CD Review: Sylvain Leroux & L’école Fula Flute

Sylvain Leroux & L'école fula flute Artist: Sylvain Leroux & L’école Fula Flute
Label: Mulatta Records
Genre: trad. West African Music/ Guinée
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Review by Dawoud Kringle

In 2013, MFM member Sylvain Leroux began working on an alternative arts education initiative with the students of the Centre Tyabala, in Conakry. This was an experimental education project based on the “chromatic tambin” patented modification of the traditional Guinean Fula flute. After six years, the students have become competitive and committed musicians, with new generations of music students following their example.

Leroux’s first album The Children of Tyabala (2014) marked the renewal of the tambin flute among the Center’s students. The 2019 release of Tyabala marks the next stage in this musical development.

“Fouta” opens the album. The abrupt percussion introduction, and melodic and gently rolling 6/8 rhythm creates the groundwork for an ensemble of flutes and vocals. This is followed by the opening of “Djandjon.” A solo flute starts, and a unison ensemble of flutes brings in the melody. An indefinable counterpoint arises, and is punctuated by occasional outbursts of expression. The melodic pattern remains unbroken despite some startling instrumental and vocal exclamations.

“Paya Paya” brings in what sounds like a kora, with percussions supporting the flute’s main melody. This piece has a strange suggestion of happiness and optimism; but I must reserve the right to an incorrect interpretation. Nonetheless, the overall effect of the song is delightful.

“Dounya Torounara” has some flute work that creates a remarkable vocal quality; almost as if a Persian ney were able to speak.

“Famille Doundounba” showcases some astonishing percussion work. Listening to it, one cannot help but wonder what the drums are saying (perhaps Mr. Leroux would favor us with an explanation?).

I was personally interested in “Mane;” I used to work with a composer whose work was heavily influenced by African music. One of her compositions was titled “Mane.” The piece of the same name by L’école Fula Flute, however, was quite different.

There were times when I recognized similarities between this traditional Fula music and other music from Africa. One example, on “Mon Choix,” the bass line resembled some patterns I heard in Ethiopian music. There were other pieces that I heard similarities to the Jajouka and Gnawa music of Morocco.

One is immediately struck by how easy the otherwise unusual scales and tuning insinuates themselves into the listener; and creates a sense of comfort where one does not immediately expect it. The music is truly beautiful, and any western listener is inspired to learn more about this musical tradition. As a musician myself, I would be interested to learn more about how the music works from a theoretical perspective (the unexpected tonality and temperament, and unique rhythmic patterns and phrasing cannot but inspire my curiosity).

Leroux has provided a remarkable service in preserving – and expanding – this music. More than this, Leroux is providing an education and a worthwhile project for the Fula youth who would otherwise fall victim to impoverished surroundings.