Tambin / Fula Flute

The tambin, traditional Fulani flute of the Fouta Djalon highlands of Guinea.

A little-known instrument outside West Africa where it is revered for the profound effect it has on listeners, often bringing them to tears with its haunting sounds and melodies that reach deep inside one’s soul. It can be encountered sometimes as one travels through the back country, emanating from the forests, fields and mountains as if the song of a spirit.

Tambins come in several keys; from E, up to Bb. The most common ones are F, F#, G, Ab and A. They produce one complete diatonic scale, starting on the lowest note of the second register (the 3rd of the scale) and going up three registers to the sixth of the scale. The first register is disconnected form the scale. These instruments are usually constructed from a conical vine from the forests of Guinea, the largest end being on the side of the embouchure and tapering down to where the fingerholes are. The bore can vary from 5/8″ to one inch.

Wind instruments

Traditional African wind instruments consist of blow horns and flutes. Various kinds of horns are used as wind instruments – preferably longer horns like those of the sable antelope and kudu. Such a blow horn is blown from the end like a trumpet, or through a side opening, as if it is a big transverse flute.

The traditional African flute is well known because it is the simplest type of flute that can even be made by children from materials like reed, bamboo, gourd, wood, bone and horn. The simplest flute is a single reed joint with one open side, through which only one note can be blown. The Venda, North Sotho and Tswana traditionally have flute orchestras consisting of players with such simple flutes of different lengths.

Among the more sophisticated African flutes are a transverse flute that consists of a reed or bamboo joint with a number of (usually three) round holes and a simple wooden flute with a few round holes played like a recorder. Some groups, especially in North Africa, have combination flutes. These consist of one or more of the simplest single-note flutes of different lengths attached to each other to enable the player to blow various notes and thus play a simple tune.

From the traditional African flute came the creative use of the so-called penny whistle. With this simple Western tin whistle, small whistle orchestras created the popular type of music known as kwela.