1. Tanbou - Banbou, sa sa yé ?
2. The Term “Tanbou” is often mistaken by Trinidadians as being French, while the word does resemble the French word “Tambour” which means “drum” the word “tanbou” is the Kwèyòl word for drum. The Kwèyòl language was brought to Trinidad by French Creoles and their slaves from islands such as Saint Lucia, Marie Gallante, Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti during the 1700’s. Two important events, lead to the creation of the Kwèyòl genre known today as “tanbou-banbou” the first is the ending of slavery in the year 1834, this date is important because it marked the end of “Carnavale Français” or “The French Carnival” remnants of which can still be seen in the Carnival of New Orleans ; and the beginning of a more Africanized Carnival which we know today. During the earlier Carnaval Français, the upper-class made it a habit of mocking the slaves and their culture since they considered it to be inferior to theirs ; there are many early reports of White men and Women dancing the “Bamboula, Kalenda” and many other dances that we in Trinidad now consider to be Afro-Creole dances.
3. Before the abolition of slavery, the slaves were not allowed to take part in the festivities of the French upper-class but by 1835 the situation had changed and Africans were looking for a way to celebrate their new-found freedom, it is then that they recalled the ”Cannes Bruleés”. This term is used to describe a very common event during the slave era where the slaves were summoned by their master to put out fires started by the Békés in order to remove shoots of grass that grew with the cane ; they were usually called to work by the blaring of a horn shell called a “abnajé” in Kwèyòl. Once sounded, the slaves would work for days to salvage the burnt cane before it became sour ; however the slaves used this time to express their sorrow over due to their condition and also to express hope that one day they would be free from the “mové béké” or “evil white man” their language of expression was Kwèyòl. Eventually, as slavery went on, this period of tedious work became known among the slaves as “Maché Nèg Jadinyé” or “Black Gardener’s walk.” After slavery the former slaves annualized this event to the point where it almost became a religious procession, to the white upper-class this seemed to be another ridiculous custom invented by the foolish African ; every year on the anniversary of their emancipation also known as “Jou Lagéman” they would walk the streets of the capital dancing and singing with lighted torches in hand to the beat of the African Drums collectively called “Tanbou-Afrik”.
4. This procession held deep meaning for the liberated people, they did not dance just for the sake of dancing, they danced to remember the pain of their past and to strengthen their resolve to never again to be bound to sugar cane ; this procession continued for some time, much to the dissatisfaction of the French Creoles, it was stopped by the authorities for fear that the city of Port-of-Spain would burn to the ground due to the open flame and also because of complaints by the upper—class who claimed that the celebration disrupted life for the city’s more civilized inhabitants ; as a result of this the annual ritual was repressed. The Africans remained undaunted by this and were hell-bent on celebrating their freedom and to reaffirm their African origin in the face of a world dominated by the French culture. They simply moved the procession to “Carnival Monday” known as Mardi-gras” when the French protested, the masses simply stated that they were no longer slaves and as such were free to celebrate Carnival as they saw fit, the British government although reluctant, agreed with them in order to avoid the uprising that would ensue if they had not. The Africans took to Carnival with a vengeance and the French upper-class withdrew from the celebration as the Carnival celebration was changed, African traditions were fused with those of the French and as such a new Kwèyòl Carnival emerged called “Kanboulé” in remembrance of those horrible by-gone days. The colonial elite called this new Carnival the “Jamette Carnival” because in their opinion it represented a derogation of a European festival.
5. The beat of African Drums was the driving force behind the Carnival celebrations and was used to call the masses to the streets to party. The Africans took the old slave dances from the plantations and brought them into the carnival, those danced included the Kalenda, Kontik, Bèlè, Piké, Bamboula and many others. These additions significantly changed the Carnival and as such it took on a more African appearance and moved away from the early French Carnival ; another aspect that they brought with them was what is known in Kwèyòl as “lavwa or lavwè” these were the songs they sung to express the rage they felt due to the hard life of slavery, many of the these songs still exist today and are sung at social gatherings in the countryside. The second influence on Tanbou-Bamboo was the ban on African drumming in the late 1800’s in the wake of the famous “Pété Kanboulé” or Cannes Brulees riots of 1881-1882” Pété Kanboulé was actually a series of riots with took place thought-out the Capital and in other parts of the island as the British tried to put and end to the African Carnival claiming that it was too riotous and posed a danger to the city, this statement was seen by both the French and the Africans as a direct assault on the Culture of the people in an attempt to Anglicized the colony and destroy the Franco –Creole culture which was centered on Carnival, Kwèyòl and French the French saw this as a chance to attack the British whom the had resented for their take-over of the island in 1797. It was reported that the city was in an uproar for days as the people unleashed their rage on the British whom, in their opinion sought to the destruction of all things not British. The most active participants in the uprising were the Stick-Fighters, known in Kwèyòl as batonye ; these people lead the uprising against the British in defense of Kanboulé. The British claimed that the Africans used their drumming as a way to communicate and spread their plans of rebellion, as such all forms of African drumming was banned and also the Kanboulé Carnival was banned. The people were still determined to keep Africa alive in their hearts and continued drumming although not in the open.
6. They soon discovered that by cutting bamboo into different lengths they were able to produce different tones when it was struck against something and thus the Tanbou-Banbou” or the “Bamboo-Drum” was born. The bass bamboo or boum-boum is long, wide and heavy, measuring approximately 5ft. (1.52m) long and 5in (27mm) in diameter. The bass had three joints with the bottom joint remaining intact. It is held upright and struck on the ground or on a flat stone in order to produce a resonant, grunting sound. The quality of the sound varied in accordance with the angle at which the bamboo stem made contact with the ground.
7. The Foulay (called Foulé in Kwèyòl) was 12in (305 mm) long and 3 in (76mm) in diameter with one of the joints intact. The foule represented the tenor pitch.The next group of bamboos were known as "Cutters" (Koupè) and represented the soprano pitch. These were each about 25in (635 mm) long and 3-1/2 in (89 mm) in diameter with two joints intact. In playing, the "Cutter" is held across the shoulder with one hand and struck on the side with a piece of hard wood. The "Chandlers" or Fouwe were a little larger than the "Cutters" and represented the alto pitch.
8. This in conjunction with the African drumming remembered from “Douvan Lagéman” became the music of the African population and a symbol of the continuing struggle to preserve the African soul in” Lémond Béké” “The White-man’s world”. Today the struggle is just as fierce as the Black people of Trinidad fight for the right to be what they are Timoun -Afrik and reclaim what which was taken from them.
9. Fò pa nou bliyé !