July 14, 1984
JP, the mad Belgian explorer is shouting at me through the clattering drums and chanting natives. The jungle is alive with music.
“Go with the Shaman!”
He’s pointing to a dark hut across the clearing. I scramble through the dancing frenzy of the massed Pygmies and duck into the tribal Holy of Holies. The Shaman is there, suiting up for the big party.
Outside the hut, two or three hundred Pygmies are cutting it up on the dance floor, singing their swaying melodies and banging their elephant skin drums. There are more Pygmies gathered than have ever been seen before – even by Pygmies. The scene is lit by bonfires and by big klieg lights that we have borrowed from the French logging crew whose camp has been our base down here in the deep jungle of northern Congo.
It’s dark in the hut but light is streaming through the leafy walls. The Shaman is rustling his relics as I stumble in. I’m crouching under the low roof and mumbling some supportive incantations of my own. Just to put him at ease, you understand.
“Jesus Loves You, This I Know” I venture.
He peers at me without much expression and then returns to his preparations. I’m about as relevant to his business as a man from Mars. He dons a grass cape that covers his head and drapes down to cover his feet. Brushing past me, he steps out into the clearing.
As one, the voices rise to a higher pitched fever as the Shaman twirls among them. The strands of his head dress splay around him as he spins. Behind him your correspondent is grooving along for the ride, trying to fit in and dancing up a little improvised frenzy of my own. The throng is so dense that most of my gyrations are confined to waving my arms above their heads.
JP and the crew are there with the cameras but I can see over the bobbing heads of the natives that he has lost our Love Interest. The scene we are trying to shoot calls for her to be discovered at last, by The Rhythmatist, in the deep jungle. She is found amongst the lost Mboroo tribe and has been entranced by their strange music. Our heroine is played by JP’s fiancé, Trish.
But the shot is not going as planned. These are real Fourth World natives and they really are entranced by their strange music. Trish, daubed with paint and festooned with feathers, has been adopted by the women of the tribe. They have surrounded her and are wailing at her, imbibing of her outlandish blonde pallor. She too is wailing.
“JayPeeeee! They won’t let me through!” she beseeches, struggling to get to the men’s circle where she can be discovered by the intrepid Rhythmatist. Pygmy social rules are very strict about this, as it happens. Women only dance with the women.
JP is in more of a frenzy than anyone. He’s a director who wants his shot. He clears a path through the womenfolk and drags Trish over to the men’s side – where I’m still thrashing away.
Actually by now I’ve got kind of a groove going with my new brothers in music. The rhythm is tricky but the pulse is clear and I have pretty much got the hang of it. The melody is otherworldly and rhythmically harder to fathom. Somehow their voices fuse in choral waves and spirals, swirling up to peaks and swooping down to deep earth tones. I’m just chanting Beach Boy songs and swooping along with them.
The story we are trying to tell in this odd movie we are making, is kind of improvised. And JP is improvising now, inflamed no doubt by the general hubbub.
“OK now fuck her!” he shouts to me.
I was mid swoop, but now I have paused, trying to hear him through the din.
“Keep dancing! And then fuck her!”
“JayPeeee!” wails Trish.
“Pluck her?” I’m hoping he said.
JP is on a mission and he won’t quit until he has me dry humping his babe in front of the astonished Pygmies. The music abates momentarily, while the natives process this new information about the White Giants; but then they get the drift and are back into full swing as I perform my thespian duty on the director’s girlfriend.
TO BE CONTINUED…