A little history of the boha

This little history of the boha is a synthesis of the complete history proposed by Jacques Beaudoin in the "Boha method"edited by the association "Bohaires de Gasconha".

In the history ofboha it is important to distinguish two periods:

- that which goes from its undated origin to this day, to the end of its "traditional" practice in the interwar period of the 20th century;

- the one that begins with its rediscovery in the 1970s and continues today.

The boha in the world of bagpipes.

The boha is a bagpipe whose monoxyl foot of rectangular section has two longitudinal cylindrical bores. A tube with six playing holes, five on the top and one below, whose function is melodic, while the other, called "semi-melodic", includes a single hole and can provide complex support, in particular thanks to a removable extension.

All old photos of musicians show the same playing attire with the use of four fingers for the left hand (thumb for the back hole, then index, middle and ring finger) and three for the right hand (index and middle finger for melodic notes and ring finger for the backing pipe hole).

This organology, quite unique in the French domain, where most of the bagpipes have a single melodic foot, connects the boha with a family of bagpipes widely present in the world. Indeed, this type of organology, in which two tubes of the same size are placed on a single stand, allows the musician to develop a more or less complex polyphonic playing and rhythmic effects impossible to obtain otherwise.

Let us quote here a specialist in bagpipes, Marie-Barbara Le Gonidec1: "One of the peculiarities of the boha is to be, if one is willing to accept this expression, a real "living fossil". The two parallel channels correspond to the melodic pipe, pierced with five playing holes, and to the semi-melodic pipe, pierced with a single hole. The latter punctuates the main melody and ensures, most of the time, a rhythmic role in counterpoint. There is therefore no drone which emits a pedal note supporting the melody throughout the game, but the polyphonic effect specific to all bagpipes is clearly audible and even developed in a more complex way than for drone bagpipes."

I - The traditional boha, from the 19th century until its disappearance.

In the 19th century.

One of the oldest testimonies comes from a work written a little before the middle of the 19th century by the Vicomte de Méthivier in "From agriculture and land clearing": " On holidays, their character is cheerful. Dances, to the sound of the musette, the galoubet or the blowtorch, come to give to the face, then playful, of the Landes of both sexes, a vivacity, an extraordinary animation ". The author writes for scholars and designates the instruments in words that all his readers will understand. Thus "musette" replaces the "local" name of the bagpipe ( boha , bohausac ), galoubet (Provencal flute) that given to the three-hole flute and chalumeau probably designates a rustic clarinet, of the caremèra type, which was also used to make people dance, according to the testimonies collected by Félix Arnaudin.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that iconographic documents specified the nature of this "bag". The arrival of press photography, drawings from photographs and the publication of postcards will remove this last ambiguity from the end of the 19 th century. For postcards, the main documentary source comes from the inestimable work done by Ferdinand Bernède, born in 1869 in Arjuzanx and died in Dax in 1963.

In the region of Casteljaloux, another photographer, Mondineu, publishes, at the end of the 19th, postcards, three of which represent Bohaires. The playing opportunities of this instrument are clarified in various writings from the late 19th or later.

Thus its harmonic and rhythmic play makes it an instrument very well suited to the Landes dance repertoire; "The bouhe que es hort dansante saben le mia." 2 declares to F. Arnaudin, Cadet of Luglon. "She was the standard instrument for dancing what we danced then, and the old people will tell you that she was never replaced to give the rhythm of the dance of the country, 1st rondeau ".

In his work 3 L. Mabru, also cites its use during "street passes" organized during festivals (Felibréennes or folkloric events, town festivals, villages, districts) or rites, such as the promenade des bœufs gras, Carnival, tour of the conscripts In this festive and noisy setting, the bagpipes parade in the company of drums, hurdy-gurdies, flutes, fifes.

Thus, at the end of the 19th century, the boha still fully participated in social life; ideal instrument for performing dances with in particular the rondeaux, it is of all the festivals.

Which geographic domain and which name?

Bagpipes, musette, bohausac, bouhe, bounloure, bouhigo, tchalamine many names already mentioned to name a bagpipe native to the Landes of Gascony.

Carte des landes de Gascogne

Map of the Landes of Gascony and of the appellations in Aquitaine according to the Linguistic Atlas and various dictionaries (19th and 20th century).
The linguistic survey carried out in Gascony under the direction of Jean Séguy ( professor of the University of Toulouse ) led, in 1954, to the realization of a Linguistic and ethnographic Atlas of Gascony in which are listed the names given in Gascony to various actions, instruments depending on their location geographical.

Thus, according to the Linguistic Atlas, the word bohaussac with its variant boha-au-sac was rather known in the Haute Lande (north of the Landes and Gironde Landes department) and boha in the central part of the Landes (Petites Landes, Marsan, Marensin, Brassenx). The name of bohica also appears but very localized to Armagnac. As for that of bonlora, used in the Bazadais, part of the Gironde moors and the Petites landes according to the surveys of L. Mabru and the testimony of Gabriel Cabannes 4 , there is no is not mentioned5.

Older written sources supplement this information. - The "Dictionnaire de la Grande Lande" by Félix Arnaudin, a great ethnologist at the end of the 19th century.

- The "Dictionary of Béarnais and Modern Gascon", published in 1932-33 by Simin Palay, writer from Béarn.

- The French-Gascon dictionary of d'Estalenx defines for bagpipes: bodèga (Gers), bodega , boha-au-sac (Landes), boha, carlamusa, corlamusa, gaita (mountain), pifre ("aged").

To conclude, all the documents show that the bagpipe of the Landes de Gascogne bore various names, most often referring to the breath, the most frequently cited being bohaussac and boha .

Its historical range, for a period which goes from the beginning of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, includes La Grande Lande, the Petites Landes and Armagnac, culturally consistent areas. In departmental terms, this area encompasses most of the Gironde, the center and the north of the Landes, south of Lot et Garonne and north west of Gers.

End of 19th and Beginning of 20th, the decline.

Although still used in the Landes countryside, at the end of the 19th century the practice of boha declined.

Writers are not kind to this old fashioned instrument. Not only do bohas give off a foul odor, but ultimately their sound does not seem more so "harmonious". Thus F. Arnaudin reports that "here and there, accidentally, also moaned the hurdy-gurdy, like the bagpipe from the Petites-Landes, not very popular, because of the bitterness of its timbre and its poorly articulated sounds " and G. Cabannes went up a few years later" The hurdy-gurdy was also Long in common use for ancient dances, the sounds it emitted had some analogy with those of the bagpipe, of which it had a nasal tone".

Between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, a whole society is changing to the detriment of what founded other landscapes and old values. Thus and without claiming to be exhaustive, from 1860, the Marshland gives way to pines, the shepherd becomes resin tree, the Landes sharecroppers gain a certain financial ease, the Jules Ferry compulsory school fight firmly against the "patois" among the younger generations, the establishment of compulsory national service for all, law of July 7, 1872 and following, causes an unprecedented mixing of young adults across the whole of France. A little later, the war of 14/18 will wipe out from social life almost an entire generation of men old enough to perpetuate a culture and an art of living (more than 67,000 dead in Aquitaine!). In this period, any contest to marginalize and eliminate what the society of the time considered as archaic or retrograde, as obstacles to "progress", to the improvement of living conditions. The "patois" and the boha are part of it.

The mid-20th century: Folklorization and disappearance.

Even though the old Moor and an art of living linked to pastoral life is slowly declining. The time has come for folklore, not for knowledge traditions and popular knowledge, but one that highlights some fairly exotic identification points, simple enough to be able to serve as an immediate marker of a culture. With its stilts, its sheepskin clothes and its small bagpipe so particular the Landes lend themselves easily to the staging of its culture.

It is in this wake of exoticism and nostalgia that boha competitions will be organized for a few years, between 1888 and 1894 according to newspaper reports. 6. These "competitions" of traditional musical instruments are also in tune with the times and can be found identically in Bourbonnais, Auvergne, Limousin, in Paris for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. But, as Lothaire Mabru7 remarks, speaking of the boha, "We should not misunderstand these bagpipe contests; the concerns that drive them are not only musical - inserted into the program of local festivals - these competitions are the result of a commercial and political strategy of the local notables ". To interest the public, the press and the organizers force the line and these events become, for some time, the main attraction of local festivals. Thus on August 19, 1889, in Saint-Symphorien, a "International competition of bounloures" brings together, at most, a few Bohaires from the canton and the report of the results, published on August 24, 1889 in the Conservateur du Bazadais , details complacently the state of musicians' teeth! The aim is obviously not to enhance and safeguard a heritage but to "celebrate its burial before its term" says Lothaire Mabru, whose surveys show that at that time the boha still hosted Landes country balls until the early 1930s.

at the dawn of the 20th century, the stilts and the boha lost their original function and their use seems doomed to a rapid disappearance. However and because they bear witness to a bygone world, these two symbols of the "Vielle Lande" will serve as a basis during the constitution of the first Landes folk groups. Think about it! Men dressed in sheepskins, perched on wooden stilts, walking, running and dancing; from their creation the success was immediate. The formation used during the "street pass" - vielle, boha, flute - will also constitute the musical backbone of the first Landes folk groups.

One of them, "los basades", formed in Bazas in 1926 on the "model" - stilts, animal skins and local musical instruments & ndash; will gain international fame. the bohaire from the group Guillaume Justin Benquet, known as Jeanty , travels all over France and part of Europe with his boha . The 8 record, done during one of these trips, allows you to know your style of playing precise, nervous, very rhythmic and totally dedicated to dance.

at the same time, the doctor Robert Bezos, mayor of Brocas and vice-president of the general council of Landes, will be at the origin of the "Rondeleurs de Brocas", group which will represent the Landes at the Universal Exhibition of Paris of 1937. The bagpiper of the group, Jean Lestage, died in 1952 and last known bohaires of tradition, will not pass on his knowledge.

Excluded from social life by changes in fashion and the arrival of new instruments, the boha is ultimately also excluded from folk groups. From the end of the 1930s, these instruments ceased to be used, mainly replaced by diatonic then chromatic accordions.

II - In the middle of the 20th century: the Renewal of the boha

The basics of renewal

At the beginning of the 70s the folksong, touched France. This musical wave from North America spreads quickly through folk clubs , internships, records, reviews and festivals. originally very influenced by Anglo-Saxon music, "French" folk quickly became interested in folklore of the provinces of France. It is the basis of the great collection campaigns of the 70s and 80s where young enthusiasts explore their region in search of forgotten instruments, repertoire, testimonies on customs, dances A craze sometimes reinforced by the involvement of some in the renewal of regionalist movements9. Deparisianized, folk becomes traditional music .

In Gascony, these searches allow us to find a bagpipe which was hardly known except through rare testimonies and a few old10 postcards. The first boha was discovered in 1970/71, at the Paul Dupuy Museum in Toulouse, by a team from Ballets Occitan, Pierre Corbefin ​​ and Max Bordenave . Shortly after, it was in Bourriot, in the Petite Lande , that Pierre Corbefin ​​ and Jean-Pierre Cazade , musician of the Gascon group Perlinpinpin fòlc, find a second with its reeds.

These two bagpipes served as models for Alain Cadeillan , known as Kachtoun , from the Boîte à Folk 11 to Agen and Bernard Desblancs of the Occitan Conservatory . The first copies worked but their tonality close to B and their untempered scale seemed incompatible with the instruments used in the folk groups of the time, in particular the diatonic accordions.

Although they wished to stay close to the initial models, the factors decided to adapt the boha to the needs of the musicians. All the more so as they arose questions about the validity of their models: "As for the odds noted on the first specimen, they were not suitable either: " The holes (of the pihet) were enormous. Because we learned it afterwards too, they filled the holes with wax, so that didn't give us much. And then there were no "" 12 reeds. Thus, Bernard Desblancs13, factor of bohas, explains that "we have gradually moved away from the initial model. The current boha is the product of a slow evolution which integrates various parameters, resulting from the reflection of the manufacturers ".

Organological and musical consequences.

This immediate evolution of the original model is widely described and commented on. Thus, Lothaire Mabru14, researcher and actor of the revival , indicates that "While the currently re-manufactured Gascon bagpipe looks broadly similar to old bagpipes, close examination reveals that there are many differences." , and concludes "All this to say that the bounloure or the bouhe is not the Landes bagpipe as we know it today ..." .

As for Bénédicte Bonnemason15, researcher and musician, the very title of her article sets the tone;: " The reinvented tradition of the Landes de Gascogne bagpipe"! And pars that in addition he affirms that the maintenance of these is today impossible if one takes into account the social change and a new way of conceiving the musical fact ".

All the articles converge towards the same observation that Lothaire Mabru sums up well: "the term evolution is somewhat usurped here: let us not forget that there is a total break in the transmission of knowledge. We cannot speak here of evolution, but of recreation ".

In fact the differences are essential for musicians: thus its tempered scale is set on "la 440", the modification of the instrument's hold. influences dexterity and gives a more harmonic than rhythmic function to the semi-melodic tube, the major-minor key change allowed by the brunidèir mobile has been favored, if not invented, and is probably the result of initial choices alone.

Beyond these technical details, the sound comparison of a current boha with that recorded by Jeanty Benquet leaves no room for ambiguity, they are indeed two separate instruments.

Change in use, geography of its location / Occitan Conservatory

The desire to play in a group, still fundamental today, requires a consensus around the tonality and "temperament" of the instruments; it will be the first modifications. Thus in the early 1970s, Kachtoun began by making bohas with reeds in reed whose organology and size remain closer to the original models, but tempered and in "do". This first adaptation step quickly turns out to be insufficient. To be able to play the Gascon dance repertoire with accordions in "sol-do", the factors make temperate bohas "in sol"; a particularly judicious choice since the use of these bohas "in ground" remains largely majority today.

Recreation in 1975, adaptation in the 1980s, these phases will give way to invention. The issues of rediscovery having been overcome, the boha born folk evolves according to needs and the tones multiply, D bass, G, A, Si, do, the number of holes increases with clever plug systems mobiles in order to improve its chromatic capacities. evolution of reeds too, where the traditional reed gives way to "plastic" or carbon fiber.

Adaptation, evolution to stay in the vocabulary of biology it is necessary to speak of mutation when certain manufacturers add holes on the "semi melodic tube", like the samponha , to make it a polyphonic bagpipe or that others add a low drone. The only limits being then related to the imagination of the musicians and to the technical capacities of the factors of "bohas", as to say that they are practically non-existent. Can we still talk about boha ;?

The first are made in Agen, by Alain Cadeillan (Kachtoun), and at the Occitan Conservatory in Toulouse, by Roméro and Bernard Desblancs, for buyers linked to the world of traditional music . The geography of their location therefore varies according to the interest of musicians scattered all over the place. In the early 1990s, most manufactured bohas sounded outside the historical perimeter, with a high density in the Toulouse region, a place of manufacture where regular classes were also given in within the framework of the activities of the Conservatoire Occitan de Toulouse.

It was not until 2001 that the appointment of a teacher at the Landes music school and the establishment of regular lessons, made it possible to really start bring this instrument back to life in its historic playground.

(1) Head of the music and phonothèque department of MuCEM, Scientific direction of the site "Bagpipes from Europe and the Mediterranean" on the MuCEM bagpipe collections.
(2) La bouhe is very dancing as long as we know how to "lead" it. (Expressing in your game what makes you want to dance)
(3) MABRU Lothaire, "La bagpipe des Landes de Gascogne" , Centre Lapios 1986.
(4) "The musette had various names: bouhe, bounloure, tchalamine". In "Les Petites landes et le canton de Roquefort" , G. Cabannes, 1950.
(5) Presumably because the work done by Lothaire Mabru is localized and much more precise on these areas than the general survey by Jean Séguy.
(6) La bagpipe des Landes de Gascogne , L. Mabru, Centre Lapios 1986 p: 12
(7) La bagpipe des Landes de Gascogne , L. Mabru, Centre Lapios 1986
(8) Landes de Gascogne, la Cornemuse , Ocora / Radio France collection. 1996. recording found by Lothaire Mabru.
(9) In Gascony, most of these musicians will become very active Occitan activists in the associative milieu.
(10) Collections edited by Ferdinand Bernède d'Arjuzanx, Duberger and Dupin de Casteljaloux, Marcel Delboy de Bordeaux , bromotypie Gautreau from Langon. These testimonies cover a period which goes from the end of the 19 th century to the middle of the 20 th .
(11) The musicians of Perlinpinpin fòlc had set up the Boîte à Folk , at the same time a meeting place, record sales and workshop. Jean Pierre Cazade made dulcimers and épinettes , Alain Cadeillan three-hole flutes , fifes and bohas
(12) Quote taken from The reinvented tradition of the Landes de Gascogne bagpipes , Bénédicte Bonnemason, Pastel n ° 25, July-August 1995.
(13) Bernard Desblancs, Gascon bagpipe maker , Luc Charles-Dominique, Pastel n ° 25, July-August 1995.
(14) From the bounloure to the Gascon bagpipe , Lothaire Mabru, Pastel n ° 25, July-August 1995.
(15) The reinvented tradition of the Landes de Gascogne bagpipes , Bénédicte Bonnemason, Pastel n ° 25, July-August 1995.