Nightclub in the Jungle

London, England – Martin Cradick of Baka Beyond is back from Africa where he and the Baka built a Music House which will function as a night club where the Baka can generate some revenue for their music.

On Martin Cradick’s trip to the Baka at the end of 2002 a mongolu music house was built, but he promised to return to help them build a larger music house in the village near the road. In February 2003 Martin arrived at Lupe with expert timber-framer Andi Main. They both showed up at the same time as the elephants arrived in the area. The Baka had to decide whether to follow the elephants that they had been waiting for, or to follow Martin and Andi to start work on the music house. They decided to go for the house.This is an account from the band’s diary:

The chief of Banana (the name of the village on the roadside that the Baka of this area are affiliated with) had allocated an area of land that could be used to build the music house. It had previously been used by some of the Baka as a plantation, but was now very overgrown. Looking at it we wondered if we were completely crazy to expect to be able to build the music house in four weeks.

After the first day’s work we realised how quickly the Baka could work. Very soon a large area of what had appeared to be inpenetrable undergrowth had been cleared. After the second day they started building a new village on site.

By the end of the first weeks work (actually only 4 mornings work – we started on a Wednesday and by midday it was getting too hot to work) the site of the building had been cleared and leveled and the foundations laid.

We obtained permission to cut down a single Sapeli tree that would provide sufficient wood for the structure of the building. This was then expertly cut up into beams and planks by Theo, who lived in Kika, a logging town about 80km away.

Andi taught both Baka and Bantu how to make tenon and mortice joints which they did using tools donated by the charity “Tools for Self Reliance”. By the end of the second week the first pillars were erected.

By the end of the third week the basic structure of the house was finished, all that was needed was a roof. The entire structure had been built from just the one tree! It was decided to cover it with corrugated aluminium with the traditional rafia palm material underneath that. This would give it the lasting quality of the metal roof with the coolness and ambiance of the traditional roof. In order to attach a metal roof we needed some more lengths of wood which we bought in nearby Moloundu, rather than cutting another tree.

Almost as soon as the roof was on it was tested by the very heavy rain that is normal in this region. As soon as there was a semblance of a building the space was tested by a succession of parties and performances. Even with no electricity it proved to be an inspiring space for music, dance and generally a good time.

To improve the sound as well as the ambience of the space traditional rafia roofing was placed inside the roof. We used planks made from the higher branches of the tree behind the stage. The mats behind are made from the stems of the ngongo plants, the leaves of which are used to roof the traditional mongolu houses that the women build. This photo was taken to send to “Strings and Things” who kindly donated a load of guitar strings for us to take to the Baka guitarists.

The basic construction of the house is now finished but there is more work to be done inside. The design is such that performances can take place on a stage with a dance floor in front of that and a raised platform at the back creating an amphitheatre feeling. Equally the performance can take place in the middle with seating all round. This would be more suitable for traditional dance performances. We are planning to return at the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004 to complete the internal furniture and have an opening to which local and national dignitaries will be invited.

The music house has already been used to entertain local people and as a meeting house for the newly formed Baka association, “Gbine”. It provides a link for the Baka between their forest lifestyle, which is still strong, and there life interacting with the townsfolk of Moloundu and surrounding regions where development is creating more links to the modern world. Their music and dance is developed in the forest and the music house provides a place for them to present this to the outside world and to increase their standing in the eyes of the village and town population who often dismiss them because of their “primitive” lifestyle.