The Secret Mountain publishing house has a long, rich history of producing entertaining and unique book/CD combos full of music and art from diverse cultural sources. Some of my favorites include the Red House Records artists’ performances of singer songwriter gems on Down at the Sea Hotel, the French party song compilation Let the Good Times Rouler! and the globe spanning Dream Songs Night Songs series.
Songs from the Baobab encompasses 11 languages from the African continent, including Bambara, Bamana, Fula, Kikongo, Kinyarwanda, Lingala, Mina, Soninke, Sango, Susu, and Wolof. As the endnotes of the accompanying book mention, perhaps utilizing only 11 languages out of more than 2,000 that linguists have identified seems an oversimplification of African languages. But most of the 11 languages used in the compositions on Songs from the Baobab: African Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes are among the 30 most commonly used languages in Sub-Saharan Africa, so the appeal of the album as a whole may reach a wider listening audience.
Paris-based musician Chantal Grosleziat recorded the tunes on Songs from the Baobab with singers from each culture. One of the most appealing aspects of the album is the fact that both male and female singers are featured as lead vocalists, giving the CD a very warm family vibe. Paul Mindy arranged each song with traditional instruments, including the kora, the balafon, the kalimba, and rain sticks. Animals and the natural world are frequently referenced in the lyrics, as are family relationships.
The Music of 'Songs from the Baobab'
Taken together, the tunes on Songs from the Baobab: African Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes are more songs of joy than ditties designed to soothe a baby to sleep, which isn’t a bad thing. Songs like the percussion workouts “Ka Baga Ne Ma,” “Usumani Ka Dundunnin,” and “Denko” will make it impossible for you and baby to sit still. The same goes for the animal sound call-and-response “Sirada La,” while “So Diyara” begins with the sounds of a sanza (thumb piano) accompanied by a cappella singing, then transforms into a joyful rhythmic song.
The album contains game songs like the finger play tune “Eya Bé,” the hand exercise nursery rhyme “Baranin” (accompanied by the sounds of body percussion and laughing voices), the mesmerizing hand clapping song “Buutulumaani,” the head, shoulders, knees, toes-like “Tànk Loxo Nopp,” and the dancing game “Gato Gato.” Particularly charming is the performance of the parent-child pair a cappella game song “N Daga An Kara,” which includes the mother’s and son’s giggles.
The Quieter Side of 'Songs from the Baobab'
But Songs from the Baobab is not without its quieter moments. Listen to “Baranin” with its cricket accompaniment; the tender, circular “Aayóo Nenne!”; “Mademba” with its quiet vocal and sparse instrumentation; the atmospheric sounds of nature on “Aayaa Yimbéy;” and the beautiful lullabies “Nkwihoreze,” “Bo Bo Bo Bo,” and “Tutu Gbovi.” Other moments of calm reflection include the brief João Gilberto-sounding “In Ga,” and the modern folk arrangement and performance of “Wá Wá Wá Wá.” And check out the remarkable kora intro on the splendidly precious lullaby “Makun.”
Many aspects of modern African culture have been influenced over the years by French traditions. Those influences include music, as can be heard in “Injangwe Yanjye” and “Îtä Zâke,” both based on French nursery rhymes and schoolyard songs. Also, modern world music arrangements and production inform the three-four time “Ndi Le E” and the elimination game song “Kabuye Kanjye.”
Curiously, the track listing on the book’s back cover lists 29 songs, the lyric pages inside the book list 30 songs, and the CD itself contains 28 songs. A slight oversight, sure, but one of the tunes left off the CD, “Uélé Molibá Mákási,” is one of the prettiest of the collection. However, a sample of the song can be heard on the Secret Mountain website.
Make sure to find the book/CD combination, as the accompanying book includes striking artwork by Élodie Nouhen. The book also includes English translations of all the songs, a map detailing the geographical origin of each tune, and a thorough explanation of the history and meaning of each song. If you enjoy Songs from the Baobab, one of the best kids’ music CDs of 2011, you might also want to give Tinariwen a try. This band of Tuareg musicians from Mali performs a hypnotic blend of African blues in their native Tamashek language.
Released October 1, 2011; The Secret Mountain