Musiques Traditionelles du Burundi

Burundi2.jpeg This album from the legenday Ocora label is really one of my favorites on the planet.

When I first heard these two girls sing I had to be actively convinced it wasn't just pieces of a tape recording that had been spliced together! (Ocora co-founder Pierre Schaeffer also pioneered the early tape-splicing music movement known as Musique Concrete, so I wasn't totally nuts):

Akaheze par deux jeune filles

I just wrote about the amazing ability of some birds to sing multiple notes at once. This woman's ability to switch rapidly between her head and chest voice is totally daring anyone to say humans couldn't defy all odds and learn to do it too:

Akazehe par une jeune fille

The liner notes for these songs say that this woman is using her lips as a reed. If you listen carefully, you can hear the switch over to her normal voice. It's a traditional kind of song for mourning:

Ubuhuha 1

Ubuhuha 2

Cameroun ocora.jpeg

Unfortunately, like many on Ocora, this album is exceedingly rare. Let this be another call for re-issues! The cover of the Musiques du Cameroun album is worth tracking down all on its own...

This post is part of a series about music that disorients the senses. I've found that some of the most amazing and jarring auditory illusions are not the usual scientifically distilled or synthesized ones, they're often found in folk music and made by people's voices. Of course, in a way, it makes perfect sense - the vocal chords are some of the most complex and advanced musical instruments in existence. They are ubiquitously available, and we've been experimenting with them for longer than any other sound-making implement.


  1. I want to take a moment to thank you all for having me! I’ve had a really great time. I’ll be continuing to post more music, technology and projects on my website and my new blog, (under construction), soon. I can be reached here.

  2. really cool stuff. reminded me of Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw. She sang on the Tabla Beat Science Live at Stern Grove disc, some of it almost had the same melody as the single girl singing too. It was the first thing I thought of when I heard this.

  3. Thanks so much for your posts. Looking forward to following your work on your blog. Again, many thanks.

  4. Really interesting, thanks. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us.

    People might be interested in checking out this blog:

    It’s by the China-born, Berlin-based DJ Zhao and posts pretty much nothing but the best archival, out-of-print, and hard-to-find contemporary world music. There are a lot of Ocora records posted up on there that can’t be found for love nor money anywhere else.

  5. Thank you so much for all this! I love music you don’t hear everyday. And thank you to all the commenters who also linked to awesome blogs!

  6. Meara – I just want to say thank you for what has been an absolutely exceptional series of posts. Brilliant and inspiring and beautiful.

  7. Really cool! The first clip, “Akaheze par deux jeune filles”, sounded like I knew it already. And, it turns out I did — Mano Negra (80s French rock band) must have sampled it for their song “Hamburger Fields” on Casa Babylon. Hear it start around 3:08 —

  8. Chicago-based group Tortoise sampled “Akaheze par deux jeune filles” in 1996 or so:

    (vid is unrelated, but the song is unadulterated)

    Really cool stuff you’ve shared on BB, Meara! Looking forward to your future activities.

  9. I have been listening to this for over 25 years now, in the beginning it was a mini-lp called “le maitre tambour du burundi”, a mesmerizing mix of the original drummers, synth, base and drums…

  10. The “whispered song” is one of the darkest and most amazing songs I’ve heard imho. I found out about this record originally from recently deceased BBC World Music hero Charlie Gillet r.i.p.

  11. The split vocal effect reminds me of the icaros sung by the Ayahuascueros of Peru. I once had the incredible privilege of participating in a fire ceremony with a real Shaman from the Shipibo-Conibo tribe of Indians, many times during the night it sounded as if there were two or three separate voices singing, when it was only the one of the Shaman. Granted, it could have been the psychedelic nature of the Ayahuasca, but even hearing recordings is quite spooky… Good post!!!

  12. Switching between head and chest voice is an incredibly difficult thing to do well. I think of the yodeling tradition (of which I can’t say I’m a huge fan of, but appreciate), but also look to Bobby McFerrin.

    He’s one of the most interesting examples of somebody using his voice to do absolutely amazing things.

  13. Goddamn it I bought this LP for about 2 pounds about 10 years ago, loved it to hell and now can`t find it. Must alphabetasize collection…

    And second recommendation to Different Waters blog, specially check out his mixes Fusion 1 & 2

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