After narrowly escaping deportation in 1942 as a refugee in France, Arom grew up in Israel, where he studied music. In 1954, he returned to France to obtain a diploma as a French horn soloist at the Paris Conservatory. For five years, he dutifully played the horn in the Kol Israel Orchestra, a radio ensemble that was formed in the 1940s and eventually became the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. In 1963, feeling that he was in a rut, Arom was entranced when Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited him, as part of a cultural exchange program, to travel to the Central African Republic and put together and train a new local brass ensemble or “fanfare” — referenced in the memoir’s title — in the capital city of Bangui. Instead, Arom was immediately distracted when he heard Pygmy musicians singing outside his hotel window in Bangui. Arom writes:
I felt that their music came from the back of time, but also, to a certain extent, from my own depths. Yet I could never have known it, never having heard anything like it before. It was insane. How did the musicians achieve this? I was dumbfounded.
Comparing this music to a “Jungian archetype,” Arom was astounded to see how the Pygmies managed to sing complex call-and-response music with a dense musical structure, yet with total liberty and assurance and without a conductor’s help. He describes the sound as an “intricate abundance” nonetheless marked by “rigorous rhythmic and melodic organization”; he titled a later article “Everything Is Measured, but Nobody Counts.” This acutely paradoxical achievement occurs despite the difficult conditions in which its creators survive. The Pygmies, a minority population, are permanent quasi-refugees who are sometimes obliged to flee their enemies by escaping into the rain forest.(read more...)