Bakary Dembele, L'Homme du Tianhoun

Bakary Dembele is the modern master of the Tianhoun, a woven straw zither unique to the Bwa of Burkina.  Bakary was born in the town of Sanaba, in Banwa province, northwest Burkina, close to the border with Mali.  Although born into a griot family Bakary did not come to music early in life.  It was the solitude of his first post as a civil servant, back in 1980, working for the ministry of agriculture (he was an animal husbandry expert) that drove him to the Tianhoun.  Bakary released his first cassette in 1982.  This cassette brought him to the attention of Radio Burkina who put his music in heavy rotation and made Bakary a national star.

L'Homme du Tianhoun

In 1985 he won the prestigious Prix RFI; it is hard to imagine the prize today going to an artist so rooted in traditional music.  The attention generated by the prize in turn brought invitations to musical festivals throughout the world, including a 1986 performance in the Soviet Union.  Bakary has released seven cassettes.  He continues to perform, though with less frequency than during his 1980s peak. 

This lovely video also features the actor Mahamadou Tiendrebeogo, who plays Souke on the popular television series les Bobo Diouf.

This next video is a short documentary that has some good footage of solo Tianhoun players.

I took the picture of Bakary Dembele and the biographical information from this article published on, the online source for Burkina Faso news.