Au Village: Soundscape

Rebecca Bacon Ehlers

This soundscape contains a collection of recordings taken in the village of Diarabakoko, which is located in southwestern Burkina Faso, West Africa.


This is the sound of sitting in pleasant silence with a friend, listening to music from a cell phone and drinking tea that takes an hour to brew. In this place it’s possible to sit in silence for a long time with no feeling of tension. Existing this way in the presence of another human being is a pleasure that is overlooked in the United States. It makes Americans feel vulnerable in a way that seems completely unfamiliar to Burkinabè.


This is the sound of doves gossiping in a courtyard where grain has been left out to dry. It is also the sound of a moment when there is nothing in particular to distract you from leisurely observing a flock of doves’ rudimentary social hierarchy. Doves are one of the few species that seems to have become more comfortable living among humans than natural places. They’re as ubiquitous across continents as we are, yet the moment in this recording is only made possible in certain parts of the world where time is not viewed as a resource to be hoarded.


The quiet miracle that makes itself known to those who have lived in at least two very different places is that before the age of about 8, children are universal. Their transparently unselfconscious mannerisms are equally familiar across the globe. It might be one of the most obvious truths about our species that is still surprising to witness firsthand.


Diarabakoko is named after the river; that’s where the ‘koko’ comes from, though it’s more like a lush swamp slowly oozing in one direction. This recording was taken on the banks where the egrets congregate, subsisting on frogs and the many small brown fish that also sustain Diarabakoko’s human residents.

‘Diaraba’ means ‘big lion.’ Legend has it that long ago the village was terrorized by lions, until the families banded together to chase them out. Living there one comes away with the impression the strength of that solidarity hasn’t diminished since.


The fruit bats of Diarabakoko can be heard every night but are surprisingly difficult to see. When there is enough moonlight you can make out their silhouettes slicing through the air. During the day they hang in the highest branches of the mango trees, completely concealed despite their size.

When I first heard it, I thought the sound made each evening by echolocating fruit bats was coming from some unidentified insect, some big cicadalike beetle with a shell as hard and shiny as the noise itself. My ignorance lasted a year and a half until one night as dusk was falling, I asked a friend, what does the bug look like that makes that noise? He said, no, that’s a rousette. Sensing my unfamiliarity he elaborated, it has the face of a dog and wings like an umbrella. Then I knew.