Gabon (Fr. République Gabonaise)
- Pierre Sallée
(Fr. République Gabonaise)
Country in West Africa. With an area of 267,667 km², it is a relatively homogeneous cultural unit, despite the great ethnic and linguistic diversity of its population of 1·23 million (2000 estimate). The last waves of Central African migration converged on the Atlantic front of the equatorial forest. With the exception of the ‘pygmies’, all the present-day peoples of Gabon thus originated in regions outside the equatorial forest that they now inhabit.
The music of the ‘pygmies’ has features in common with that of other hunter-food-gatherer peoples in Africa. These include the use of a pentatonic tonal system incorporating tetratonic forms; the use of alternately ascending and descending intervals of 5ths, 6ths, 4ths and 7ths in songs that combine a yodelling technique with polyphonic imitation; musical development based on a series of distinct melodic and rhythmic cycles, in a kind of canon particularly suited to the resonances of the forest canopy; and a constant use of polyrhythm within ternary structures. The ‘pygmies’ of northern Gabon conclude each polyphonic sequence with a sustained solo note that turns into a glissando, imperceptible at first. This is amplified by the maximum vocal resonance, and accompanied by a specific gesture that consists of folding back the lobe of the ear by passing the opposite arm over the top of the head....