Rhythm Tree (March Hare Music MAHACD 20, 2004)
Though their recent releases have taken on a distinct Afro-Celtic air, Baka Beyond began as a collaboration with the Baka rainforest people of Cameroon in the early ’90s. Their 1993 debut
Spirit of the Forest was a sprightly, innovative melding of Baka percussion, voices and ambiance with guitar-and-mandolin-fueled songs.
Rhythm Tree marks the band’s most prominent incorporating of Baka participants since then, and the music is infused with considerable spark and soul because of it. The foundations for many of the tracks were shaped at Music House, a kind of musical community center in Cameroon built entirely from one enormous tree and overseen by Baka Beyond leader Martin Cradick.
Beginning and ending with two brief songs featuring a pair of Baka women named Mbelli and Loni singing in pure unadorned rainforest manner, the disc proceeds upon a richly rewarding path that includes music from both Baka and Celtic sources as well as lively fusions.
Despite some jumping around geographically and stylistically, it’s a cohesive and mutually enriching work that flows easily from Baka-rooted tunes like “Boulez Boulez” to the 19th century Scottish lament “Hush Hush” (which benefits from an especially beautiful lead vocal by Su Hart).
The band’s lineup of singers and players from the U.K., France and several African nations converse
with a musical kinship, both in and out of the prevailing Baka communal spirit, that sounds absolutely meant to be. It’s great to hear Baka Beyond re-embracing the elements that first brought them to the fore and doing it so wonderfully.