Malam Mamane Barka

Malam Mamane Barka
Photo Eric van Nieuwland

Malam Mamane Barka ihas been the only master of the Biram in Niger and all over the world. The Biram is an instrument played by the Boudouma tribe from Lake Chad. With the assistance of Barka this unique instrument is not dead. And when the old master handed over the instrument to his successor he asked him to promote the Biram and talk about it all over the world. The old master died in 2006. Since then Malam Mamane Barka followed this mission, not  only promoting the BIram but also the Boudouma´s culture. The Boudouma culture is threatened by Boko Haram and the fighting in eastern Niger.  Mamane Barka  himself has been a well know musician in Niger, famous for many popular songs he composed in the eighties and nineties. He used to play other traditional string instruments, but his final  dedication has been the BIRAM. Mamane Barka died in november 2018.



The SONGS: In his songs he sung about the life of the ancestors, about the spirits, especially Kargila and also about the animals living with nomads like camels, cows and goats, fishes and birds; the beauty of the water in the lake, the beauty of the desert, the braveness of the warriors.



BiramThe BIRAM is a traditional instrument used by the Boudouma tribe in Eastern Niger. They are fishing nomads living on the border of lake Tchad. The instrument is a 5 string kind of harp, the form looks like a pirogue, one of those wooden barks used on the lake. It is played only by initiated masters. When the masters starts to play you easily find yourself in the middle of the lake environment. You can easily hear the fishes jumping and birds singing while the Boudouma people are fishing with their hands.

The Biram is a holy instrument, protected from the east by the spirit of the lake especially the ancestor of the Boudouma tribe, Kargila. And also from the south, west and north by the spirits of the desert bordering lake Tchad.

There has been only one old master of the Biram left. The youth is not interested any more. But when the musician Malam Mamane Barka, he himself a nomad from the Toubou tribe, heard about the Biram some years ago, he decided to stay with the old master to learn the Boudouma language and how to play the instrument. In 2002 he got a UNESCO scholarship to materialize his dream. And when he arrived on the Boudouma island he was warmly welcomed by the master who thought his instrument dead already. After many rituals of purification the old master agreed to educate Malam Mamane Barka the holy instrument and the lyrics of the mystical songs. As Barka himself is a son of the sand dunes, the old master gave him his last Biram as a gift. Malam Mamane Barka inherited with the BIRAM the knowledge of rituals and cultural heritage of the Boudouma. He is conscious about his responsibility according to the Boudouma and their spirit Kargila. After the legends Kargila is watching the Boudouma and cares about their culture and their situation.

Album Introducing Mamane Barka

Together with the producer Paul Borg the ensemble Mamane Barka recorded last July the first album for the international market in the famous Livingston studios in London. The album was released April 22nd 2009 on the Introducing label of World Music Network London.

"Mamane has made an album that is both instructive and rather groovy!" Nige Tassell, Songlines July 2009

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.” 21 april 2009

Album Introducing Mamane Barka
Album Lyrics

Translations and commentary by Sandra van Edig

This is a traditional song for the Boudouma warriors which expresses braveness and courage. The young Boudouma is a fisherman who should not be scared of water during day or night, nor be scared of spirits, lions or panthers that could attack the cows.

Look at me Alhadj
If I have the age of getting married you should know
Since I have been little you knew me
You knew from my birth on.
You know my parents as well
You can count the night I have slept and the mornings when I got up
So please look at me right away Alhadj
If I have the age of getting married you should know, Alhadj
To be allowed to discuss with a Boudouma girl you should know.

How to get into water
How to fish 
How to herd the cows
How to swim on a calebash
Beautiful Boudouma girl
So beautiful
She is beautiful.

Lack of knowledge is darker than a night
That one who is wearing a short should have his reasons to wear one
Why buying the porridge without the milk?
Look at me Alhadji
If I have the age of getting married you should know
If not you should know as well.

Sung in haussa language.

One of the most moving songs ‘Boulanga’, is a song full of loneliness. It’s a tragic and emotional story about an old man who misses his friends who have died before him. Magaram, a woman in Doro Lelewa had a recording of this track performed by the old master Boukar Tar, and she gave it to Mamane Barka as a gift when he was visiting in 2006. Mamane studied the lyrics and the sophisticated way of playing the biram for several months to create a perfect composition. Producer Paul Borg has excelled on this recording in producing a sound resembling the old master himself. It represents the old man sitting in his empty courtyard in a Boudama village thinking about his friends.

Give me a throne and I will be a king
Give a sword and I will be a soldier
Give me wings and I will be a bird
Put me under earth and I will be strong next to you
The dead are not dead
Maybe invisible, intouchable
Come here spirits of the great masters
Come here spirits of water
Come here spirits of wind.

If I play for Mala Kouli, his name is in my mouth
If I play for Kabboula Kadaou, his name is on my Biram
If I play for Abbaye Nami, his name is on my strings
A king without a thron is he proud?
A soldier without a sword what can we say about him?
A bird without wings is he beautiful would he be fine?

Sung in Boudama language.

Kiota (gift)
There are simple gifts
For nothing and there are gifts like a bean

When planted they need to grow
Some people only make gifts because they want something from you.

For the African youth, Tchidimin in toubou language means something that is not right, for example; A tall man on a small camel or a rich guy in a small and ugly outfit. Mamane was inspired by tchidim to write a song dedicated to the African youth, a young generation that is not working or developing.

Stand up youth of Africa to develop the continent
Go and find the knowledge
Find out about the secret of success
It is the well done work
It is of course a lot of 
Work a little bit longer while the others are taking a rest
That is finally the source of liberty.

Sung in toubou language.

Buni (Fish)
Fish are very important in Boudouma life. For several decades Lake Chad has been decreasing in size, and the islands are no longer surrounded by water. The return of water is reason for a big feast and also a time for reflection.

So many fishes in the lake
Everybody can serve himself as he likes
Fish for the men
Fish for the women
Fish for the children
Fish for the birds.
That the fish lives to make the people on the border of the lake will live
That the lake lives that the fishes will 
Fish for the sake of life!

Sung in kanuri language.

Doro Lelewa
Doro Lelewa is the village of Mamane’s teacher. It is a Boudouma village situated in Lake Chad in eastern Niger, just on the border between Chad and Nigeria. This song pays homage to the village and its inhabitants.

Oh, you can live well in the little village of Doro Lelewa.
There where the master of the Biram lives.
A little village right next to the lake.

Bird´s singing all life long and creating harmony
Fishes, cows, horses and goats
Far from noises of the cities, far from noises of motors and cars.

Sung in haussa language.

Most Boudouma are muslim today but many still practise in pre-Islamic cults, which are famous for their witches and witchcraft. This song considers the confrontation with bad spirits as an everyday challenge which everybody faces.

Yes we need it
We need your protection
We need your benediction
Against the black spirits
Against bad witches
Against bad spirits.

GOD you are powerful
We need your protection against those who are stronger than us.
Give us your benediction.

Sung in kanuri and Boudouma language.

Wo Kuru (listen to the elders)
The respect of elders is very important in the traditional society of the Boudouma. They believe that if the balance between the generations is disturbed the whole culture is in vain. Modern developments, environmental changes, migration and other changes has already affected the Boudouma society considerably.

Between the human being and the animal there is a big difference 
Life is the moral
To do good or bad 
There is culture for the human beings that says precisely what he should do.
Sometimes we regret
Sometimes we laugh
Sometimes we cry.

The future is the corn we plant
If you lived long
you should teach the youth
If you did not live long yet
You should learn
Add something positive to humanity and the humanity will be grateful.

A song about religious authority in a Boudouma village.

Madou you are the well known marabout. You are the most famous one
Stand up and go to fish.
Stand up and go to pray
To find peace for us
Let´s be friendly between us
Let´s be tolerant
You have been to Mecca
You have been to Bornu to meet the famous Cheik
You are wearing the turban of a wise person
You own the hat (head cover) and the praying carpet
Madou you are the most famous marabout
Nobody has any doubt about that.
Stand up and go to fish
Stand up and go to pray.

Sung in Kanuri language.

Pitti Kori
This song is about Pitti Kori, the legendary chief of a Boudouma village and a well known witch. Legend has it that one day Pitti Kori went fishing with two friends and they were swimming in the lake with their calabashes when suddenly Pitti Kori disappeared. For hours his friends searched the lake and tried to find him, but without any luck. Finally they gave up and returned home thinking that their friend had been taken by the lake´s spirit, which had been seen to happen before to other people. 
On the way home they started to discuss the heritage of their friend and who should get what; the house, the wife and so one. Neither of them knew that Pitti Kori was a strong witch, who was able to disappear before human eyes and become a fly. Pitti Kori listened to his friend’s words and became very angry, he passed them without being seen and returned to his house to await the return of his friends. When he heard them announcing the terrible news to his family he called inside the house, shouting at them: “You are not real friends, I have listened to all you have said, about sharing my heritage. Instead of helping my family you want to just abuse my death and take a profit!” Neither friend could believe what they were seeing, and started to shake, stuttering: “But we thought you were dead…”

This song represents how shame on family names can be transported from generation to generation; which is the worst thing that can happen to somebody in Boudouman society. Because of this the song became an anthem in the Boudouma area.

Migaii Jamaii does not know
Kara Kara malloumi does not know.

Chouwi Kouli Kime does not know
Mallou Yachi does not know.

There all did not know that Pitti Kori has been just enough for himself
Pitti Kori did not need to inherit somebody
Pitti Kori is the chef
full of mystical power
He can transform himself in a fly
In a sandstorm.

He can be visible or not visible
What ever you like and whenever you like
You all have maybe forgotten
Forgotten about his power, his force.

But without thinking you will remember.

Sung in Boudouma language

CD Review on Lucid Culture : Introducing Mamane Barka

April 20, 2009

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.

Original URL : CD Review on Lucid Culture : Introducing Mamane Barka 

Tour Dates - Journeys of the BIRAM

Tour Program 2009, 2010 and 2014
Tour 2014      
8th may  The ANVIL  UK 
9th may  Global CPH Copenhagen  Denmark 
10th may  Global CPH Copenhagen  Denmark 
12th may  Deal The lighthouse  UK 
13th may  Hornchurch  UK 
15th may  Alford manor House Lincolnshire  UK 
16th may  Spilsby Theatre Lincolnshire  UK 
17th may  Countsthorpe Village Hall  UK 
18th may  Ordshall Parish Hall   UK 
19th may  Joni Essex Gallery North Allerton  UK 
21st may  Victoria Hall Settle  UK 
23rd may  Camden, London The Forge  UK 
Tour 2010       
11th December 2010    KIT Tropentheater Amsterdam Netherlands
10th December 2010 RASA Utrecht Belgium
9th December 2010 Zuiderspershuis Anvers Belgium
28th november 2010 Dewie Bangor UK or
27th november 2010 WEM Townhall UK or
26 th november 2010 Peterchurch Herfordeshire UK or
25th november 2010 Fold´s Café Brandford UK or
24th november 2010 Arts Service Long Clawson UK or
23th november 2010 Dewie Bangor Wales UK or
21st november 2010 Penryn Cornwall UK or
20th november 2010 Porthtowen Cornwall UK or
19th november 2010 Penzance Cornwall UK or
17th november 2010 The Drum Birmingham UK or
13th november 2010 Astor Theatre Deal UK or
12th november 2010 Burton Hotel Kington Herfordshire UK or
10th november 2010 The Drum Birmingham UK or
9th november 2010 Sheffield university UK or
8th november 2010 workshop Birmingham school UK or
7th november 2010 Sam London UK or
6th november 2010 Pierian Center Bristol UK or
1-5th november 2010 workshops in Wiltshire schools with WOMAD foundation    UK or
29 October 2010 Brewery Arts Center Kendal UK or
28 October 2010 The Pleasance Edingburgh Scotland UK or
27 October 2010 The Hawth´s Crawley UK or
27 October 2010 The Hawth´s Crawley UK or
26 October 2010 Momo´s London UK or
Tourdates 2009      
15/16 October Sacred Music Festival Brighton Uk
17 October Colchester Arts Centre Uk
20 October Momo's London Uk
22 October SOAS (School of African Studies) London Uk
23/24/25 October Musicport Festival Bridlington Uk
29 October WOMEX showcase Denmark
30/31 October International sacred music festival Uppsala Sweden
Tour Program 2005 - 2008

2008 July 24th-27th WOMAD festival Charlton Park, UK

2006 He was on tour in Germany and Holland in december 2006 and had some radio presentations on German public radio (WDR and BR)

2005 In May 2005 Malam Mamane Barka was invited to the desert music festival in Rissani, Marocco. He took for the first time the Biram out of the country. The instrument was very much appreciated by the public in Marocco. 

He presented the instrument for several times in Niger, in 2005 during the "Jeux de la francophonie" and in the French Cultural Institute in Niamey.



at WOMAD Charlton Park 2008