Why a tour?

How does a music tour help Baka rights? by Martin Cradick

I first visited a Baka community in January 1992 when my wife and I lived with them in their rainforest home for 6 weeks, an experience which changed my life. While there I played and recorded a lot of music with them. On my return home over the next year I recorded songs based on the jams we had had together, and also songs inspired by their traditional music. The resultant album, Spirit of the Forest, sold remarkably well and since many of the songs were inspired by the Baka music I felt that they should get a share of the profits.

To facilitate getting funds to the Baka we founded Global Music Exchange (GME), a registered charity that promotes and sells traditional music and uses royalties to help the musicians’ communities. Since then GME has helped get national ID cards for the Baka community, built a music house around which a new Baka village has grown, helped with healthcare and medicine, organised music concerts and festivals and recorded several albums of Baka music – both traditional and modern – to help raise more money and prestige for the Baka community. Since 2000 I have been to visit the Baka community near Moloundou every year for between 1 and 3 months, so have built up a good relationship with this community and gained insights into the ways of the Baka.

The second Forest Voices Tour in December 2015 was partly financed by Forest Peoples Program (FPP) and aided by the Cameroonian NGO, OKANI.  FPP were asked by their EEC funders why they were financing a musical tour when their brief was to help with Baka human rights. This is why:

Baka children learn by observation, imitation and repetition. They have not been trained to learn in a classroom situation. This process continues throughout their lives. When Baka adults are put into a new, unknown situation, for example when taken to the city for the first time, they will sit back and watch the world around them. They carefully observe how things are done and only when they have worked out what is going on will they begin to participate. We observed this first-hand when we took a group of Baka musicians to the Cameroon capital Yaounde in 2003, and again when we brought some of the same musicians to Europe in 2005 and 2006.

If new ideas or concepts need to be taught to the Baka population, the Baka’s way of learning needs to be taken into account. Over my 25 years of living and working with Baka I have seen many NGOs visit with a project for ‘consultation’. These have been agricultural, educational and development projects. They all take the path where problems are listed or explained in a pseudo school setting. The times I have witnessed this process, very few Baka have be able to follow the whole lecture and most do not understand or grasp the implications of what is said. They have always been in French, which many Baka now speak, but few have real fluency. My French is not perfect, but it is as good as or better than most of the Baka I have met. I find it hard enough to follow a lecture in French. Once you lose track it is very difficult to pick it up again, especially when the subject is concepts that are new to you. During the times I have witnessed NGOs lecturing Baka populations I see people begin to lose interest very quickly. Too often this is ignored. The job has been done, information passed on and boxes ticked. The fact that no one has actually taken on board what has been said does not seem important.

The Baka pass on knowledge through song, drama and discussion. Music, film and statements to camera are far more culturally appropriate techniques to impart information. They get around the barriers that make the classroom/lecture format an ineffective method of communicating with indigenous people.

Another advantage of using music, drama and film to pass on information is that it reaches more of the population. If you turn up to a Baka roadside village and gather the population together you will not be reaching all the population. Those who stay in the villages tend to be the elderly, the school-age children and the alcoholics. The movers and shakers of the Baka communities will either be off in the forest or working somewhere else, often far away. The people found in the roadside villages will not be representative of the whole Baka community. However if you announce that on a certain day a group of musicians will come and entertain the village, no one will want to miss it. Everyone will make an effort to be there to enjoy the party. When the concert is over and a film starts the gathered people will stay to watch. To see a film is a very novel experience and if they are in the Baka language they will be watched from beginning to end.

What I have witnessed with the songs, films and interviews is a sowing of seed ideas. Songs are re-sung, bits of film re-enacted, while ideas and concepts are debated within the community long after the musicians have moved on. During our Forest Voices Tour in December 2015 we took the musicians to a Baka festival in Assok. We were welcomed by a large group of Baka singing a song that had been popularised a year earlier. Vicky Brown, a Cameroonian musician, had written it along with the Baka villagers from Mintom, near Lomié and we had included a video of this song in our film show. The words were basically “We are suffering due to the riches of our forest”. Just this one song was making the people realise the reality of their situation. Assok is in a different part of the forest to Mintom, but the song, and hence the ideas, had spread there.

The opportunity for the Baka to speak to camera is an important part of the project. The people who make decisions that affect the Baka’s way of life never hear the Baka’s side of things. Since they only go as far as the roadside villages they only hear the stories that the Bantu farmers want them to hear, and it’s in their interest to keep the Baka suppressed as they rely on them as a cheap source of farm labour. We are collecting a body of statements from the Baka themselves telling the world how it is for them.

We hope to continue organizing more Forest Voices Tours, but transport in the region is expensive since the roads are very bad in the East Region of Cameroon. We have shown that the format works. What we need now apart from funds to finance the actual tours is better information to give to the communities during the tour. We also need help with the translation of the statements that we are collecting, and we need to visit more communities to get the broadest possible range of opinions and to identify the common problems and solutions.