Su Hart and Martin Cradick’s lively Celtic-meets-African band’s engaging sound is best experienced in concert, and this enjoyable live album captures the spirit of the Baka collective at its finest.
Baka Live captures the 2006 tour in which seven Baka pygmy musicians made their first appearance outside their Cameroonian rainforest home, in the wake of their collaboration with Baka Beyond on last year’s Gati Bongo album.
And the set is opened by the evocative sounds of those rainforests, mixed with rudimentary percussion and the alluring, yodelling cry of the Baka vocalists. Then it’s straight into the familiar multi-cultural mix of catchy Afropean dance music based on west African drums, soukous-style electric guitar and European folk elements, with the Baka adding discreet shades of their own haunting vocals and simple, unfussy drum playing. Songs range from the folk-oriented end of the Baka Beyond repertoire — highlights being Sad Among Strangers, with its harmonious marriage of female singers, and Bokissa's spirited use of mandolin and violin — to full dance numbers featuring irresistible rhythms and interweaving guitars. Bunaka in particular rattles along, driven by exuberant drumming and a sparkling Congolese soukous sebene as the song shifts up a gear two-thirds of the way through.
There’s a jolly, addictive quality to the performances, and an atmosphere that just about translates to CD. Everybody’s clearly having a lot of fun (band and audience alike), and it’s testament to the enduring appeal of Su Hart and Martin Cradick’s approach — allied to their long-term and long-standing commitment to the Baka people of Cameroon — that they’ve carved such a popular niche in the roots music world.
Baka Live might well be the best example of that yet.
This review first appeared on Flyglobalmusic.com