Pulaar music

Mauritania was created artificially by France as part of its colonial strategy to unite its North African and Black African empires. Situated at the extreme west of Africa, between the river Senegal to the south and the Western Sahara to the north, this vast country of over a million square kilometres is a space of transition between North Africa and Black Africa. Mauritania was considered as a second-rate territory by the colonial administration and was governed out of Saint-Louis in Senegal up until 1957. At that time, it was given a capital city – every bit as artificial – Nouakchott. Mauritania became independent in November 1960, inheriting the strong tensions that have always existed between the Arab-Berber and Negro-African populations in the region. In addition to this difficult co-habitation there was the delicate question of the Western Sahara with the initial (1975) alignment of Mauritania with the Moroccan policy of annexation and division of the former Spanish colony. Mauritania's entry into the conflict and the military setbacks suffered in the face of the Polisario triggered a coup d'état (1978) followed by rapid disengagement from the Western Sahara. In 1984, Mauritania recognised the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) whose government in exile is still in Algeria.

But the tensions within the Mauritanian population go beyond a reductive racial opposition between Whites and Blacks; they are also of a social and economic order. The setting up of borders and the war in the Western Sahara have deeply perturbed nomadism. Furthermore, successive droughts have pushed the shepherds of the decimated herds to settle in the shanty towns of Nouakchott or in regions traditionally occupied by black sedentary populations, such as the valley of the river Senegal and the whole Southern region of Mauritania. Over the past twenty years, in the face of the Moor majority, their policy of Arabisation and land ownership conflicts, the black minority, undergoing massive population increase, has become organised into a true opposition movement. Although the internal political situation of Mauritania is normalised today, it nevertheless remains explosive and worrying in terms of human rights issues.

Two main groups constitute the black minority in Mauritania: the Soninkes and the Haalpulaar'en. The latter are – literally – those who speak pulaar (1). The origin of the Peuls is a subject of controversy, though it is probable that these nomadic herders, constantly in search of new pastures, migrated from the west of the Sahara and from Mali towards the valley of the Senegal, mixed with the native populations and adopted their languages. The Peuls themselves claim that their origins go back to the Neolithic civilisations of Ancient Egypt. Whatever the case may be, the Peuls or the Foulbes as they call themselves, are today present in all West African countries, even in Sudan. The Peuls are divided into several patrilineal lineages, clans, castes and territorial groups forming a complex set of identity indicators. There is also a perceived difference between "city" Peuls and nomadic Peuls. The great majority of Peuls are Muslim. The Peuls of Fuuta consider themselves Mauritano-Senegalese (or Senegalo-Mauritanian!), since this region – the Fuuta – was arbitrarily divided by a political border during colonisation. The right bank of the river Senegal belongs to Mauritania, and the left bank to Senegal. Popular culture has it that "the Haalpulaar'en all come from the same grandfather; it's just that their father comes from one side of the river and their mother from the other".

The Fuuta includes the regions of Damga, Bossoya, Lawe, Tooro, Hebiljaabe and Yirlaabe. The haalpulaar’en populations who live there are sub-divided into "castes": the Foulbe, Tooroobe, Sébé, Soubalebé, Diawebé, Wayeloubé, Aweloubé, Maboulé, Wambabé and Galoumkobé.

The musical practice
Pulaar music in the Fuuta comprises ten musical modes and four great rhythms: the wango, the naale, the yeéla and the rippo. The rippo is a dancing rhythm and is specific to the Haalpulaar'en culture. Rippo comes from rippoudé, which means producing a dancing or rhythmical sound.

Although the modern and urban rippo rhythm from Nouakchott is today undergoing profound upheavals due to the introduction of electric instruments and its crossing with Moor and Bambara music, the "bush" rippo perpetuates a tradition of identity that is still full of vitality and, as these recordings testify, there is no break between tradition and modernity.

Before going into exile and requesting political asylum in France, Mussa Watt was leader of a group called Rippo in neighbourhood n° 5 of Nouakchott city centre. Youba Samba Sire Guisse, who plays the hoddou (a four-stringed lute that the Moors call tidinit), also plays outside of Rippo in a very popular group in the capital. Ousman Fall, who plays the Toumboude or "water drum" is also a well-known jazz drummer in Saint-Louis in Senegal, on the other side of the river. The toumboude is made of a large basin or half-calabash filled with water on which floats a smaller upside-down calabash that is struck to accompany songs and dances (2). N'Djengoudi Thiam plays an instrument that is very popular in Africa, an armpit drum in the shape of a sandglass known as a

1. It is the French deformation of the word pulaar, or its synonym poullo, that led to the word "Peul".
2. This type of water drum, called djidoumdoum, is often to be found among their neighbours, the Mandingue of Senegal, and among the Bambaras of Mali.
Extracts to be discovered in the same collection on the CD NianiSongs and rhythms of the Mandingue community by the women of Malemba village, in Senegal (tracks 3 and 7 - ColCD118).

CD tracks

  1. Banndam (My Godfather) - yeéla rhythm, baleewo mode
    "It is very tempting to leave one's native land. But if you don't know where you're going, go back to where you came from."  

  2. Lenngoowele (The wedding vigil)  - wango rhythm, baleewo mode
    Lenngoowele or "she who sings the lennghi", comes from lennghi, which means wedding evening.

  3. Instrumental  - lembel rhythm, raneewo mode

  4. Haaloobe (people talking, gossips) - rippo rhythm, kaassa dowe mode
    "Gossips are everywhere, never in front of you, always behind your back." 

  5. Lenôlame (our caste) - legnolame rhythm, ndiarou mode
    This song evokes the ancient, highly hierarchical social organisation of the Peuls.

  6. Instrumental - yeéla rhythm, baleewo mode

  7. Jamfa (betrayal) - Rippo rhythm, kaassa lesse mode
    This song goes back over the trust once invested in a loved person... and the betrayal that followed.

  8. Guido guidoma (the friend of your friend) - naale rhythm, kaassa lesse mode.
    "The friend of your friend is my friend. The enemy of your friend becomes my enemy."

  9. Mbagne Samba (from the name of a village) - afro rhythm, kaassa lesse mode.
    Four hunter brothers catch a hippopotamus and share it out without telling their youngest brother who is blind. The latter, hurt, packs his things and leaves to live alone...

  10. Rippo Diolli  (Rippo has arrived!) - rippo rhythm, raneewo mode
    This song testifies to the respect and gratitude one has for a person held in high esteem.

Recorded in Thielaw, in Fuuta, Mauritania, in March 2002.