Selections from Paddy’s reviews at Songlines magazine. For more on the magazine check out the Songlines website here
Pays Antanosy/Antanosy Country-Sarandra
Ocora C 560214
This is a collection of recordings from Radio France that shows a superb cross-section of music from the Antanosy people of Madagascar’s Southern regions. It focuses primarily on the style of singing known as Sarandra performed by women at funerals where the intensity and passion of their song celebrates the life of the deceased. It is really powerful singing, highly ornamented and imaginative, at times shrill and high pitched but always charged with emotion. This is music as unique as the landscape that it comes from, its what the Malagasy call zava-boary ‘the music that springs from the ground’, this disc is at times like walking in the Garden of Eden amongst rare and beautiful musical flowers. Wonderful instruments like the incredible sounding ‘Atranatra’ xylophone which is played by two women; seated on the ground one player places the tuned wooden bars on her legs in such a way that they can be beaten by both women, an instrument that could have come from the stone age yet played with computer-like rhythmic precision in the hands of natural virtuosi. The Antanosy lute or ‘Mandaly’ is strung with fishing line and provides a fast accompaniment to singing, strummed at helicopter speed, it is capable of fantastic music, with repetitive hypnotic phrases that are continuously evolving like changes in the weather. Forget studios and the music business, this is real music from real people, innovative progressive music that stretches back to Madagascar’s dawn of time, le vrai de vrai. Paddy Bush
Rough Guide to the Music of Madagascar
The island-continent of Madagascar has a musical culture that covers an incredibly wide spectrum. From the gentle sounds of the classical valiha (zither) playing of Sylvestre Randafison and his group Ny Antsaly (recorded in the 60s) to ‘Tsy Zanaka Mpanarivo’ from this year’s explosive album from Jaojoby, the king of salegy, this album has an impressive and diverse selection of tracks that show off many stylistic and regional differences. From the south, we have virtuoso acoustic guitar playing on a superb composition from D’Gary’s album Akata Meso; there is a fine performance by accordionist and singer Régis Gizavo; and an unusual marovany (box zither) solo recording from Monja, whose clipped staccato playing is a style characteristic of the Antandroy regions – as is the distinctive, highly embellished lokanga violin playing of Vilon’Androy. There is a fantastic performance by east coast marovany player Daniel Tombo and his family, who sing as he improvises around the theme of ‘Taraka’. Wonderful high energy dance music from the northern Sakalava regions comes courtesy of the group Koezy, with vocals provided by a female line-up. The High Plateau areas are well represented by Mahaleo, Tarika, Ny Sakelidalana and Rajery. There are 16 tracks from different artists and groups on this superb disc, compiled by Ian Anderson, and it is accompanied by liner notes which, although sadly lacking any lyrics or translations, are very informative nonetheless. Paddy Bush
Plaintive sounds from the Malagasy phenomenon
Mikea is the name of the band fronted by writer, singer and guitarist Theo Rakotovao, who comes from the Mikea people from south-west Madagascar. At the glitzy RFI Discoveries award ceremony in 2008, Mikea performed against soul singer Sheryl Gambo from the Congo and rap trio VBH from Cameroon, and the place went crazy when Mikea won the prize. During the following weeks the band was top of every radio station’s playlist and constantly appeared on Malagasy television. The international recognition boosted Madagascar’s confidence and was possibly one of the last good things to happen before the non-democratic change of government that plunged the island into a state of chaos.
Mikea’s three-piece line-up features acoustic guitar, electric bass and percussion. There is a gentle wistful quality running through their music. Rakotovao’s singing gets very emotional at times and I must admit it brings a tear to my eyes by reminding me of Madagascar’s present sadness. His songs are not party-political in nature, yet they are concerned with the difficult realities of life in Madagascar such as poverty, separation, imprisonment, deforestation and, on the title-track, ‘Taholy’ (Homesickness), which explores the need to find work in different regions. This is Malagasy contemporary music with laid-back spacious arrangements that provide the perfect environment for Rakotovao’s sensitive and soaring vocals, as heard to great effect on the outstanding track ‘Nagnaia Reliny’. Paddy Bush
Rajery comes from the high plateau region of Madagascar and is well known for his extraordinary relationship with the valiha, the Malagasy bamboo tube zither, an instrument that requires exceptional dexterity, as well as strong fingernails to negotiate the steel strings which are stretched to near breaking point. When Rajery was one year old he tragically lost all of the fingers from his right hand, but through a lifetime of untiring persistence he has managed to become one of the best-known musicians on the island. Sofera (Chauffeur) is a 13-track album recorded in France and shows a distinct evolution of style for Rajery. He has a new sound for his valiha and has changed his vocal technique, as well as his musicians, and the new group features three strong backing vocalists.
This disc features mainly acoustic arrangements with a variety of percussion instruments, excellent acoustic guitar by Mamy Andriamanantsiory, and occasional use of electric bass and drums. The title-track shows Rajeryís progress, featuring some real originality both musically and lyrically as he sings about an argument between two truck drivers, one who is working himself to death to feed his family, one who travels the island in search of romance. Another outstanding track comes in the form of ëMandehandehaí, a song about moving on, with really great backing vocals from the band. This is without doubt Rajeryís best album so far and is well worth a listen. Paddy Bush