The Fula people or Fulani or Fulɓe (Fula: Fulɓe; French: Peul; Hausa: Fulani; Portuguese: Fula; Wolof: Pël; Bambara: Fulaw) numbering approximately 20 million people in total are one of the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse of the peoples of Africa.The Fulani are bound together by the common language of Fulfulde, as well as by some basic elements of Fulbe culture, such as the pulaaku, a code of conduct common to all Fulani groups.
The Fula have a rich musical culture and play a variety of traditional instruments including drums, hoddu (a plucked skin-covered lute similar to a banjo), and riti or riiti (a one-string bowed instrument similar to a violin), in addition to vocal music. The well-known Senegalese Fula musician Baaba Maal sings in Pulaar on his recordings. Zaghareet or ululation is a popular form of vocal music formed by rapidly moving the tongue sideways and making a sharp, high sound.
Fulani music is as varied as its people. The numerous sub-groups all maintain unique repertoires of music and dance. Songs and dances reflect traditional life and are specifically designed for each individual occasion. Music is played at any occasion: when herding cattle, working in the fields, preparing food, or at the temple. Music is extremely important to the village life cycle with field cultivation, harvest and winnowing of millet performed to the rhythm of the songs and drums.
Fulani herders have a special affinity for the flute and violin nianioru. The young Fulani shepherd like to whistle and sing softly as they wander the silent savannah with cattle and goats. The truly Fulani instruments are the one-string viola of the Fulani (nianioru), the flute, the two to five string lute hoddu or molo, and the buuba and bawdi set of drums. But they are also influenced by the other instruments of the region such as the beautiful West African harp, the kora, and the balafon. Entertainment is the role of certain casts. The performance of music is the realm of specialized casts. The Griots or Awlube recite the history of the people, places and events of the community.
A significant proportion of their number, (an estimated 13 million), are nomadic, making them the largest pastoral nomadic group in the world. Spread over many countries, they are found mainly in West Africa and northern parts of Central Africa, but also in Sudan and Egypt.
African countries where they are present include Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, the Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad, Togo, Gabon, South Sudan the Central African Republic, Liberia, and as far East as the Red Sea in Sudan and Egypt. With the exception of Guinea, where the Fula make up an ethnic plurality (largest single ethnic group) or approximately 49%+ of the population, and Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon, Fulas are minorities in nearly all other countries they live in. Alongside, many also speak other languages of the countries they inhabit, making many Fulani bilingual or even trilingual in nature. Such languages include Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, and Arabic.
Major concentrations of Fulani people exist in the Fouta Djallon highlands of central Guinea and south into the northernmost reaches of Sierra Leone; the Futa Tooro savannah grasslands of Senegal and southern Mauritania; the Macina inland Niger river delta system around Central Mali; and especially in the regions around Mopti and the Nioro Du Sahel in the Kayes region; the Borgu settlements of Benin, Togo and West-Central Nigeria; the northern parts of Burkina Faso in the Sahel region’s provinces of Seno, Wadalan, and Soum; and the areas occupied by the Sokoto Caliphate, which includes what is now Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria (such as Tahoua, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zinder, Bauchi, Diffa, Yobe, Gombe, and further east, into the Benue river valley systems of North Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon).