A white traveler named Louis Sarno hears a piece of music created by the Bayaka pygmies and can’t shake the feeling he’s left with. The music buries itself deep into the heart and soul of this man so securely that he decides to venture deep into Africa to record and learn more.
He wrote a book about this, “Song From the Forest: My Life Among the Pygmies,” in which he states, “I was drawn to the heart of Africa by a song.” He continues, “In retrospect, it seems wondrously strange that a mere song should have lifted me out of the rut of my life and sent me off on an adventure that continues today.”
The book was published by Trinity University Press in 1993. When I met Sarno in New York and showed him a copy of his book, he blurted out, “No. Please, don’t judge me by this book. You will think that I am an a—hole. I didn’t know much about the people, the Bayaka, then.”
The book is raw and honest like the documentary “Songs From The Forest,” which is playing currently and receiving strong accolades from a wide variety of his peers and critics alike. In the documentary, there are long and wonderful moments that feel like a government-approved travel profile. This adventurous white man is brave and safe inside the rainforest in central Africa.
During his 25-plus years of living and learning and loving the Bayaka people, he fell in love with a woman and married her. Together, that union produced a son, who is 13 and named Samedi.
Did you think “Wow”? So did I. There are many wow moments that compliment the documentary, but it’s Sarno’s one-of-a-kind recordings of traditional Bayaka music that makes the strongest of souls want to drop to their knees and weep. Keeping it simple, the Bayaka culture is endangered. Sarno has done little to nothing to prepare his son for the future. Samedi can’t speak English. His education is limited to his environment, the forest, and naturally tensions between father and son once they hit the U.S. The film’s open-ended conclusion is sobering and heartbreaking.
“I think this will be the last time this culture will ever be seen like this,” Sarno confessed to me. “Everything is changing there. The young people want more and the outside world wants inside their secrets. … Yes, this film is probably the last time you see this culture.”
To learn more, visit www.songfromtheforest.com.