OBE  (the booklet)
Efe Pygmies and Lese Music

The Efe pygmies live in the Ituri region, in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They live in contact with forest farmers groups, the Lese and the Mamvu. The Efe are organized in small camps which can have up to fifty members divided in a rather flexible way in some families. More than half of the year, they are located on the edge of the forest near Lese villages. The association between the Efe Pygmies and the Lese-Dese recorded on this CD is marked by the sharing of certain social institutions, important rituals, part of the musical repertoire and the language. The differences between these people are their respective habitats and, in part, in their livelihoods.

The Efe songs, however, are fundamentally different from those of the Lese by the performance of very rich and beautifully structured vocal polyphonies, a cultural characteristic shared by all pygmy groups in the Ituri, DR Congo and elsewhere in Central Africa.

The pygmies do not disdain, far from it, the use of musical instruments. Hand clapping, interchoking sticks, cracked pieces of bamboo struck with a stick and Kuce drums are their usual percussion. The Luma whistle ensembles are mainly played by the Efe during collective celebrations marking important events such as the end of circumscision. Efe quite often use Domu harps and Likembe. This last instrument is sometimes found very far in some the forest camps. Mouth bows are used by Lese and Efe men before the hunt, to trap the animals' minds or to make interludes when they tell of chantefables. Bark horns ensembles called Mai are played during Tore ceremonies. This word refers to death, ancestor worship and the spirit of the forest. These horns are usually played by the Efe. Each horn gives a note and plays a rhythmic formula which intertwines with that of others to form a Hoquetus *, in fact a polyrhythmic polyphony. The longest is about five feet and the shortest is thirty centimeters. They are rigorously tuned according to a pentatonic scale*.

The musical instruments used during women's Ima initiation are two-stringed musical bows called Kitingbi that are set on drums acting as resonators.

Obe livret 2
Efe women dancing next to the Ima confinement house

The recordings on this record were made in the Ituri between October and December 1987 when the Efe camped near the villages of Ngodingodi and Digbo. The title of the disc Obe is a word that means both singing and dancing in Efe and Lese.

These recordings were made shortly before the wars and chaos that settled in this region of the DR Congo. These musics are a testimony that the people of this region have to offer infinitely better to the globalized and modern world than what was looted in their underground to speculate on the price of gold or to produce cell phones. The appalling massacres of civilians, the destruction of these people and their cultures in a quasi general indifference, have no justification. These music and cultures are among the best things that man can offer: an elaborate art that is a heritage of humanity.

CD tracks

  1. Ritual music, Tore horns ensemble 
    The ceremonies, also known as Tore Bapili are intended to introduce the spirit of a deceased person to the ancestors. For the Efe, Tore resides in the forest, he is also the spirit, it represents the force that dominates the world of the forest and gives it its balance. The recording presents a set of eight Mai horns. They are accompanied by a Kuce drum and a piece of split bamboo hit by a stick.

  2. Ritual song, Efe polyphony 
    During the whole period of confinement in the initiation, the women of the camp and the village regularly meet to dance around the Ima house, dressed in a belt of leaves specially made for these occasions. The Pygmies, or the men of the village, play drums and participate in the dance if they wish. The words of the song compare the young women initiated to young parrots because these birds keep their chicks for a long time and the day they fly, they gather together. 'Ima e aku ikipa eliofu'. 'Oh my mother, he's almost gone out the parrot'. They ask where their fathers are. The group answers them: "Efe odu malibu". "Man is where we play mischief" (Lese board game). They must understand that their father does not always have to watch them.

  3. Honey collecting song, Efe polyphony
    During the honey season, which lasts two months, most of the Pygmies' energy is concentrated on the collecting of this food, which is undoubtedly the most popular of those they consume. There is a vast repertoire of songs and dances related to honey collecting. Some go before it, others go with it, others go to camp when honey is brought back. This song is performed by a group of women and men accompanied by a Likembe. The women play the most prominent role in this song which is an interlacing of small melodic cells developing on a kind of continuo made by the chorus of men.

  4. Ritual song, 2 string bow kitingbi 
    The Ima girls initiation of is common to Lese and Efe. It occurs when young girls become pubescent. From that moment, they are recluded in a house called "house of Ima" for a period ranging from one to several months. The reclusion is not, however, complete. The girls go out from time to time to dance with the other women of the village. Boys who meet to watch what's going on or who are too close to Ima's house are chased with whips by the women. To avoid this treatment, they must provide what women ask for, usually food. Every night, the women gather in Ima's house to sing. This piece alternates songs accompanied by the Kitingbi musical bow, which plays rhythmic formula in the form of an ostinato*, changing from one song to another. Sung and instrumental parts alternate.

  5. Mouth bow Bou
    This very large mouth bow, called Bou, is made of a hardwood bow and a raffia rope. It measures more or less two meters long. The rope passes between the musician's lips. The rope is hit with a small thin stick. The musician varies his mouth volume to modify the timbre and the resonance of the harmonics.

  6. Mouth bow Bou 
    This mouth bow piece is played by men when they come back from the hunt. When it has been good, the evenings are prolonged and the men tell stories of hunting and also chantefable with a rhythmic structure very marked by the striking of the stick on the string.

  7. Luma whistles ensemble  
    This set of whistles is played by eight Efe accompanied by a group of singers and percussionists. The name Luma comes from the wood originally used to make them, but most often they are from bamboo. Each whistle produces a note and a rhythmic figure that can vary producing a Hoquetus music. The scale of the whole is pentatonic. * This music is played after the circumcision and at the festivities that end this rite. In this case, the Luma whistles are always accompanied by a group of singers and one or two drums. The melodies are a figuration of the songs.

  8. Song Singing Lese / Efe 
    The time of the year when Lese and Efe are close is the occasion of many important festive events that take place at different times: end of circumcision, mourning, collective festivities related to good harvests or good hunts. This Lese song accompanied by Efe is a welcome music for the local authorities on the occasion of an important celebration related to the full moon. This music also accompanied certain official events of the Zairian state in the region. The form of the song is responsorial where a soloist dialogues with a choir. 

  9. Lese / Efe Party Song  
    This song, which oscillates between a polyphonic and responsorial form, is played to celebrate a feast that closes the exchange of field and hunting products between Lese villagers and Efe pygmies. The song is conducted by a soloist who interacts with a chorus sung by Efe Pygmies. Songs of this type with a mixed character are quite common in the Ituri region when villagers and pygmies interact in collective music.

  10. Domu harp instrumental
    This piece played on a Domu harp, is a moment of pure entertainment played by a young Efe musician who seeks to show his instrument’s mastery. The piece combines several melodic themes that can accompany songs whose themes are known to many Ef

  11. Domu harp and Likembe, instrumental
    This piece is an improvisation performed by two musicians accompanied by the Domu five-string harp and a Likembe. The harp plays an ostinato* on which the Likembe player relies to improvises variations.

  12. Song accompagnied by a Domu harp
    This piece alternates an instrumental part played by a Domu harp with a part where the musician is accompanied by a group of Efe singers. A soloist and a chorus of men interact in a style similar to that of Lese songs. 

  13. Song accompagnied by a Domu harp
    This polyphonic song is sung on meaningless syllables. A Domu harp serves as a drone playing an ostinato on which a group of Efe women and men build the song. This piece is a song of rejoicing on the occasion of a good harvest of honey. The women are spread over two voices with yodel*, men sing on two bass lines that serve as a foundation for women's voices.

  14. Duo of Likembe, instrumental
    Two Efe improvise with Likembe. The first instrument has a parallelepiped-shaped resonance box upon which the blades are attached, one of which is relaxed to produce a slight buzz when it is pinched. The sound box of the second Likembe is constituted by a small calabash fixed by a stick in the soundboard. The musician causes a kind of rippling sound with back and forth movements of the calabash that he places against his belly or by removing it.

  15. Song and Likembe
    The musician is a handicapped Efe who spends most of his life in a Lese village. With each return of his relatives, he shows his joy to find them singing accompanied by a Likembe. A woman accompanies him with clapping hands.

  16. Chant with harp Domu and Likembe 
    This song, accompanied by a Domu harp and a Likembe, is played by a group of Efe for entertainment on the occasion of an abundant honey harvest. The soloits parts are sung in a style where the yodel is quite present. The instruments accompany the polyphonic singing and essentially play an ostinato. This song conveys a facet of Efe music that integrates musical instruments with the complexity of the sung polyphony.