René Lacaille is the musical embodiment of the unique Creole culture of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Island (La Réunion), incorporating African, Indian, Madagascan and European rhythms and instruments. On the album Mapou, this remarkable singer, accordion player, guitarist and extraordinary songster tells the story of his troubadour life, which highlights the evolution of the music of La Réunion and features (among others) the fascinating styles of séga and maloya.Mapou is named after a type of sweet and perfumed sugarcane. Playing alongside his father at funfairs, weddings and balls from the age of 7 onwards, René Lacaille learned to play séga, maloya, tango, bolero, cha-cha-chá, baïan, samba, paso doble, calypso, waltzes, mazurka, quadrille and more. Over the years he has played with many talented musicians, including Yuri Buenaventura, Ray Léma, Manu Dibango, Bob Brozman and Raúl Barboza. With a wealth of musical elements and styles at his fingertips, René Lacaille has produced an album that stretches across his own musical journey as well as the island’s musical history.
Like other Reunion Island Creoles, Rene is descended from white colonists, African or Malagasy slaves and perhaps hired hands and the Chinese. Lying in the middle of the Indian Ocean and once a paradise for dodos and turtles, Reunion Island remained unpopulated by the Moslem navigators, Chinese, Portuguese, English and Dutch travelers for years, until the French slowly took possession of the land in the seventeenth century. The old trading routes connected cultures from East Africa, the Gulf and India, and the mixed population influx brought new cooking, religion, music and culture. Over the years, the rich blend of cultures gave birth to a unique Creole culture and music that mixed the African, Indian, Malagasy and European influences. The music of René Lacaille harnesses many of the styles present on the island, including séga, which mixes African and European rhythms with instruments from Europe, and maloya that represents the island’s African heritage and mixes the chants of slaves, which sung of labor, toil, sorrow and revolt.
Going as far back into history as when the slaves were first brought to the island, ‘Cos Coté’ represents the basic rhythms that they would have brought onto Reunion Island. The title means ‘come closer’, and has René playing percussion on himself and continuing the rhythms onto drums and the Malagasy flute. During the 1950s and 1960s, ‘Madina’ was frequently played on Reunion Island radio waves – the only radio station being the national one. Written in the 1940s by the famous Réunionnais singer Maxime Laope and interpreted by another celebrated singer, Henri Madoré, here René interprets this landmark Réunionnais song. As a child, René played alongside Léon Céleste, the great 1950s saxophonist, and his father. Céleste was well-known on the island for playing in André Philippe’s orchestra, and composed ‘Séga 58’ featured on Mapou.
During his twenties, René listened to a lot of music such as Fred Espel’s composition ‘Pêcheur Quat’sou’. Mapou plays tribute to these songs of the Réunionnais cannon, reprising them and giving them a new slant. In the 1970s, René formed the group Caméléon, which also included Bernard Brancard, Hervé Imare, Loy Erlich, Joël Gonthier and Alain Peters, who wrote the song ‘La Rosée Si Feuilles Songes’. Written in the 1980s, René’s composition ‘La Mandoz’ has been continuously revived and has become a part of the island’s repertoire. The title refers to someone who can’t walk straight due to drinking too much ‘mandoz’ (rum).