Never have understood why this album stubbornly resists a revival. I suppose it’s not pretty enough, and too edgy, and her American Indian vibrato bothers people. I can’t think of a single other folk album that has anywhere near this kind of ferocity. Uncompromising. It won’t make you feel any better about yourself. It might even make you feel just plain lousy. Now That The Buffalo’s Gone is not aimed at the Man, it’s aimed at everyone who’s not a tribal member. Even you there with the feathers and the Cherokee great great grandmother. That song is aimed right at you. As such, it’s gospel among American Indians. They all came up on this record. We have Dylan or whoever. They have this. Somewhere I have a YouTube video of a seventy-something Buffy Sainte-Marie performing Cod’ine in a casino on a reservation deep in the American northwest. The room is packed with tribals and hippies, and her performance is bone chilling and as the last quavering note fades the air is rent by war cries and ululations.
A music utterly alien to our own, like it’s from a different planet. But the cultures of the Amazon were as different from our own as time and geography made possible. If our music and this music held any common roots, it may have been in Africa. The roots of western civilization went one way, the roots of the Amazonian cultures went another. We and they may have been bands of peoples that had not been closely related in tens of thousand of years before they even left Africa. We’ve been so far apart so long this is probably some of the strangest sounding folk music you have ever heard, and we assume ours sounded the same to them when they first heard it. Before the Spanish arrived there were six million people living in the Amazon, in large towns, with expansive farms, canals and road systems. This album, the tunes collected by musicologist Marlui Miranda (an Amazon Indian herself) and transcribed for Brazilian musicians playing on acoustic instruments, is a survey of the music she heard sung and played by members of tribes throughout the Amazonian jungle. It’s a selection what remains of the music of those pre-Columbian cultures. The CD is annotated, with descriptions of the tunes and peoples and meanings. We lose the text on YouTube. All we hear is the beautifully alien melodies. I began with track four here because it is among the most jarring to western ears. I have to say that as a connoisseur of music from about the world and especially field recordings, I was never struck by a selection of music so different as this album, even if it has been scored and played and sung by a lot of Brazilian musicians. What a wonderful world the Amazon must have been before 1492. Within decades Old World diseases swept it like thermonuclear war. The population was reduced by 90%. The tribes that exist are all that remain. It’s a post apocalyptic world. A dozen or so bands yet remain uncontacted. They sings songs like these, oblivious to us, and then when the barrier between them and us is breached they too die, 70%, 80% even 90%. Who knows how many melodies disappear with the dead.
Don’t sit under the apogee with anybody else but me. Heard myself singing that, but it’s as far as I got. One line, or half a line, of the Andrews Sisters looping round and round in my brain. That’s what I woke up to. Some Allan Sherman I’d make.
I have no idea when the pun was added. Ten minutes ago? In my sleep? Last year? During childhood? Perhaps it was one of the lesser episodes in a previous life as an unsuccessful songwriter on Tin Pan Alley. Whatever. All I know is that if it doesn’t leave my skull soon I’ll have to blast it out with Steam. Na na na na, Na na na na, hey hey, kiss it goodbye. Never fails.