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by Asher Breuer-Weil November 28, 2018


Obituary: Mamane Barka – The Last Master Of The Biram

Mamane Malam Barka, Niger’s last master of the biram, has died this morning after a long battle with illness.

A well-known musician in Niger, Mamane Barka takes with him a legacy of reviving the spirit of the biram, the five-string harp native to the Boudouma tribe of fishing nomads living by Lake Tchad in Niger. 

It is a holy instrument and can only be played by initiated masters. Mamane Barka was one of them, and spent his later life honouring the wishes of his late teacher to spread knowledge and the hypnotic sound of the instrument across the globe.

In May 2005, he was invited to perform at the Desert Music Festival in Rissani, Morocco, which was the first time the biram had been taken outside its home country. The instrument was well received by the public, and more concerts abroad followed, including events in France and Germany.

Thomas Brooman from WOMAD invited Mamane to perform at the UK festival in 2008, along with percussionist Oumarou Adamou. After the success of this appearance, they began recording an album at London’s Livingston Studios with producer Paul Borg. This became his sole album with World Music Network, ‘Introducing Mamane Barka’, a fantastic testament to the power of the instrument.

In the summer of 2012, he also had a UK tour with The Endless Journey, an ensemble comprising of two members of the celebrated Nigerien desert blues band, Etran Finatawa, along with Adamou and him. Not only did they perform across the country, but they also taught students along the way about the political and social issues in Niger.

Those who knew Mamane Barka tell stories of a man not only deeply connected to his own heritage and homeland, but also tremendously inquisitive of what was around him.

His death is a great loss to Niger’s cultural and musical scene, but his work will endure forever.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends. May his soul rest in peace.