Soro (Tinder Records)
Madagascar, off the Southeast coast of Africa would be unknown if it weren’t teaming with unusual wildlife and musical hybrids. Situated on the Indian Ocean, both the Madagascan people and their music possess African and Asian traits. Madagascar also supports an abundant of plants and animals that do not exist anywhere else on the planet as well as, an evolutionary mystery reflecting in the country’s music. Many of the artists are influenced by music of the West including pop, funk and jazz as they are influenced by music from across the African continent. And audiences in the West have become familiar with Madagascar’s touring artists Tarika, D’Gary, Justin Vali Trio, Njava, Jaojoby and Regis Gizavo.
Miary Lepiera, who now resides in Belgium, joins the group of internationally known artists with his second CD release, Soro (not to be confused with the recording of the same title by Malian Salif Keita).
And in fact, Lepiera was touring with Njava when he landed in Belgium’s multi-cultural city, Brussels. Musicians from that cultural diverse environment join Lepiera on this recording including drummer Pata Njava (Madagascar), drummer Boris Tchango (Togo), guitarist Desire Some (Burkina Faso), percussionist Gato Bedseyele and keyboard player Ket Hagaha (Angola), vocalist Mariana Toutziarakis (Greece) and bass guitarist Didier Likeng (Cameroon). Vocalist Lala Njava, violinist Sodher Leta, cellist Alejandro Quesada and Likembe player Filip Baert also chip in their musicianship. And as you would expect, Soro supports polyphonic beats, Malagasy guitars among a tapestry of samples and keyboards that are embellished by Lepiera’s quavering tenor vocals. Soro stays in warm and friendly territory. The music is subtle, sedate while never emitting overt passion. Light funk and pop elements can be heard fusing with traditional Malagasy folk.
Opener, Teno Heke highlights Peter Gabriel type vocals soaring above light percussion and intricate guitar rhythms. The ballad Just I Love You presents a duet with Greek vocalist Mariana Toutziarakis and is a passionate send up to amor. And Taratasy is a kissing cousin to the Indonesian group, Jugala All Stars’ repertoire. Most of the songs sport similar guitar and synthesizer textures and production value and they tend to run as opposed to flow into one another. The tracks mentioned above are the exception to the rule.
Soro boasts international talent and flavors, yet it borrows too much from the West with its use of synthesizers and understated percussion. If you’re willing to dig a little, you will find folk roots hiding underneath the verse-chorus-verse pop structure. Lepiera’s talent as a guitarist and vocalist is also worth noting, but again, those talents could be enhanced by a less slick production. However, if you seek a sincere pop recording sung in the Malagasy language, you will find those qualities on this CD.
This archival review by Patty-Lynne Herlevi formerly appeared on Cranky Crow World Music