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Song from the Forest

My Life among the Pygmies

Louis Sarno (author), Alex Shoumatoff (foreword), Michael Obert (afterword), David Rothenberg (afterword)

A rare look into the rich musical culture and rainforest life of the Pygmy people, now a major documentary film in national release

For twenty-five years American Louis Sarno has been recording the polyphonic and hypnotic music of the Bayaka people in Central Africa. His book is a first-person narrative of his life among a hunter-gatherer people and an account of their culture’s extraordinary beauty. Sarno recounts his efforts to protect the Bayakas’ fragile existence in an increasingly destructive world.  

Song from the Forest has inspired a major documentary film, releasing this spring, that the New York Times calls “a deeply captivating visual and sonic exploration of the strange, music-driven life of Louis Sarno, an American ethnomusicologist who was lured to the Congo River basin in the 1980s by recordings of pygmy songs. Over the decades Sarno has recorded more than 1,500 hours of unique Bayaka music, most of which are held at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University. 

He began with little more than a plane ticket, some recording equipment, and a naive notion about Pygmy life. Enchanted by the beauty of music he heard on the radio, he researched all known archives of the music and then followed the mysterious singing to the Central African rainforest and found its source with the Bayaka Pygmies.

Only after Sarno had lived with the Bayaka for some time was he allowed to join them in the rainforest, where they still have a subsistence life in relative harmony with nature. There he experienced the spiritual sophistication of the Ba-Benjellé culture and the supreme importance of music as the principal means by which they communicate with the rainforest and its magical spirits. Today he is a fully accepted member of the Bayaka society and is married to a Bayaka woman. 

The book includes a foreword by journalist Alex Shoumatoff, an afterword by Michael Obert, who directed the documentary, and a discussion of Bayaka music by philosopher and musician David Rothenberg.


  • Michael Obert is an award-winning German author and journalist. Over the past twenty years he has traveled to the remotest parts of the world, with a particular focus on covering Africa and the Middle East. His seven-month journey from the source of the Niger River to its mouth brought fame with his best-selling book Regenzauber (On the River of Gods). Song from the Forest is his first film. He lives in Berlin. 
  • Philosopher and musician David Rothenberg is the author of Thousand Mile Song, about making music with whales; Why Birds Sing; Sudden Music: Improvisation, Art, Nature; Blue Cliff Record: Zen Echoes; Hand’s End: Technology and the Limits of Nature; and Always the Mountains. He is a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
  • Alex Shoumatoff is a senior contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a former staff writer at the New Yorker. He is the author of The Rivers Amazon, Russian Blood, In Southern Light, and The World Is Burning, among other books, and editor of the website Dispatches from the Vanishing World, celebrating the world’s fast-disappearing natural and cultural diversity. His book on the impacts of palm oil plantations on the indigenous people and animals of Borneo is forthcoming from Beacon Press.


“Conveying the deep connection Sarno feels with the Bayaka and their perilously endangered corner of the world.


“An engaging, detailed chronicle . . . full of wonder, beauty and irony.”

Publishers Weekly

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Song from the Forest cover
  • Price: $18.95
  • Pages: 320
  • Size: 6 x 9 x 3/4
  • Published: Apr 2015
  • Status: Out of print
  • ISBN: 9781595347480
  • Price: $12.99
  • Published: Apr 2015
  • Status: Available
  • ISBN: 9781595347497


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