Pygmy songs take the pop charts -- The funktastic new album ''Deep Forest'' tackles an important cause with big success

By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated March 25, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Saving the rain forest is soooo 1993. This year’s cool musical cause? Saving the pygmies!

At least that’s the rallying cry behind Deep Forest, a European-made CD that does for pygmy tribal songs what Enigma did for Gregorian chants. Composed by two French musicians — Michel Sanchez and Eric Mouquet — the album samples 10-year-old UNESCO recordings of pygmy ditties and mixes them with a pulsating techno beat. The combination, amazingly enough, is indescribably funky.

”One night Michel played me some of his African recordings while I played the synthesizer and it was a great surprise,” says Mouquet. ”It was like a magic sound. So we decided to put more electronics with this kind of music.”

Good decision: Eight months after its release, Deep Forest is steadily climbing the U.S. pop charts (moving from No. 144 to No. 59 in just six weeks), has a video single in the Buzz Bin on MTV (”Sweet Lullaby”), and was even up for a Best World Music Album Grammy earlier this month. ”I think the reason it’s successful is that it’s not typical music,” says Mouquet. ”It’s not jazz, it’s not rock, it’s not pop. People imagine what they want to hear when listening. They feel the voices, the breathing, the sounds.”

The album’s real stars, of course, are its unknown pygmy vocalists. That’s why Sanchez and Mouqet have earmarked a percentage of their profits to the Pygmy Fund, an L.A.-based charity dedicated to preserving the habitat and lifestyle of the Pygmy nation in central Africa. Next on their agenda is another culture-clash album, although it’s still undecided who’ll be sampled. Under consideration: Native Americans, Japanese, Indians, and Central Europeans. Deep Sarajevo?