Lucid Culture


CD Review: Introducing Mamane Barka

A hypnotic triumph of last-ditch musicology. Mamane Barka is best known in his native Niger as a master of his country’s indigenous lute, the ngurumi. But his dream was to preserve the rapidly disappearing repertoire played on the huge five-stringed harp, the biram, an instrument exclusive to the Boudouma, a nomadic tribe of fishermen living along the banks of Lake Tchad. Considered a holy instrument, the biram richly evokes lakefront sounds, from fish jumping to the lapping of waves against the shore. It’s a quintessential country instrument. Happily, Barka was able to woodshed with the man reputed to be the last living biram virtuoso, Boukar Tar and then bring the songs to WOMAD in 2008 along with his percussionist friend Oumarou Adamou (who also plays on this album). In many respects, this cd, just released by World Music Network,  is to 2009 what Hamza El Din’s Water Wheel was to 1969, potentially a highwater mark (pun intended) in world music recordings. Barka sings in the Boudouma language as well as in Hausa, Toubou and Kanuri, all languages spoken in Niger; the songs mix traditional material along with some of Barka’s own socially conscious compositions.


The biram has a gentle resonance, like a muffled oud, yet despite its size, its tonalities range high into the treble where it’s loudest. Barka sometimes trades off rhythmically with the percussion, sometimes conversing in a call-and-response. The songs, rich with polyrhythms and Barka’s terse, precisely articulation are hypnotic, even incantatory. Just as with blues, salsa or rock, there are signature motifs and devices that appear throughout, in this case rhythmic tropes and brief single-note phrases. Some of this is reminiscent of the Malian kora repertoire, but vastly more sparsely arranged; other songs evoke the hypnotic oud music of coastal Yemen. The third track here is a slow, almost hallucinatory chant with percussion that sounds like chains clanging in the distance. The sixth works the murky, lower registers of the biram with echoey call-and-response vocals. Still another track bounces along on a fast 4/4 rhythm, biram and percussion putting a delighted stomp on the last two beats of the verse.  


It’s out worldwide on April 20 except in the UK where it will be available May 5; cduniverse has it, among other retailers. Too bad Boukar Tar didn’t live to hear his instrument and its gently mesmerizing songs preserved for the rest of the world to enjoy.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment