Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Listen . . . Oka! [Oka Productions, 2012]
This beguiling piece of post-rock is neither a proper soundtrack nor a field recording--not with the African musicians offered the chance to hear their own inventions on headphones and add overdubs. It's a soundtrack-based Bayaka Pygmy audio collage, very much doctored by producer and frequent co-composer Chris Berry, a Californian adept of Zimbabwean thumb piano. With their dream songs, 54-bar structures, and propensity to turn anything from a babbling brook to a scrap of plastic pipe into an instrument, these culturally threatened Central African Republic hunter-gatherers seem to live music even more than most Africans. Women are the chief creators, which has major consequences as regards both prevailing pitch and how much the music hunts and how much it gathers. But either way, it pervades their lives. By manipulating recorded sounds and songs and inviting the Bayaka to do the same, Berry translates that pervasiveness into a form comprehensible in a culture differently pervaded by music--ours. A