Tag Archives: fouta


Amadou Binta Konté – Simba, ma jata limi

Amadou Binta Konté has played the five stringed Hoddu for over 40 years. He’s not a musician, but a cuuballo, one of the fishermen living alongside the Senegal river as it cuts between Senegal and Mauritania. He sometimes plays in local ceremonies, marriages, and baptisms. But mostly he plays for himself and his family.

Amadou accompanied by Lewlewal de Podor

We travel to Wandekadde, as Amadou rarely climbs into a vehicle, preferring to walk on his own two feet. I ask him how he came to play the Hoddu:

One day, when I was young, there was a canoe that was passing by. Inside was a man, playing the Hoddu. I heard it and stopped what I was doing. I watched him as he drifted down the river, until he was far away, and eventually the man, the canoe, and the sound disappeared. Later that night while I was going to sleep, I heard the sound again, as the canoe passed by, playing as they traveled home.

I woke in the morning, inspired. I went into the forest to find some wood, to build a hoddu. I attached some strings. I had no idea how to play, but I would try anyways. I put the strings on, and tightened them, loosened them, tightened them, trying tunings until I heard what sounded right.

The next day, I was supposed to go fishing. In the morning, my father heard the sound and asked “Who is playing?” He ran into my room and saw me playing the Hoddu. He said, “Since when did you learn to play?” I replied, “Since last night.”

Amadou Binta Konté’s story – Pulaar

Galanka (or “Boutilimit”) is a song that sings of Galanka, a famous Pulaar warrior/hero. The song was used to galvanize warriors, to prepare them for battle. When sung, a new verse has been added at the end that references the Saharan war of the 1970’s against the Polisario — again, used to mobilize and prepare the Mauritanian Pulaar who traveled into the Western Sahara to fight the Polisario.

Amadou Binta Konté – Galanka

Amadou is featured on the new Lewlewal release, available here and on vinyl here. More info coming soon.


Souleyman Marr – Pekane

In the fluvial region of Northern Senegal, Fouta Toro retains some of the remnants of the highly stratified society it once was. Cuballo are the fisherman caste. They’re not low of the hierarchical strata, somewhere below the “nobles”, but well above the blacksmiths and griots. As fisherman, they live alongside the river and make their living from the meandering rivers trickling to the sea. The cuballo are also practitioners of the pekane.

In a poetic portrayal, Pekane is performed during a hunt, the performer joining the men at the rivers edge as they compete to spear crocodiles and hippopotamuses, singing praises to their character and those of great lives past — confident words to inspire courage. In some aspects, the pekane overlaps with the roles of the griots – it draws from family genealogies, village histories, and tales of local heroes. But included in this repertoire is a more mystical aspect: the incantations, the hypnotizing spells, the esoteric and nonsensical phrases that can be cast over the dark river to call forth animals. I hear of endless accounts of the magical cuballos who, simply by uttering a phrase, can send fish jumping into their canoe. Indeed the origin of the pekane itself is supernatural – the words were given by a Djinn to a man named Demba J, the first Pekane practitioner before anyone can remember.

Souleyman Marr comes from a generational lineage of cuballo. His indoctrination into pekane is not so direct. Born in the village of Ngaoule, Souleyman grew up as a fisherman, listening to the pekane broadcasts over the radio, and as he came of age he decided to learn the trade. Most of his material he learned from traveling through the region, conducting ethnographic fieldwork, collecting folktales and stories from the elder inhabitants of sleepy river villages. But a large part of his repertoire came from radio broadcasts, cassettes, and later digital mp3s — recordings of the late Guelaye Ali Fall, the first poet to popularize the pekane.

Isolated groups have always proved a fertile ground for research, speculation, and hypotheses, if for anything else, because they exist outside of external influence — and indeed, this is what much of early ethnomusicology research relied on (see the Georgia Sea Island singers, studied to develop links between New World blues and West Africa). The idea of modern technology as cultural contagion is in itself an old and outdated idea, touted with much less frequency than in earlier ethnographic circles. Rather, the dispersal of information via “new” folk transmission (new in name only, the radio broadcasts carpeting the countryside since the 1960s) has allowed wide dispersal of information. In the case of the pekane, it has done more to encourage tradition than it does to silence it, providing yet another outlet for the expansive histories of the Fouta in the modern world.

In the recording, Souleyman recounts stories from the beginning of the Isle de Morfil until the stretch near Matam. The language is Pulaar, but he would argue the words are not so important to understand. The pekane is a gift of the djinn and significance is of little importance to the power of their sound…

The Isle of Morfil

Along the border of Senegal and Mauritanian, one finds the ancient kingdom of Fouta Toro – meandering rivers and wide floodplains, covered in scrubby forest and dust, and occasional green patches of irrigated rice and millet. The Isle of Morfil, named for the elephants which have long since vanished, lies in the plane; technically Senegal; but identified as Fouta.

Fouta Toro is old and complex in character. Myths and magic abound, castes and tradition stand strong against the onslaught of outward influence, predating the French colonialism, the Wolof language, even the Islamic invasion. In fact, it was from the Isle of Morfil that the Tekrur empire, joined with the Almoravids, marched upwards and onwards conquering the Iberian Peninsula.

The traditional music of Fouta is based on the Hoddu; but many traditional ‘universal’ songs have been adapted to the guitar.

Tidiane playing Douga

Tidiane playing Fanta

Group Lewlewal de Podor (Baye Aly N’Diongue, Tidiane Thiam, Demba Doka Barry) rehearses daily next to the barber shop in Podor. They play traditional folk music, but incorporate modern elements; the songs are in Wolof and Pulaar.

Group Lewlewal with Touba

Group Lewlewal with Tara (traditional)

Traditional Pulaar literature is oral – stories often being sung. One of the more interesting forms of literature is that of Pekane. The Pekane is performed solely by the cubaalo or fisherman caste, and in its variety of forms can be used to tell a story, poetry, genealogy, or the more mysterious incantation, to speak and call forth fish. The little village of NgoulĂ© is a few kilometers from Podor – but it’s here that one of the most famous legends of Fouta is based, Seeku Balli and his battle with the Crocodile Ngari NgoulĂ©.

The story of Seeku Bali, as performed by Ngari Ngaoule and Souleyman Sarr

Ngaoule is a beautiful mystic place. Like the combination of Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and a Japanese Ronin folk tale. When I arrive on donkey cart, I make directly for the river. The bank is lined with green mango trees, and a few people in the distance are bathing or washing or pushing out on their pirogues. If you listen closely you can hear a bird in the tree. And a mango drop.