Laboratory of comparative musicology and anthropology of music

Comparative Study of the music of the Pygmy people of Northern Congo

Comparative Study of the music of the Pygmy people of Northern Congo

The Pygmies

The various groups of these hunter-gatherers that live mostly in the tropical rainforest in Central Africa are far from constituting one homogenous population. The main topics that are studied by various social sciences concerning the pygmy people deal not only with their history but also with the problem of their vague resemblance.


This research project follows along the line of a program initiated in 2005. Through the comparative study of five Pygmy communities of the Northern Congo (Baluma, Mbenzele, Bangombe, Mikaya, Aka), the purpose of this project is to find proving evidence about the musical foundation which has been surmised as common to them, in order to state hypothesis that are congruent with history. This project is about understanding the identity of “the Pygmies” bearing in mind not only their music but also their current socio-cultural situation, and thus discarding many of the popular myths on which is based their reputation. In addition, there is an urgent need for a documentation project because of the precarious conditions in which they live and the possibility of acculturation and subsequent disappearance.

The research process is founded on the categorisation and comparison of the musical repertoires and the subsequent analysis of the musical forms, the way they are grouped in different repertoires, and their place within the religious and social life of the communities. Music is defined through the analysis of its practice and its knowledge (conception, performance, reception, transmission, etc.), the updating of the mental models that preside its performance, and the system of symbolic connotation to which music refers.

This task allows us to: 1) progress in the topics of circulation and patrimonies; 2) show how music may answer a question concerning the history of certain communities; 3) update information about communities which are subject to many conjectures and which have undergone, in the last decades, significant changes in their lifestyle and the transmission of knowledge due to their difficult living conditions.

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