Lion’s Drums reworks priceless field recordings of the Kagabas People in isolated Sierra Nevada mountain villages, North Colombia – where Kagabas society is steeped in song

Harold Boué – Lion’s Drums (C. Yohanne Lamoulere)

Kagabas is the name of the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Santa Marta, Colombia and also the name of the new album by Lion’s Drums – the result of Harold Boué’s week-long expedition and subsequent recordings of Kagaba society and their habitat. Lead single Alouatta (hembra) is out now. Kagabas is out in February and is a valuable exploration of ancestral knowledge in Colombia, offering a glimpse into a Kogi (Kagabas village) over seven expansive, stylish and varied electronic productions. It’s a must listen.

The indiginous people are steeped in the aural tradition, where writing doesn’t exist. Lion’s Drums delivers a deeply respectful work and aims to compliment the Kagabas People’s core self-belief as ‘Guardians of the Earth’.

The finished record was fully approved by the MAMAs of the villages, the spiritual and intellectual guides whose work is to archive memories and knowledge through sound. 100% of the revenues made from the project will be donated to Colombian charity Nativa, who are dedicated to overcoming the environmental challenges, such as logging and deforestation, that the Kagabas People precariously navigate.

The final production, adding ambient pulses and subtle electronic flourishes were patched and layered in Lion’s Drums Marseilles studio, the mainframe of the songs are the solo vocals of the village MAMA. The MAMA, like all Kagabas People, sing to wild animals and the natural habitat. Harold, the MAMA’s 15-year-old son Camilo, along with the MAMA, spent seven days exploring the mountainous jungles of the Sierra Nevada. The spiritual home of the Kagabas People dates back five thousand years. Harold would cling to his digital recording device, ready for when the group came upon a monkey, snake or river.

MAMA and guide

This on-going tradition of singing is a staple feature of Kagaba culture and is considered fundamental in connecting with the environment. It’s their way of giving back to the wild, as they must hunt to survive. It is a way for the Kagabas People to feel safe around these animals, to live peacefully amongst them without fear. As there’s no writing, music and singing are a way to pass memory, knowledge and awareness down through generations. The ongoing ecological disaster, the uncertainty of the current times and the temptation for many of the youths to leave the mountains for the big city life make this transmission issue all the more critical.

The Kagabas People are highly sensitive to sound with different codes used in an abundance of situations. On hearing the songs of the MAMA of the village, Harold immediately decided that his recordings would not involve interrupting or editing the vocal passes, instead enhancing the field recordings, when he returned to France.

Every evening the touring party would end up in a different camp, after over a half-day’s walking, exploring and sampling. Harold would consolidate his days’ work and write up the compositional ideas for the music he had just recorded. Made to feel incredibly welcome by all the people in the villages, he’d eat pineapple, watermelon, fish, rice, beans and always round a fire, in company. There were limits. His admittance to the Sierra Nevada was one week, a standard practise for outsiders. He was also not allowed to visit the highest village, where all the MAMAs lived.

Situated on the northern tip of South America directly east of Barranquilla, the Kagabas People are indigenous people, who consider themselves to be the Guardians of the Earth, concerned by the modern world’s attempts to destroy it. The mountain in Colombia is their home and is a microcosm and mirror of the planet, in which every ecological zone is represented. Environmentally damaging lifestyles, which stem from capitalism, affects their own environment (climate change, deforestation) and their mountain.

The initial idea for the project came after Harold listened to a podcast on Radio France International (RFI), highlighting the affects of climate change on the Kagabas People. Soon after, he made contact with the Nativa charity, founded by Franz Florez, excited about an idea to dig deeper and sample these incredible people and their song. Sung in the Kogi language, which pre-dates Colombian Spanish, these are historic documents indeed.

Abstraxion is another artistic pseudonym of Harold Boué, who has released various singles on John Talabot’s label Hivern Discs. He is a recording artist who DJs around the world (when permitted) and he can be heard mixing on various international radio shows, and in lockdown has been hosting his own regular DJ mixes.

Pre-order vinyl on Bandcamp or Juno Records. Listen to album preview on NTS Radio with Moesha 13.

Nativa organization support the Kagaba People by replanting trees, many of which are logged by commercial farmers, and by buying back land. In 2013 a UNESCO event welcomed the participation of representatives from the Kogi Indigenous People, from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, with the aim of bringing their ecological knowledge and practices into the scientific domain: “by providing a transdisciplinary space for indigenous tradition to speak in its own terms with modern environmental methods. It drew attention to the meaning of “ancestral knowledge” of the land and to the significance of “sacred sites” in maintaining its health”.

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