The Broto in the Central African Republic, belonging to the Banda ethnic group, are known for their traditional dances accompanied by heavy horns made of tree roots. Today this tradition falls into disuse and its history is now forgotten by the new generations. A musical tradition that was once passed down to the young as a form of celebration and ancestor worship today finds its notes scarcely played and the roots to worship lost in transit.
A young Broto musician trains to play the wooden horn in Bambari, in the centre of Central African Republic. Since time immemorial this instrument has been central to celebration and worship among the Broto people. Raising the blistered trunk to his mouth, the player blows into the thin end of the instrument, letting out a muffled rumble the other end.
A Broto man holds his traditional horn on his shoulder, in Bambari. Under threat of fading out at the hands of modernity, the Broto musical tradition was doubly hit by the outbreak of the Central African crisis in 2013 and the violence that spread in its wake.
A group of Broto traditional musicians get dressed in a ruined house before performing in Bambari. The musicians, dress in wooden bark clothes called Koundou that help their sway to the tones of the music.
A Broto musician adorns himself with his seed necklaces in a ruined house. In January, Bambari was the scene of clashes between the Blue Helmets and elements of the Central African Peace Unit (UPC), one of 16 armed groups that control most of the territory. The looting that ensued also destroyed the musicians’ instruments.
A group of Broto traditional musicians perform with bells made from palm leaves tied to their ankles in Bambari. Once ready, the musicians began their performance. Not long after a crowd approached, some sketched dance steps, happy to hear music rather than the rattle of gunfire.
A Broto musician plays the horn in the middle of his troupe during a performance. The polyphonic sounds follow a score of extreme rhythmic precision. In olden times the art was transmitted to all from generation to generation as an initiation rite. Today, only the youngest receive training.
The group leader of Broto traditional musicians conducts a performance in front of residents of Bambari. The Broto with their instruments were fixtures during ancestor worship ceremonies, weddings, and even burials. But with the loss of knowledge about the rites associated with this music, it survives only as a performance art in its present form.
A sign indicating the house of the traditional group of dancers “Ongo-Broto” in Bambari. In the early 2000s, the troupe performed as far away as in France and Algeria. But since then, opportunities have dwindled. The troupe has only one performance lined this year –sounding their trumpets at Bangui’s French cultural centre at the end of 2019.
The leader of the group rests on a hill after a performance. Despite being the troupe leader even he was unable to explain the significance this music had to Broto ancestors. The Broto musicians’ is a case of tradition trying to find its footing in a culture in transit.