Africa is a land shrouded in mystery and poetry, the rational mind venturing there finds itself puzzled and inefficient in negotiating its environment. Its inhabitants know their own history largely through oral tradition; interpretations, myths, legends, songs and stories, not through objective documentation. Some of the retold history was doubted by Westerners who had to recant themselves faced with the historical evidence of its truth.

Anthropologists look for ethnic and cultural differences… musicians for rhythmic and melodic patterns… and everyone trying to write a book about it... document it, categorize it… define it. But Africa never yields its true nature that way because the real understanding doesn't lie in rational thought but in poetic thought. It is a land dominated by magic, where humans accept the irrational forces that guide them in this world as a fact of life and integrate their intuitive knowledge to the pursuit of their lives. Until one abandons a few of one's Western notions about reality and surrenders to a different perspective, the rational mind keeps one in a state of confusion and bewilderment.

Fulanis, (or Peulhs) are an ethnic group with ramifications throughout Northern Africa and beyond. Traditionally nomadic herders of cattle and goats, they are a powerful and vital force in West Africa. Their origins are mysterious, some suggesting that they are descendent of the lost tribes of Israel. They are largely responsible for the islamization of West Africa. They tend to be devout Muslims and value learning. They are reputed to be physically beautiful; the Woodabees, a branch of the Fulanis, offer a striking example of beauty. Its men were featured on several covers of the National Geographic magazine, pictured smiling and gazing cross-eyed while being amazingly beautifully dressed.

Fulanis are associated in several areas with varieties of flutes. In Mali, for example, the two-hole flute that accompanies the Kamala Ngoni, with astonishing rhythmic patterns belongs to their heritage.

The "Fulani flute," (or "tambin") referred to in this album, is specific to the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea (Conakry). It is a region dominated by the Peulh culture and ethnicity, and known as the "Chateau d'eau" (water tower) of West Africa, the source of three of the region's major rivers, the Gambia, the Senegal, and the Niger.
The most striking characteristic of the tambin is the voice / flute effects.
The second one, more subtle, is the powerful multiphonics (more then one note sounded at once) that it produces, enhancing the voice / flute effects.
The third one is one of musical language; rhythm is fundamental, associated with melody and variations… improvisation in a naturally, and intelligently, connected way with groove and occasional declamation; a vital improvisation, as if telling a story.
The fourth one is its construction: Made from a vine, it features a rectangular embouchure with two large wings on each side of it, and three finger holes producing a full diatonic scale of one and one-half octave.

Some listeners may have noticed that the repertoire represented on this album is not Fulani… Bailo Bah, the master tambin player featured in this album originates from the Fouta Djallon Mountains,. He learned to play from his grandfather who initiated him to many secrets of nature and music. At the age of fifteen, after his grandfather's passing, Bailo left his village to go, on foot, to Dakar, Senegal, to find his fortune, carrying one flute with him. His early years coincided with the emergence of African states giving rise to a new cultural phenomenon: The merging, within state-sponsored national ballets, of the cultural artifacts of different ethnicities. Before that time, the tambin, was not usually played to accompany traditional Manden music, the dominant musical culture of West Africa, but suddenly it was happening. To make his living, Bailo found himself learning the traditional music of the Manden and playing it through his Fulani soul. Throughout his career, Bailo has played almost exclusively Manden music.

Bailo tells a legend about the birth of the tambin:
A little orphan boy left to himself was toying with a piece of reed. After weeks of experimenting and playing, he invented the tambin. He climbed up in a tree, up in the Fouta Djallon and started to play. After pouring his heart out in his tambin for a while, he looked down and all the animals of the mountains where at the foot of the tree crying because of the beautiful music he was playing.

Sylvain Leroux


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