Louis Sarno

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Louis Sarno
Born(1954-07-03)July 3, 1954
Newark, New Jersey, United States
DiedApril 1, 2017(2017-04-01) (aged 62)
NationalityAmerican and Central African

Louis Sarno (July 3, 1954 – April 1, 2017) was an American adventurer, recordist and author. In the mid-1980s until about 2016 he made field recordings of the music of a Bayaka (BaAka) "pygmy" forest people while living among them in the Central African Republic.[1] The recordings are now held by the Pitt-Rivers museum at Oxford University, UK, and Wild Sanctuary, an archive of indigenous music, stories and natural soundscapes. Sarno lived in the CAR for more than 30 years, and held a dual citizenship there and in the United States.[2] He documented some of his experiences in his memoir, Song from the Forest: My Life Among the Pygmies (1993), which Geoff Wisner included in his survey work A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa.[3] In the late 1990s two albums, Music of the Bayaka, Volume I and II, produced by Bernie Krause were released under Wild Sanctuary, an archive that holds additional music and natural soundscape recordings by Sarno.

Of Italian heritage, Louis Sarno was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. Although without formal training in anthropology or ethnomusicology, in 1985 he went to Africa to record the famous music of the forest people. He and his collaborator Bernie Krause combined recordings of Bayaka music with sounds of their surrounding environment into a two-CD/book package entitled Bayaka: The Extraordinary Music of the Babenzélé Pygmies (Ellipsis Arts).

Louis Sarno married a Bayaka woman for a period of time, and adopted a son (Samedi).[4]

The documentary film Song from the Forest, by German director Michael Obert, tells Sarno's life story. The film premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 2013[5][6] where it was honored with the Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary.[7][8] A movie based on Sarno's life called Oka! was released in 2011 (in the Aka language, oka means "listen").

Sarno died on April 1, 2017, in Teaneck, New Jersey, due to complications of liver ailments.[9][10]


  1. ^ Swains, Howard (April 18, 2015). "Inside the World of Louis Sarno, the Pygmy Chief From New Jersey". Newsweek. Retrieved April 4, 2017.
  2. ^ Sarno, Louis (April 25, 2014). Louis Sarno 5 (video). Doug Spencer. Retrieved February 13, 2018 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ Wisner, Geoff (2008). A basket of leaves: 99 books that capture the spirit of Africa. Jacana Media. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-77009-206-8.
  4. ^ Louis Sarno Archived October 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, an interview by Deni Kasrel. Philadelphia City Paper, June 13–20, 1996.
  5. ^ Young, Neil (November 23, 2013). "Song From the Forest: IDFA Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  6. ^ Kohn, Eric (April 6, 2015). "In 'Song From the Forest,' Louis Sarno Joins a Pygmy Tribe, Starts a Family and Returns to New York". IndieWire. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  7. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (November 29, 2013). "Song From The Forest wins at IDFA". ScreenDaily. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  8. ^ "Song From the Forest wins IDFA Award". International Documentary Filmfestival Amersterdam. Archived from the original on February 12, 2015. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  9. ^ "Louis Sarno Dies at 62; Moved to Africa to Preserve Ancestral Music". The New York Times. April 10, 2017. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  10. ^ "Remembering Louis Sarno, And His Sounds Of The Rain Forest". NPR. April 15, 2017. Retrieved January 13, 2020.