Polyphonic Singing and Dancing [Baka]
Project Description

In Baka egalitarianism, there is a striving for an equality, which eliminates all distinctions of wealth, power and status, other than those between the sexes and ages. This equality is not a given, but must be maintained through effort and levelling mechanisms, and results in delicate movements between autonomy and connectedness. The interplay of female and male powers in this type of egalitarian organisation is importantly and continuously regulated in ritualised music making and dancing.

The songs of the Baka, as well as those of other groups in Central Africa, are distinguished by their polyphonic structure. In this type of polyphony, individual song within the composite of voices is emphasized, but all parts contribute more or less equally to the musical fabric. Through dancing and singing together, people absorb the egalitarian dynamics, how to organize themselves sensitively in relation to what others are doing, so that their actions are complementary, without the existence of explicit leadership or someone telling others what to do. Baka “learn” about their egalitarian group identity and cultural values through sensorial participation in polyphonic singing. Shared music making and dancing creates a space of intimacy where people learn to trust each other, which is also essential to an egalitarian society dependent on food sharing.

It is limiting to express the intense sensoriality and depth of Baka polyphony in words. Semantics cannot do justice to how the repetitions and variations of the individual female songs create an ‘ambience’, an atmosphere, which is at once rigid and fluid, stable and generative. The penetrating beauty of this polyphonic dynamic, is to emphasize the independence within interdependence; a continuous looping which is not sequential or a question of duration, but which is non-linear, generative and co-creative; where music and society become co-composing streams of movement.

Egalitarian sociality is commonly accepted as one of the oldest and most resilient forms of human social organisation and polyphonic yodelling is considered a particularly resilient cultural system, which has been present for several millennia. Work with groups such as the Baka emphasizes how choral singing harmonizes emotions and builds trust within groups. In human history, choral singing was first a way of building trustworthiness and community, but later allowing for creativity in human communication rather than just reliability. Polyphonic music has a deep structure that is conservative and stable, and at the same time enables great variation and inventiveness, encouraging creativity and innovation. The musicking and dancing humans co-compose with their surroundings to generate a powerful and on-going vibrational quality, which both repeats and varies, an interplay of continuity and change.


  1.  My Blog on my year in Gabon studying Baka polyphony
  2. My Article on Baka Dancing and Social Transformations 
  3. My Article on Baka Polyphony
  4. My PhD on Baka Mobility and Motility 
  5. Project ‘Our Way to Europe‘ at University of Cologne (SFB 806)
  6. CENAREST Gabon
Project Details


University of Cologne (SFB 806)