Monday, June 15, 2009
MAMAN BARKA - Introducing (World Music Network)
Maman Barka is a former malam (teacher) from Niger whose remit in the Ministry of Culture is to support and preserve the traditional music of the nomadic tribes of this landlocked desert-dominated nation from the African mid-west. To wit, he has spent six years becoming the only living master of the near-extinct music of the biram, a boat-shaped five-stringed harp formerly used by the Boudouma nomads and fishermen of eastern Niger. Like the provenance of the music, the sound of this sacred instrument is as dry as the desert, yet at times as difficult to pin down as a free-flowing river. Accompanist Oumarou Adamou lays down a heavy polyrhythmic base on douma, calabash or kalangou (talking drum), alongside which Maman Barka drives out an insistent groove punctuated by short runs of rhythm and light melody. Maman Barka is relatively limited vocally, his voice high, all in the head, but occasionally plangent too, and although he's not incapable of impassioned outbursts it's more a conversational and rhythm-riding style than a dominant force. This two-man ensemble really pushes out a funky, hypnotic sound when heard first hand, but the biram doesn’t cut through the air with great flourishes of notes like other African harp-lutes such as the kora, or possess the polyphonic strum of an oud or ngoni. So pulling the subtle, buzzing sound out of and above the percussion must present a bit of a challenge in the recording studio. Etran Finanatawa producer Paul Borg has made a good job of achieving that, bringing the expected clear and snappy feel to this sparse and elusive sound, and with very few overdubs - the occasional echoed backing vocal, tiny shades of what sounds like un-credited acoustic guitar – there is enough rattle and hum to most of this album to provide a fair approximation of a sound that is possibly always going to require the acoustic space afforded by the live set-up to fully appreciate.