount of improvisation. This was the beginning of the ‘80s so everyone thought we were completely crazy since it was groove-based acid music that we were playing and it was another 10 years before that became acceptable. So, to answer your question, I guess I am basically self-taught with a classical foundation."

Apart from Baka Beyond, you run March Hare Music, an independent label devoted to your side projects and those of your friends. Describe the freedom inherent in taking this approach and how it's benefited your creative mindset.

M.C: "March Hare Music started when in 1984 when I ran the Mad Hatter's Club above a pub in Oxford with a friend and we made a compilation album of four bands and we were trying to create the appearance of a thriving music scene at a time when things were very London-oriented. It took several years for Oxford to get noticed as a center for music when bands such as Ride became successful. By then the Mad Hatter's Club had been forgotten but I like to believe that we laid some of the groundwork.

Since then, we have released several recordings on the label, but with the absence of a marketing department, it has been a very low key affair. I know many musicians who have some great recordings that will never be heard by anyone else since they sit on a shelf and stay there because they aren't commercial enough to interest A&R men. The Internet could change this as it is possible to have a very specialized market spread across the world, whereas previously you needed a certain concentration of interest to make it viable to produce records to sell.

Our online shop aims to try and get these recordings at least available to anyone who's interested, although at this stage it's quite a passive process. Selling things has never been my strong point, but I believe Internet trade can only increase as more people get online and more people hear about us. It should be said that Hannibal Records, who market all the Outback and Baka Beyond titles, have always given me total artistic freedom. On the few occasions when we have been asked to change something that we had done there were very good reasons and I agreed with the changes."

Describe some of your recent solo projects via March Hare.

M.C: We have our own studio here in Bath. This gives us the luxury of being able to record whatever we want when we want. The time and energy used up in touring and sharing childcare means that I haven't produced as much music as I would have liked to, but we are working on a couple of projects at the moment apart from new Baka Beyond material. One of the more interesting collaborations I am involved in is with Danny, the inventor of the Rinky Dink bicycle-powered sound system. This is an incredible machine—a sort of cross between a rickshaw, a tandem, a train and a fantasy machine. The speakers are loaded with ATC top quality drivers, but are shaped like flowers. It can travel along the road and generates electricity by means of a tandem connected to a flywheel and generator. It creates a really positive atmosphere and really makes any festival. Virtually every performance is recorded and so some of these recordings are available on our web shop. As far as studio projects go, I particularly like the recordings I made with Seckou Sousso, a kora player from Gambia. These were all recorded and mixed in a day, but somehow capture a spirit.

I’m currently working on two different recording projects, one with Seckou Keita who has been playing the drum kit this summer with Baka Beyond, and one with Nii Tagoe, the percussionist. Seckou is recording some of his songs with the kora, and Nii has another band called Frititi. Some tracks will be able to be heard on RealAudio from our website."

Tell me more about the Rinky Dink sound system.

M.C: "Rinky Dink is Dan Smythies’ invention. It is entirely made of scrap and so it directly demonstrates the possibilities of recycling and of clean energy. I suspect the original idea came from watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! Because it relies on people peddling to create electricity for performances, it means that the music played has to inspire people to pedal. It’s a brilliant machine."

What's your stance on the controversies surrounding downloadable music a la Napster and MP3.com?

M.C: "The technology is there, so it is going to happen whatever laws are passed. Of course it is nice to be paid every time someone copies your music, but who hasn't made a tape of their favorite music for a friend? If I had £1 for every Outback cassette in existence I would be a rich man. The fact that so many copies were made in those early Outback days has certainly helped my career more than if people hadn't made them because they would have been charged."

If the music is in demand, let people hear it. It only becomes galling if someone is making money out of copying your music and you don't get a share. The more it is freely copied, the more people will know it and therefore the more valuable the live act becomes since that can't be reproduced across the Internet! There is also evidence that people who download MP3s actually start buying more CDs as a result, because at the end of the day people like to own the hard copy and be able to read the CD booklet. If I knew how to sell individual tracks off our website as MP3s I would do so. We're just in the process of putting some live tracks as MP3s on the site."

What's your take on the business of world music today? Many suggest it's fallen prey to the same forces that have homogenized the pop and mainstream jazz worlds.

M.C: "The music industry is more about fashion than music—at least the commercial, multinational end of the market, 99 percent of it. Any musical form that has any success is copied and watered down as less innovative people jump on bandwagons. The source music is still there though and is unaltered. I'm quite sure that more people hear the original stuff than did before the homogenized stuff was being sold, so I don't see that as a problem. The problem is the way it is marketed and the stranglehold that big companies have on media and retail outlets. You are very lucky in the States to have college radio which broadcasts such a wide range of music played by enthusiasts. In Britain, shows that play music like that can be counted on one hand and it is the homogenization of radio that is the bigger problem."

What challenges do you face in keeping a band of Baka Beyond's caliber together in the U.K.?

M.C: "The band is the strongest it has ever been in terms of its live show and performance. This is due to the fact that all the musicians are top class. The downside of that is that they are also in demand and in order to keep them enthusiastic we need good work to do. It is a struggle to get work that pays enough to keep an eight-piece band on the road and it is impossible to deny musicians the chance to do other work. We all need to eat and in some cases support families. The fact that the musicians are geographically separate adds other problems. The U.K. must be the worst place to be a musician from the point of view as to how you are treated. There are so many bands in every town that even when you are playing at a reasonable level there is still the attitude at many venues that you are being done a favor by being allowed to play. In mainland Europe it couldn't be more different. As an English musician I am used to this, but I do find myself having to placate the African musicians sometimes who aren't used to being treated so badly!"

What is your reaction to the usual arguments that say amalgams like Baka Beyond water down the constituent elements it's made from to create something accessible for the masses?

M.C: "I don't see Baka Beyond in these terms. We are individual musicians playing together and the result is the music we make. What are the constituent elements? A solo guitar, a drumbeat? Music is always more than the sum of the individual parts—you either like it or you don't. If you have to analyze how it is made to decide whether or not you like it, then you are missing the point.

When we first released Spirit of the Forest we realized that some people would prefer to hear the source music so we insisted on Hannibal releasing Heart of the Forest at the same time. Some people may prefer one, some the other, but it’s just music. Without music taking bits from here and there and mixing other things up it would never evolve and none of the music that people listen to today would exist."

What advice do you have for musicians attempting to create barrier-free music like Baka Beyond? And how should they equip their mental faculties to deal with the business side?

M.C: "Make the music that in your heart you want to, but if you want to make a living from it find that part of it that is also relevant to other people. The business side is all about getting people to hear your music, so be creative. There is more than one way to do this. When Outback started, we were selling cassettes while busking and making a reasonable living doing so. If we had accepted a normal record deal when Joe Boyd first saw us we would have lost our means of making a living. We therefore managed to negotiate a deal that suited both parties where we didn't get an advance as such, but were able to get cassettes and CDs at cost price providing that we sold them direct and not to retail outlets. I wouldn't be able to survive busking with Baka Beyond because I have to buy the stock at a retailer’s price and the profit margin as a result is not great enough. Ultimately, to carry on takes hard work, dogged determination and a sense of humor."

Describe the circumstances that led to the break-up of Outback.

M.C: "We hadn't written any new material together for three years and it was no longer fun. My wife had a miscarriage when she was six months pregnant and this made me aware of the fragility of life, and that it was important to do the things you want to do in life and to enjoy it. The only reason to stay together seemed to be that it was financially sensible to do so. Money has never been my incentive for playing music so I left."

What were some of the key positive and negative elements involved in that arrangement?

M.C: "The positive things were that both Graham and I were free to do the music we wanted to without having to justify it to each other. On the negative side, it took a while to be in the position to be playing gigs with the same atmosphere as Outback, which I missed. Also, because it was I who decided to leave, I got a lot of negative stuff from people who really had nothing to do with it and didn't know the whole situation but who couldn't understand how I could walk away from something that was on the edge of becoming much bigger. I have absolutely no regrets and would make the same decision again."

What do the differences in approach between Baka Beyond and Dr. Didg say about the personalities and leanings involved in Outback?

M.C: "I think the music speaks for itself. I find it interesting that in musical relationships where there is a certain amount of tension there is an energy created that can lead to very good music. There are so many partnerships that are examples of this. I occasionally listen to Outback and appreciate the dynamics created between Graham and myself. In previous live incarnations of Baka Beyond, I think this energy has been lacking, but now it is definitely there, but in a very positive way and as a result is much more powerful than Outback ever was."

Baka Beyond has quietly been part of the electronica movement in that its work has been sampled by several significant acts.

M.C: "To be honest, I don't know all the people who may have sampled it. Coldcut have and they make a payment for its use, as do Delirium. Whether it’s fairly compensated or not is debatable. I think people could make more effort to acknowledge the samples they have used and to provide some small payment. No one expects a fortune from someone who might only sell a few hundred copies of their record, but their contributions should be recognized. On recordings where we have used samples, for example of the Baka playing percussion, we have treated it as if they had come to the studio and played that part and are given a share of sales royalties as a result. In the end all you can do is "do-as-you-would-be-done-by" to quote the Waterbabies."

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