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Remembering Louis Sarno, And His Sounds Of The Rain Forest

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Remembering Louis Sarno, And His Sounds Of The Rain Forest

Remembering Louis Sarno, And His Sounds Of The Rain Forest

Remembering Louis Sarno, And His Sounds Of The Rain Forest

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/524076553/524076554" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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After hearing the strange and mesmerizing music of pygmies in the Central African Republic's rain forest, Louis Sarno's life was transformed. He lived for decades with them. Sarno died this month.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

On a winter night back in the 1980s, Louis Sarno heard strange and beguiling sounds on the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: They were Bayaka pygmies from the Central African rainforest singing. As Sarno would discover, music was everywhere in their lives. Along with their songs, they would drum on trees and even slap at water to create intricate rhythms.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUC SANTE: They have songs for hunting and for childbirth and for even sitting around having conversation. There are songs for every human activity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: Luc Sante, the author and critic, was a friend of Sarno's. He says Sarno was completely transfixed by this sound and wanted to know more.

SANTE: He had this intuition that the Bayaka were his people, partly on the basis of the music but partly also on the basis of the fact that they were a truly non-hierarchical society. They didn't own property. They did not own land. Historically, for thousands of years, they lived this way in harmony with their surroundings. And this was his utopian dream coming to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: So Sarno moved to the Central African Republic and lived among the Bayaka pygmies for some 30 years. As he told NPR's Robert Siegel in a 1993 interview, it wasn't the utopia he expected. There were big problems, like alcohol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

LOUIS SARNO: They're very emotional. There's outbreaks of jealousy. And when they drink, of course, it's - everything is very bad. But it's just part of their nature. They demand that you accept a very wide latitude of behavior. And I've had to learn to accept all parts of them. And sometimes it's very difficult.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: Sarno wrote a memoir called "Song From The Forest." His friend, Luc Sante, says it's not your typical anthropological narrative.

SANTE: It's emotionally naked. It's about his desire for love and belonging and his being rebuffed in those endeavors at first and gradually being accepted and his falling in love with a woman in the tribe and her playing coy with him. And it's so sweet and intimate and exactly what you would never expect from this kind of a book.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: When Louis Sarno pointed his microphone into the rainforest making recordings like this one, there seemed to be no line between the music of man and the music of birds, insects, Earth and sky. Here's Sarno again in his interview with NPR talking about the Bayaka.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SARNO: When they go in the forest, when they're - I think they're gathering some cocoa there or something, and they just sing. And it's because they love the sound of it in the forest. It sounds so beautiful. It's like in a huge cathedral or something. They're just singing, you know, out to each other and just creating a lovely sonic environment while they work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #3: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: Louis Sarno contracted numerous diseases while living in Africa, including malaria and leprosy. He died on April 1 from cirrhosis of the liver linked to hepatitis B. He was 62 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #4: (Singing in foreign language).

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