The Roots of World Music

Balinese gamelan musicians in Tabanan, Bali, 1977. (Photo: Michael Tenzer)

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Way before iTunes and iPods and mixing boards and studios, humans all over the world were making amazing music. Traditional music that crystallized and symbolized a way of looking at life.

Today, we’ll hear from two great scholars of music from way beyond the Top 40. From Bali. From central Africa.

We sing about love and loss and gangstas. They tell of elephant hunts, cosmic visions – and maybe gangstas, too.

This Hour, On Point: from Bali to Africa to the heart of traditional music.


Simha Arom, ethnomusicologist and director emeritus of research at France’s National Center for Scientific Research. He’s best known for his prize-winning series of musical recordings of the Aka pygmies and other Central African groups from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. His influential book is “African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: Musical Structure and Methodology.”

Michael Tenzer, ethnomusicologist and music professor at the University of British Columbia. He has focused on the musical traditions of Bali, and is author of “Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth-Century Balinese Music.” He co-founded the San Francisco-based Balinese music ensemble Gamelan Sekar Jaya, which was awarded the Dharma Kusuma Award for Cultural Service by the Balinese government.

Here are some examples of field recordings by Arom and Tenzer:

“Gamelan Gambuh,” an ensemble of bamboo bass flutes, drums and gongs originating in the 15th century or earlier.  Recorded by Michael Tenzer.

“Hindehu” by the Benzele Pygmies, in which a singer is alternating with a whistle.  Recorded by Simha Arom.

“Ndraje Balendro” by the Banda-Linda in Central Africa (see photo below), an initiation song with 18 wooden trumpets and a pair of bells.  Recorded by Simha Arom.

Wooden trumpets of the Banda-Linda people, 1970s. (Photo: Simha Arom)

Here’s Michael Tenzer, Simha Arom, and Tom Ashbrook in our studio today:

(Photo: Gabrielle Levy)

Several listeners asked where you could get the recordings. Michael Tenzer says:

“Some of the recordings are expensive or specialized or rare. Interested listeners might want to check university libraries or poke around on the web for used sellers.” He pointed listeners to the following Amazon listings:

Central African recordings by Simha Arom:

Anthology of the Music of the Aka Pygmies
Central African Republic: Aka Pygmy Music

Central Africa: Music of the Gbaya, Songs for Reflection
Aka Pygmies: Hunting Love & Mockery Songs

Balinese recordings and compositions:

by Michael Tenzer
Bali: Gamelan Semar Pegulingan: Gamelan of the Love God

Bali South
and Vital Records

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