You probably know of the island’s vibrantly seductive zouk rhythms. You might even know of le biguine, or at the very least you may have heard of it through the 1930’s Artie Shaw classic, Begin the Beguine.
Lesser known, though no less fantastic, is the bélé.
Deeply rooted in Afro-Caribbean musical influences extending back to the slave days, the bélé is heavy on the drums, in this case a large tambour also known as a bélé. Tanbouyé masters (drummers) actually sit on the bélé, effectively riding the beats they improvise as a singer metes out call and response chants encouraging all to participate. One additional performer keeps the rhythm playing the tibwa, two wooden sticks generally striking a piece of bamboo.
One of the things that always strikes me about bélé drumming is the use of one foot in playing the drum. There’s a marvelous art to the practice that always captivates my attention whenever I’m lucky enough to see it in person…
The Tanbouyé featured here is none other than Sully Cally, arguably the top drummer in all of Martinique. More than just a performer, though, Sully also makes his own drums, repurposing spent rum barrels by hand into musical treasures bearing a heritage hundreds of years in the making.
You can visit Sully at his workshop in Fort-de-France just as I did. He’s located at 29 rue Jacques Cazotte. If you want to get in touch ahead of time to arrange a performance or a lesson, contact him here.