Tag Archives: Malagasy music

The Thriving Malagasy Scene During the 1970s-1980s

Various Artists – Alefa Madagascar – Salegy, Soukous & Soul from the Red Island 1974-1984 (STRUT207, 2019)

Strut continues its essential compilation series of Indian Ocean sounds with ‘Alefa Madagascar’, the first compilation to detail the distinctive culture of salegy, soukous, acoustic folk and soul in Madagascar during the 1970s and 1980s.     

‘Alefa Madagascar’ showcases the rich variety of genres during what some call the golden era of Malagasy music. The anthology features a mix of vibrant traditional rhythms, call and response vocals and the introduction of intricate electric guitars and the now vintage sounds of the electric organ.

Various Artists – Alefa Madagascar – Salegy, Soukous & Soul from the Red Island 1974-1984

The artists featured played an essential role in the development of modern Malagasy music. The album includes Jean Kely Et Basth; Los Matadores; Soymanga; Roger Georges; Ny Anjarasoa; Charles Maurin Poty; Mahaleo; Papa James; Los Pepitos Et Leur Ensemble; Jeannot Rabeson Et Son Orchestre; Feon’ala; Terak Anosy Group; Saka Dit The King; Michael; Falafa; Nino Rafah; Kaiamba Orchestra; and Atrefy Andriana.

The album has cover artwork by illustrator Lewis Heriz. ‘Alefa Madagascar’ is compiled by Reunionese DJs La Basse Tropicale and Percy Yip Tong (Mauritius). It is available on CD, vinyl and digital.


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: 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)


Artist Profiles: Regis Gizavo

Regis Gizavo with Nguyên Lê – Photo courtesy of Act Music

Regis Gizavo was an accordionist from Tulear. He presented himself not only as a defender of the traditions of his region (where the ethnic groups, Vezo, Masikoro and Mahafaly, co-exist), but also of modern, original music, absorbing diverse influences with perfect ease. His experience in Madagascar: immersion from his early childhood in trance music, performance of popular music with various variety groups, and pure research in collaboration with the guitarist D’Gary made him an accomplished musician. In 1990, was awarded Radio France International’s “Discovery Prize”.

Tulear, 1971. In a hut, in the Mahavatse neighborhood, a group of kids armed with makeshift instruments, performed songs they had heard on the radio: French songs, American tunes, South African and Mozambican music, spread by the radio waves that reached the extreme southwest of Madagascar. In a neighboring hut, there was a woman in a trance. Surrounded by relatives, she was prey to the caprices of the spirits which shook and transformed her. Suddenly, she perceived the sound of an accordion behind the wall, and was taken over by a frenzy of dancing (the accordion is an instrument of trance in this region, accordionists are part of every ritual, of every celebration). Quickly, they sent for the providential musician. It turned out to be a twelve-year-old child, Regis Gizavo, who fled at the sight of the possessed woman. He was caught and brought back by force. He was forced to play with his eyes closed, terrified, but would succeed little by little in calming the spirits and freeing the woman. The ambivalence of Regis Gizavo’s talent is entirely shown in this anecdote.

The son of a teacher with modern ideas who played the accordionist musette and taught it to five of his thirteen children, Regis pursued management studies at the university, and played all kinds of music on his island and in Europe, where he lived since 1990. But in his ethnic group Vezo (fishermen of the southwest coast of Madagascar), and all those which inhabit the Tulear region (Masikoro, Mahafaly…), the accordion has a religious connotation far too strong for Regis not to have somehow been permeated by it. Every summer, he returned to his mother’s village, Tampolo, on the other side of the Mangoky river where he listened to traditional accordionists; and even if he didn’t learn the trance music, he grew up in their vibrations; their driving grooves emanated naturally forth from his fingers.

His first band was the Filibustiers, a group that entertained at local events. When he left the group to return to school, he was barely fifteen. After that he was hired by a more professional group, the Sailors, who accompanied the singer Angeline in concert and on the radio. The accordion belonged to the boss, as is often the case in Madagascar; Regis didn’t get his own instrument until 1990. At age twenty-five, after he graduated, he undertook a journey across the island which gave him the opportunity to play with numerous traditional! and modern musicians. Beginning in 1989, he started to record his own compositions with Landy, a singer from Tulear living in Tananarivo.

In 1990, Regis was the winner of the “Decouvertes” (Discoveries) musical competition organized by Radio France Internationale. He left for Europe where the music scene greeted him with a warm welcome and he was encouraged to pursue an international career. The drummer Francis Lassus invited him to join Boh? Combo, the group he was putting together. Regis accompanied Graeme Allwright, played on the albums of Zao, Higelin, les Tetes Brulees, etc.. and occasionally joined up with his old friend D’Gar. In 1993, he became the regular accordionist for I Muvrini, replacing jazz musician Daniel Mille. The 330-odd concerts and sessions given in the span of two years at their side didn’t stop him from working on his first solo album, which he recorded around Christmas 1995.

Regis Gizavo died on July 16, 2017


Mikea (Shanachie, 1996)
Samy Olombelo (2000)
Stories (Marabi, 2006)
Madagascar All Stars (2009)
Ilakake (Cinq Planètes, 2012)

[Biography edited from an original by Corinne Serres].