Several years ago, cognitive scientist Tom Fritz spent some time in northern Cameroon, a mountainous and culturally isolated region in the middle of Africa. He was observing the people who live there, the Mafa, who (from our western perspective, anyway) have some fascinating musical rituals.
The Mafa language doesn’t have a word for music because music is always intertwined with specific rituals, such as preparing for the harvest. Men will stand in a circle and play repetitive melodies on wooden flutes. Playing a Mafan flute requires a lot of energy and rapid exhalation. Some of the men will dance and run while playing, and the rituals often last several hours. “It’s physically very exhausting — they achieve this musical ecstasy,” Fritz says. “It got me interested in how one could translate something like that to our western culture.”