BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Thursday, May 11, 2006

BEYOND BAKA BEYOND: Will the real Baka please stand up!

I have been a fan of Baka Beyond since before they even formed, by which I mean I was an avid fan of Martin Craddick’s previous outfit, Outback. I have seen Baka many times often travelling many miles, so not seeing them in Cardiff was simply not an option.

Martin used to play guitar with Outback, together with didgeridoo player Graham Wiggins. They were mighty awesome and pretty damned unique; this was well before didge’s became trendy. But this is not a blog about Outback. Graham went on to form Dr Didj, and Martin went on with his partner Su to form Baka Beyond, who are even more unique!

Baka Beyond was founded 14 years ago when British musicians Martin Cradick and Su Hart visited the Baka tribal people of the Cameroon forests after seeing a TV documentary. So inspired were they by the magical rhythms and melodies of the Baka people, that they recorded an album "Spirit of the Forest" under the name Baka Beyond which pushed them into worldwide recognition. Since then, the band has evolved into a multicultural, dynamic live stage show with album sales of over a quarter of a million copies and their sixth album, 'Rhythm Tree' released in March last year’ (from website).

They mix western, mainly Celtic, rhythms with African rhythms and vice versa. Whereas bands like the Afro Celt Sound System use samplers to mash the two styles of music, Baka use musicians from the two continents… and beyond… to create a truly unique vibe that has rocked festivals crowds and discerning gig goers across the world.

But they are more than just a band. They are seriously concerned about the environment, often utilising the Rinky Dink pedal powered stage. One of my claims to fame is that I am featured on their 1995 album ‘Live And Pedal Powered’, all be it off my head at the Forest Fair pedalling like mad to provide electricity. Most importantly, profits from CD sales are channelled back into improving the lot of the Baka people through their charity ‘One Heart’. This ongoing relationship with the Baka community has helped them to win land rights and recognition as Cameroonian citizens as well as the funding of their own medical centre and a beautiful Music House. These steps all help to protect the Baka's culture, forest environment and unique hunter-gatherer way of life.

I interviewed them a few years ago for the Peppermint Iguana fanzine, or rather I interviewed Martin; the band is made up of players from across the world and most of the line up at the time I interviewed them were not great English speakers and a little nervous of the whole touring thing.

Anyway, on to tonights gig. I normally do not like Saint David’s Hall, it is a bit too sanitised for me and as I mentioned in my Geno Washington blog I do not like cinema style seating arrangements. I have not deigned the place with my presence for many years, probably something like Hawkwind about 20 years ago. However, I think I would watch Baka in any environment and maybe the civilised venue was just the place to see probably the most civilised band I like.

So five of us headed down to the big smoke (still listening to that Paul Murphy mix) and found our seats just as the band were starting the first number. It was not long before the mix of tribal rhythms and Celtic traditions had people up out of their seats bopping away. The whole room was literally shakin’ (which was good for the vibe but a pain in the a*se fro taking photographs without flash… I feel a photography rant blog coming on) and the diverse crowd, made up of all ages, shapes, sizes, classes and colours became slaves to the rhythm.

Just as things were getting really hot, having only skimmed the surface of their back catalogue, the first half of the show was over and we were off to the bar for a very civilised intermission.

For the second half, we were in for a treat. After years of bringing the sound of the Baka people to the world, for the first time ever we were actually going to see members of the tribe performing on stage.

Martin and Su have been taking instruments out to the forest for many years now and now members of the Baka people have formed their own band, Baka de Gbine, and released an album of their own, ‘Gati Bongo’. The album was recorded by Martin using a solar powered lap top in the jungle, and is a beautiful selection of sounds that they Baka want to share with us.

This was the first tour where they have been joined by the ‘real’ Baka, but apart from a few moments trying to work out how to plug in to the amps, it was hard to believe this was the first time they had performed to ‘Western’ audiences. Only a month ago they had never used microphones when performing, now they were well into their stride performing like old hands. Despite the fact that they have never been on stage, the Baka grow up with music, it is an integral part of their village life, and it showed. They played incredibly naturally and when people got up and danced they smiled from ear to ear.

I felt privileged to be there and hope I can witness it again, rather than in years to come reminisce about the time when the ‘real Baka’ joined Baka Beyond on stage.


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