Baka Beyond,
The Meeting Pool
(Hannibal/Rycodisc, 1995)

I recently read Jena Ball's review of the Baka Beyond album East to West and realized that none of the earlier recordings by this extraordinary ensemble had been reviewed on this site. So I thought I'd go back to my first encounter with Martin Cradick's music and fill in at least one missing piece.

I was attending a PBS conference in New Orleans in 1995 when I was presented with a compilation CD titled Hannibalooza that contained the Baka Beyond track "Ohereo." Upon my return to Toronto I made a point of keeping my eyes peeled in CD stores for the album from which this track had been drawn. The Meeting Pool has since become one of those CDs that I pull out with great frequency when we have guests over for dinner. Its lush rhythms and seemingly chaotic cross cultural approach to instrumentation and melody inevitably elicit questions and I'm always pleased to have drawn someone's attention to this wonderful album.

On The Meeting Pool, Baka Beyond virtually defines the term "world music" by assembling a group of musicians from France, Australia, Uganda and the UK to collaborate on music rooted in the forests of Cameroon. And the musical influences brought to this recording range even further afield. There are Cajun and Caribbean rhythms, Arabic and gypsy jazz arrangements and a plethora of musical instruments; ngombi, dzouma, m'balax, violin, didgeridoo, bwambwa drums, sabar, kora, balafon, flute and guitar. And yet somehow the result is not in the least disjointed.

Of the eight tracks on The Meeting Pool, four derive directly from the people of Cameroon's Baka Forest -- filtered through the compositional talents of Martin Cradick. Cradick also draws upon the writing skills of keyboardist Tom Green, fiddle and flute player Paddy Le Mercier and others to broaden the scope of the music he and wife Su Hart fell in love with during their time in Africa. But it is Cradick who holds it all together. This is his vision. So whether his main inspiration is African or Cornish, whether a song contains elements of Turkish, Senegalese or Australian influence, the result is Baka Beyond.

"Ohereo" remains my favorite track with its layered vocals based on a traditional Gallic song from the Western Isles of Scotland. But among the other stand out cuts is "Woosi," a song about Baka women gathering food and visiting camps. The song blends the vocals of Su Hart and Kate Budd with a haunting violin line, intriguing electronic samples and an extraordinary variety of percussion. "Lupe" is a somewhat more straightforward chant through which Cradick, Hart and Budd build an intoxicating vocal texture. And "Meeting of Tribes" leaps from one cultural influence to another with such reckless abandon that one is surprised to reach the song's final notes without serious jetlag.

Listening to Baka Beyond's The Meeting Pool is one of those wonderful musical experiences that demonstrates that the human species, for all its contrast and conflict, can come together to build something of grandeur and subtle beauty. Now if only music were the language of politics....

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 15 May 2004

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