Tag Archives: Madagascar

Artist Profiles: Monika Njava

Monika Njava – Photo by Bir Images

Percussionist and vocalist Monika Njava grew up on the island of Madagascar in the southwest port of Morondava.

Celebrated across Madagascar as a national diva, Monika Njava was a lead singer in the award-winning group Njava, recording two critically acclaimed albums for EMI’s Hemispheres label.

She has recorded with best-selling act Deep Forest and continues to tour with the band. In 2012 she released a solo world pop album, Haizina, with musicians from three continents.

Always exploring new musical territory, in 2014 she recorded Island Jazz with bass virtuoso Linley Marthe. Island Jazz mixes traditional Malagasy music and contemporary jazz.

Monika sings in several Malagasy dialects. She draws on folktales and everyday village life for her lyrics. She also addresses contemporary themes affecting her country, such as corruption, environmental devastation, and the empowerment of women.

She is a member of the highly-respected supergroup Toko Telo. Her colleagues are two of Madagascar’s finest musicians: D’Gary and Régis Gizavo.


From South Madagascar, with Njava (Sushi Records, 1997)
Vetse , with Njava (EMI Hemisphere, 1999)
Source, with Njava (EMI Hemisphere, 2001)
Haizina ( Anio Records, 2012)
Island Jazz ( Anio Records, 2014)
Toy Raha Toy, with Toko Telo (Anio Records, 2017)
Diavola, with Toko Telo (Anio Records, 2018)


Artist Profiles: Sylvestre Randafison

Sylvestre Randafison

Valiha maestro Benjamin Sylvestre Randafison was born in Madafascar in 1928. In addition to playing and promoting the usea of the valiha, Sylvestre Randafison also made high quality bamboo valihas with different tunings.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Sylvestre Randafison and his trio, Ny Antsaly, toured extensively outside Madagascar.

In addition to his work as a musician and instrument maker, Sylvestre Randafison also worked as a folklorist for the Madagascan Ministry of Cultural Affairs, traveling throughout Madagascar to collect more than 1,000 pieces of traditional music.

Sylvestre Randafison died on July 12, 2003.


Valiha De Madagascar Vol.1, with Jean-Baptiste Ramaronandrasana (Pied Rouge, 1987)
The Art Of Rakoto Frah & Randafison Sylvestre – Madagascar (JVC, 1989)
L’Art De La Valiha – The Art Of The Valiha ‎(Arion, 2000)


Artist Profiles: Rakotozafy


Rakotozafy was born in 1933. He was one of the best valiha players in Madagasca. His version of the valiha featured a total of 24 strings in the two sets, each set tuned to a different scale.

Rakotozafy made his first recordings in the 1960s for DiscoMad, released as singles and 45 EPs.

British record label GlobeStylemade sa trip in 1985 and colected some of Rakotozafy’s recordings. The label released a compilation titled Valiha Malaza in 1988.

Rakotozafy died in 1974.


Valiha Malaza – Famous Valiha (Globe Style, 1988)


Artist Profiles: Mama Sana

Mama Sana

Singer-songwriter and valiha musician Mama Sana was born in 1900 in Madagascar. She was a charismatic artist, dressed in traditional clothing with coins braided into her hair. Sana earned national and international popularity throughout her career, thanks to her innovative valiha style and her mix of distinguished by her mix of traditional Tandroy and Sakalava musical styles.

Mama Sana recorded various solo albums before her death in 1997. Her music was sampled by French electronic band Deep Forest for their third album, Comparsa. After her death, Sana’s house was turned into a museum and a cultural association was founded in her honor to promote traditional music of the Sakalava and Tandroy people.


The legendary Mama Sana (Shanachie, 1992)
Music from Madagascar (Shanachie, 1995)
Madagascar: Anthologie des voix. (MCM/Inedit, 1997)
Madagascar Musique des Sakalava Menabe, Hommage à Mama Sana (MCM/Inedit, 2000)


Artist Profiles: Justin Vali

Justin Vali

Justin Vali was born in 1964. He is one of the best-known valiha (bamboo tube zither) players in Madagascar. He also plays other traditional instruments such as the marovany box zither.

Vali appeared on various compilations in the late 1980s. In 1995 he released Ny Marina (The Truth) on Real World Records. In 1999 he put out The Sunshine Within, a collaboration with Paddy Bush.

In 2008, Vali recorded with Eric Manana, Fenoamby, Régis Gizavo, and Dama Mahaleo, all leading Malagasy musicians under the name Malagasy All Stars.

Vali lives in Paris and performs regularly on the international world music festival circuit.


Rambala (Silex, 1991)
The Truth – Ny Marina (Real World Records, 1995)
Valiha (Cinq Planètes, 2005)
Madagascar All Stars (Cinq Planètes, 2008)


Artist Profiles: Jaojoby

Jaojoby – photo © Pieter Dewulf (tropicalidad.be)

In the early seventies, Jaojoby was one of the first to sing Salegy (Malagasy dance music), up until them limited to a few instrumental recordings. Eusebe Jaojoby is descended from several ethnic groups (St Mariens, Betanimena, Antimarua, Tsimihety, Makua), but in his case the African caste is dominant as with most west-coasters.

He was born in 1955 in Amboangibe, near Sambava in the Northwest of the island. As the eldest son of a family of fifteen fervent Catholics he learned to sing in church, where his uncle played the harmonium. At the age of fifteen he went to Diego Suarez to further his education; however less than a month after his arrival he won a radio singing competition and without stopping school he started singing in a local night-club, Le Saigonais, a hangout for expatriates and ex-colonists.

It is not until 1975 when he left the night-club for a younger group, the Players, that he could at last play for a popular and Malagasy public. It is with this group, in the villages and during celebrations that he came up with what was to become the Salegy of today, a modern but roots music, inspired by traditional styles and instruments: “the songs are those of the cow-herders running with their herds; the guitar imitates the valiha-playing of the great masters; the keyboards give the feeling of the traditional accordion and the bass copies the sound of five big drums. As for the drums they reproduce the sound of a Malagasy crowd on a day of celebration: hands clapping, maracas, feet beating the earth.” The group split up in 1979.

In 1980 Jaojoby went to Antananarivo to study sociology but very quickly returned to music; he sang in the bar of the Hilton in the company of the Rabeson family, the famous Malagasy jazz musicians. At the same time he pursued a career as a radio journalist, which led him to become in 1984 head of the information service in Diego Suarez.

Called back to Antananarivo in 1988 he formed another band that was a great success. Les Maitres du Salegy (The Masters of Salegy), an album recorded in 1987 put the dance back in fashion and Jaojoby was proclaimed King of Salegy by a local daily. Since then he has performed several times for the Malagasy population in France, and has produced a number of cassettes.

As for the world music fans, they discovered Salegy during the 1994 tour of clubs and festivals. Velono is the first album by Jaojoby recorded in truly professional circumstances, directed by Herve Romagny, Ray Lema’s talented guitarist who knows Jaojoby well, having joined his group in 1986 and done a tour of Madagascar with him.


Tsaikijoby (Discomad, 1976)
Agny rô (Discomad, 1978)
Salegy! (Rogue, 1992)
Velono (Indigo – Label Bleu, 1994)
E Tiako (Indigo – Label Bleu, 1998)
Aza Arianao (Indigo – Label Bleu, 2000)
Malagasy (Discorama, 2004)
Donnant-Donnant (2008)
Live au Bato Fou: Jaojoby (Discorama, 2010)
Mila Anao (Buda Musique, 2012)


Artist Profiles: Kilema


His name is Randrianantoandro Clément, but most people call him Kilema.

He was introduced to the world music scene as part of the famous Malagasy group, the Justin Vali Trio where his showmanship dominated with his small guitar, Kabosy, and his percussion instrument Katsà.

Kilema was born in Toliary (Tuléar), and he is proud of this rich heritage. It is the nourishment for his music. But Kilema is also a musician of the world and his contacts with the most diverse music styles have contributed to his musical evolution.

After 4 years of touring the world under the wing of the WOMAD festivals, Kilema decided to return to his musical origins in the southern part of Madagascar.


Kilema currently lives in Spain.


Mena (Snail Records, 2008)
Ka Malisa (Iris Music)


Artist Profiles: Rajery

Rajery – Photo courtesy of Small Island Big Song

Germain Randrianrisoa, better known as Rajery is an influential singer, songwriter, composer and valiha virtuoso from Madagascar.

Despite losing all his fingers on one hand, at the tender age of 11 months, Rajery taught himself to play the valiha as a child. His valiha is a tubular zither made of bamboo with bicycle brake cables constituting its multiple strings. Through hard work and determination he mastered the instrument, developing his own technique adapted to his handicap.

By 1983 he gave his first concert to an incredulous audience, but by then Rajery was a living legend in Madagascar, where he commands huge audiences at his concerts and where, with the help of UNESCO and Handicap International, he has created a manufacturing center for the Valiha, this most typical instrument of the traditional Malagasy music.

Discovered by two French journalists who were on assignment in Antananarivo, Rajery caught the attention of world music professionals in France, who organized his appearances at concerts and festivals in France.

Now a recording star, Rajery likes to travel the world to popularize Malagasy music and the Valiha. As he says, instead of being a hindrance, his handicap is his strength, a message he wants to share with others.

His repertoire is drawn from all six regions and musical traditions of Madagascar and he sings in the Malagasy language about simple themes such as bush fires, cattle thieves, storytellers and other themes related to life on this impoverished but beautiful big island. Although local in nature, the emotion brought about by his songs and music is in fact universal.

His quartet includes Jean Charles Razanakoto (acoustic guitar), Vahiniry Rabaroelina (percussion) and Olivier Andriamampianina (bass guitar).

Rajery formed 3MA, a trio of African string instrument masters: kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko (Mali) and Moroccan ud maestro Driss El Maloumi.


Dorotanety (Indigo, 1999)
Fanamby (Indigo, 2001)
Volontany (Indigo, 2004)
Sofera (Marabi, 2007)
3 MA (2008)
Tantsaha (2012)
Bedia (2014)
Anarouz, with 3MA (Six Degrees, 2018)


Artist Profiles: Madagascar Slim

Madagascar Slim – Photo by Anand Maharaj

Madagascar Slim’s real name is Randriamananjara Radofa Besata Jean Longin. He talks about his background: “I Was born on Halloween night of 1956 in Antananarivo the capital city of Madagascar.

I was the youngest son in the family and I had 3 brothers and two sisters. Two of my brothers and one sister played guitar, and my parents were both musicians although not playing professionally.

When I was about nine, one of my brothers received a guitar for passing an exam. The instrument really gave him power over me and the only time he allowed me to play it, was after I ran some errand for him or gave him my dessert. I guess that’s one of the reasons the guitar became very desirable to me.

My brothers played in a local band and they were into one of the most popular dance music of Madagascar called “Salegy”. Again I was not allowed to be in their rehearsal room but whenever my brother practiced on his own I would closely observe his technique and I would try to emulate his playing on his guitar when he was not home. It was not long before I became a fairly decent “Salegy” player.

One day I heard this incredible music on the radio. It was “Hey Joe” played by Jimi Hendrix and it really change my life and the kind of music I wanted to play then. I literally spent days and nights trying to figure out the chords and especially that fantastic solo part. I couldn’t speak a word of English and I did not understand what he was talking about but the feel of the music somehow really touched something in me.

Later when I heard some records of B.B. King, I recognized the same crying solo pattern but in a more direct and simplified form. Those two giants and the local Malagasy music were the biggest influence to my playing.

My parents sent me to Canada in 1979 to further my studies and get a good education, but in my mind the real reason I came over was to learn English so I could sing the kind of songs I fell in love with when I was younger. I took English as a second language and then I finished college. I graduated with honors in the “Accounting and Finance Co-op Program” at Seneca College.”

After hearing Malagasy music from the visiting band Tarika, Slim became excited about playing the music of his homeland again. He got a grant to return to Madagascar and study the valiha with one of the masters. While there, he also met one of his heroes, guitarist & songwriter D’Gary. He was treated as a star in his hometown.

His unique music has received many awards including the 2000 JUNO Award for Best Global Music recording for his album Omnisource and another JUNO in 2001 for his collaboration in the group Tri-continental.


Omnisource (2000)
Tri Continental (Trem, 2001)
African Guitar Summit Vol 1 (CBC Records, 2004)
African Guitar Summit Vol 2 (CBC Records, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Njava

Lala Njava

Njava is a group of three brothers and two sisters from Madagascar. Named after their father, a composer and idealist who believed in peace through music, these three brothers and two sisters perform Malagasy music at its most accessible and melodic.

Njava was founded at the end of 1980s, after Madagascar was able to free itself from the tyranny of military rule, ending nearly two decades of isolation. The band sings about exile, daily struggles and the environment. It also performs music based on indigenous rituals and ceremonies. At the center is Dozzy’s unique lyrical guitar style, lighting quick and fluid, with a propulsive rhythm that’s continually inventive and used exactly like a lead instrument.

The sisters provide the vocals, their smoky voices carrying a profound emotional intensity, which ranges from beautiful harmonies to laughing and rhythmic breathing to wide open shrieks. Njava’s repertoire is mostly based on the music performed at Malagasy ceremonies, however over a long period the group has forged its own sound. Simultaneously dynamic and refined, earthy and sophisticated, Njava has created its own fine line between tradition and innovation.


Monique Rasoanirina (Monika): vocals
Gabrielle Raharimahala (Lala): vocals, percussion
Theogene Randriamanpionona (Dozzy): guitars, marovany, vocals
Patrick Randriamanjava (Pata): percussion, vocals
Maximin Randriamanjava (Max) : bass, vocals
Luc Serge Rakotomalala (Luc): guitar, percussion, vocals


From South Madagascar (Sushi Records, 1997)
Vetse (Hemisphere, 1999)
Source (Hemisphere, 2001)