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Abatwa (The Pygmy): Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?

Glitter Beat
Review by Bruce Miller


As Ian Brennan continues to reveal music made by the world's more endangered or marginalized people- from Tanzanian albinos to Malawian prisoners or Cambodian killing field survivors- he travels deep into the hills of Rwanda to record the music of Twa pygmies, who can also be found in Southern Uganda, Northern Zambia, and scattered about the DR Congo. Frustratingly, this ethnic minority group is as voiceless as it gets in Africa, though none of that comes across in the music found here. Featuring such traditional instruments as the umuduri, a stringed bow that is clearly the inspiration behind the Brazilian Berimbau, and the massive board zither known as the inanga, which, as played by the Twa, coaxes the vocals out as mourning-filled moans, as the inanga's plucked strings provide pulse as well as occasional heavy riffs.

Listen "Umuyango"

“Umuyango,” a track about protecting the environment written and performed by Teonesse Majambere, is a fantastic example of this (Further examples can be found on the Fonti Musicali collection Rujindiri, Semahe, Nyirashirambe ý– Musique De L'Ancienne Cour Du Rwanda, as well as the Inedit release, Médard Ntamaganya ý– Rwanda: Court Songs For Inanga And Folk Songs).

Listen "Beautiful Rwanda"

Elsewhere, there are solo Ikembe songs, and tracks for the bowed iningidi. But this isn't traditional music in the usual sense; everything here was written by those who perform it, though much of it certainly sounds as timeless as anything we refer to as folk music. Yet, here and there, short bursts of electronic noise replace the typical instrumentation for jittery warnings about AIDs; sounds like sirens or cicadas plugged into amps briefly appear to form whole, yet fleeting tracks. For example, Rosine Nyiranshimiyimana tells a story of a child from the streets over an increasingly disturbing single synth pulse as a small chorus answers her vocal lines with “aaahh”s. (See the full track above.) These strange tracks work in odd, hyper-modern juxtaposition to the bulk of the collection.

Listen "Ihorere (Stop Crying Now)"

The album's center piece is the wife and husband duo of Angie Kamagaju Emmanuel Habumuremy's bluesy, inanga-driven dirge “Ihorere (Stop Crying Now).” A plea to stop crying, their vocal harmonies as spectral as they are weary. This is accompanied ballad singing at its finest. As a collection of raw Rwandan music, nothing tops it. - Bruce Miller


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