Originating from Normandy, France and now based in Marseille having lived for spells in Brighton, Bristol and Brussels, Yann Tambour began recording in 2001 under the name Encre, a project combining samples of strings, piano and voice. Following a series of album and EP releases under that name and having returned to his original instrument, the classical guitar, Yann started to experiment with the kora (the lute-bridge-harp made from calabash gourd and cowhide commonly played in West Africa), gradually developing his own playing technique and soon building his own lighter, more compact versions of the instrument. Marrying this with his singular approach to the singer/songwriter mode, Stranded Horse (formerly Thee, Stranded Horse) came into being in the mid-noughties.
‘Luxe’ is the third Stranded Horse album after ‘Humbling Tides’ (2012) and ‘Churning Strides’ (2007), with material from the latter reinterpreted on a 2008 EP and tour with feted Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko. Meanwhile, Yann’s instrument-building endeavours continue – his most recent creation being a chromatic kora with harp levers, made out of keno wood, maple and formica christened the ‘formikora’.
In late 2012, the year after Yann Tambour aka Stranded Horse last graced us with an album, ’Humbling Tides’, the itinerant composer/multi-instrumentalist dispatched a postcard in the form of a 7” from Dakar, Senegal, where he had undertaken a residency at the city’s French Institute. Its two tracks – including an unlikely cover, a pitch-perfect take on the Joy Division classic ’Transmission– displayed Tambour’s own, increasingly assured kora playing, tightly woven with that of distinguished local player Boubacar Cissokho, the cousin and protege of erstwhile Tambour collaborator Ballake Sissoko; further augmented by riti and balafon.
A second trip to Senegal followed in summer 2013. Further solo touring saw Yann haul his homemade koras across the world, gathering new friends and old records as he roamed across Western and Central Europe, Russia, Japan, China, the US and North Africa.
Finally home for a spell in late 2013, and with a set of recordings from the two Dakar trips as a jump-off point, Yann began working on the next chapter, undertaking further sessions closer to home in Paris and Nantes, augmenting the Dakar material and adding new tracks. The end result is ’Luxe’ (’Luxury’ in English), the new Stranded Horse album and the strongest progression yet along the path embarked upon with debut LP ’Churning Strides’, 8 years ago.
With five of its nine songs sung in English and the rest in French, the ensemble arrangements hinted at on ‘Humbling Tides’, find full bloom on ’Luxe’. Two tracks are elevated by the gossamer vocal timbre of Eloïse Decazes (Arlt), and there are contributions across the record from Cissokho, along with Poulo K and Bakoutoubo Dambakhate (both of whom played on the Dakar-recorded 7”), Amaury Ranger (Francois And The Atlas Mountains), Sarah Murcia, Papis Morin Mbaye and Vacarme .
Check listings anywhere in the world on any given night and chances are you’ll find Tambour playing – indeed the Stranded Horse touring compass is being reset as you read this – yet on this album he sounds rooted, right at home in the lap of ’Luxe’. With the kora still so often the fluid centrifugal force of the music, one cannot help but hear echoes of his African experiences...but more than ever, and with the help of his friends from near and far, on ’Luxe’ Stranded Horse binds his ever-expanding sphere of influence into something greater than the sum of its parts, moving towards a truly cosmopolitan means of capturing song.
« Tambour has played alongside Malian musician Ballaké Sissoko, and “Humbling Tides” marks a clear improvement in aptitude and scope. “Shields” and “Jolting Moon” put the instrument in the service of gentle, haunted songs, but he’s now more aware of its formal properties, embarking on wonderfully intricate melodic tangents. »
L. Pattisson, Uncut ****
« Yann Tambour’s unique kora / guitar / vocal songwriting idiom was written largely in Bristol and recorded in Normandy, nort-west France. Bringing subtle but significant musical modes and cultures together, he’s a bold and graceful artist »
« He plucks cascades of twinkling notes from a 21-string kora, and his studiously subdued vocals, in French and English, now suggest the timeless tunes of some travelling medieval troubadour, rather than the prenatal blues of West Africa, a move north newly supported by suitably sparse string accompaniment. The Malian kora player Ballake Sissoko throws a fluttering coda over Shields, raising a bar that Tambour almost reaches himself in the extended closer, Halos, all visionary declamations and potent silences »
SL, The Sunday Times