Before Farming

Baka water drums

playing rivers and streams in the rainforest of Cameroon and Gabon

Before Farming (2012), 2012, (1), 1–11.


The rhythmic percussion of river water by various body parts is a musical and recreational activity widely diffused among the Baka of Cameroon and Gabon, as well as among other peoples of the Central African rainforest (especially, but not only, hunter-gatherers). These are the so-called ‘water drums', occasional performances made by women and female children during expeditions to rivers to wash clothes or bathe. They consist of hitting, squeezing, moving and stirring the water with hands, arms and feet, repeating indefinitely (with micro-variations) and combining together different rhythmic patterns.

In order to define the performance techniques of the Baka water drums, audio recordings, photographs and video footage taken during various field research have been analysed in depth, considering both acoustic and kinetic aspects. For these analyses I have therefore made use of special transcriptions, which I called kineto-acoustic transcriptions, based on the identification of distinct and relevant performance gestures. This work has also allowed the detection of ‘latent’ rhythms (related to the performers’ limb movements, often not coincident with the resulting sounds) which make this musical game particularly complex. Although the Baka are undergoing a period of profound social and cultural changes, their water drums seem to be among the musical practices not (yet) involved in the contemporary process of change, thus remaining an important expression of their musical culture.

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Devin, L 2012. La foresta ti ha. Storia di un'iniziazione. Roma: Castelvecchi Editore:63-64. La foresta ti ha. Storia di un'iniziazione 63 64 Google Scholar

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Author details

Devin, Luis