Mind-blowing stuff - Flute maker earns honest bread from bamboo

November 06, 2017
Flute maker Andre France inside his studio.
Flute maker Andre France
Flute maker Andre France's customized saxo-clarinet.
These flutes are under construction.

Andre France has been called a flute-maker, flautist, musician and music teacher. But over the past seven years, his passion to make and perfect his design of bamboo flutes has heightened.

“I wanted to be in nature and I loved art but didn’t know what exactly to do. Being around musicians and fine artists helped me to realise that it had to embrace music,” France told The STAR.

France said his first flute-playing experience was challenging but when the sound finally came it was celebratory.

“A friend of mine, M’bala M’gabo had a room filled with many instruments and the rule was to take one instrument and play. There I am winded; it took a lot out of me but I continued to try until it happened. Being able to cover each hole might take some pain and with some instruments you get blisters,” France said.

Performing with various musicians eventually inspired and influenced the desire to reproduce it for aspiring musicians. Some of his customers have also requested lessons to learn how to play the flute.


France acquires bamboo in Stony Hill, St Andrew to make flutes. While the bamboo is hard to work with, it is hollow on the inside and contains natural separators in its development so it helps with accomplishing the final product. The rest is up to the flute-maker.

“It is a lot of trial and error ... mostly error, whether because I didn’t cut them at the right site or right size. The measurements with calculating for music of flutes can be easily spoiled as well, one hole can spoil the whole flute.”

He continued: “That is how I started mass producing mainly for the purpose of learning how to make a proper flute.”

As a flautist and bamboo art enthusiast, France may just be the only one in his generation. But the flute is one of the most underused instruments in Jamaican culture.

"They don’t sell very often. The more I perform, the more I am to sell flutes but live music is struggling on its own and the live flute is just a rib inside that whole body. Some people just want a basic sound. Persons usually look at drum and guitar, and once they get that in the door then they see the saxophonist and flautist,” France said.

The digital age also affects the sale of France's goods.

“If I performed really well during an event, then people would purchase. I will go on plazas or whenever has a good acoustics, and play until all my nervous energy has left me.”

“Persons who come look at me play look at it as something good, to see someone who plays the flute is kinda rare and it gives a unique feeling and changes the whole appreciation and value of flutes.”

Selling precision handcrafted items is important to France but the versatility of the bamboo has allowed him to practise the art of carving by making other crafts including flower stands, lamp shades and chalices (in which he incorporates clay pipe and coconut or calabash shell).

“That’s the part of the business that pays the bills. Tourists like the designs and not just for the purpose of burning herbs, but even fruits. Many purchase from overseas, I have shipped to Italy, United States and Mexico.”

The business is growing as some persons who purchase a flute may request a chalice and vice versa. France adds a signature look to his work as well as paints red, green and gold stripes and varnish to make them complete. 

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