Circlesongs are an archaic form of vocal music, revived by the singer Bobby McFerrin in the late 1980s and developed today throughout the world.
Principle of circlesongs
The principle of circlesongs is simple: people gather in a circle. A first person sings a motif that he or she will repeat in a loop (hence the notion of “circle”). On this basis, a second singer creates another musical motif that is superimposed on the first. Then a third, and so on. The result is a collective musical construction, each piece of which is quite simple, while the whole is often very rich, sometimes complex.
In a large group (more than 6 or 8 people), each loop will be sung by a small group of a few singers, in order not to multiply the number of voices to infinity.
In many current forms, one or more leaders placed in the center of the circle create and distribute the voices and lead the group, making it a musical form in its own right.
This repetitive musical construction is the basis of many traditional songs, especially worksongs, songs sung by workers to get them going. These worksongs seem to be present in all human cultures. The singing, with the breath, makes the singer enter a particular state, close to trance, ideal for example for many works in the fields (cotton picking, weeding of rice fields, winnowing of cereals, wood cutting, etc.), long walks, shamanic or religious ceremonies…
At the end of the 1980s, the singer Bobby McFerrin explored this musical construction in his Voicestra project. The first recording, almost ten years later, is a record soberly entitled “Circlesongs” released in 1997 by Sony. This record awakened many vocations around the world by re-emerging circlesongs as an art form. In 2010, another album, “Vocabularies”, was released, the result of 7 years of work by McFerrin with composer Roger Treece and over 50 singers. Extremely ambitious, this second album places the circlesongs in musical contexts of a complexity and musicality that were previously unknown.
Many singers saw it as a suitable form for the expression of their musical creativity. Many of them associate research and encounters with traditional music, such as Leila Martial with the songs of the Aka of Congo.
As we have understood, the origin of circlesong is not stage performance, but a way of being together, of meeting as humans (oneself and one’s companions), and eventually of meeting other states of consciousness. If this practice is so successful, it is not primarily as music to be listened to, but as music to be co-created, as an irreplaceable life experience: the experience of being in the same rhythmic pulse, the same harmony with other humans. This is why some of today’s best-known circlesingers, such as the Frenchman Gaël Aubrit, creator of Chant Pour Tous, or the Brazilian collective Musica Do Circolo, place empathic communication (NVC) or collaborative creation at the basis of their practice. Participants come to experience this immersion in rhythm, sound, harmony, sometimes movement or body percussion. The feeling of social inclusion, of belonging to the circle, of inner and outer harmony that comes from it is for many participants an outstanding experience.
My approach to Circlesong
Initially trained in vocal improvisation in Indian music and in Jazz (Berklee College of Music, Boston), I discovered Circlesongs with wonder with Gaël Aubrit and David Eskenazy, and I had the chance to deepen various aspects of it with Joey Blake (USA), Musica Do Circolo (Sao Paolo), Guillermo Rozenthuler (London), among others. In collaboration with Audrey Berger, I created the Kendreka Circles, which are a synthesis of my learning in Circlesong, linked to my musical background but also my experience of movement and energetics in Qigong. The Kendreka Circles recreate the link between rhythm, sound, movement and energy, to find and develop our original nature.