Oka! Soundtrack Feels at Once Exotic and Familiar


Listen: Oka!

Oka Productions

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We say that music is a universal language and, these days, mashing genres is as common as spring rain. For all of that, though, there are myriad ways in which no matter how many walls we knock down, there’s still a lot of music that’s culturally specific.

In 2011, film director Lavinia Currier traveled to Central Africa to make Oka!, a film starring Kris Marshall of Love, Actually fame. This time, instead of hanging out with Keira Knightley and Emma Thompson, Marshall was among the Bayaka peoples, a Pygmy tribe. Musician/sound engineer Chris Berry was brought in to record ambient sounds and local music, plus find ways to integrate these with Western sounds and create the movie’s soundtrack. Berry has done a marvelous job, but he’s the first to point out that there are some barriers that are hard to cross. Take the blues, for instance. In the West, they’re built around 12-bars, but the Baraka think nothing of 54- and 67-bar blues!

I highly recommend this soundtrack for those looking for something that is both familiar and unique. Berry’s usual M.O. is to record environmental sounds and follow with songs that capture the same spirit. For instance, he leads with 52 seconds of birdcalls and voices, then follows with “Yetoo’s Dream,” which uses primordial keening female voices overdubbed with bird sounds, live percussion, and drum loops. Despite the exoticism of the piece, it wouldn’t be out of place in a dance hall. Similarly he juxtaposes simple wooden flutes and balafon with cuckoo-like vocalizations that produce a very African form of trance music. Later there’s “Bottlefunk Girls,” whose exuberant female vocals has a street jive feel, though it’s a long way from a street corner. Not unusual enough form you? How about some sounds of monkeys eating followed by drumming and staccato paced male vocals? Or woodpeckers mixed with vocals that emulate that sound, but also sound as hip as anything a rap DJ could come up with? Want something quieter? How about “Song for Thinking,” which is watery and pensive? Indeed, why not some elephant sounds as well? This soundtrack is 52 minutes worth of mystery and delight. You’ll walk away thinking you’ve have no idea of where you’ve just been, though it feels like you should!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Similarly check Jon Hassall's 'Dream Theory in Malaya' which uses the same kind of ambient sounds and voices.