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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Razia Said was born on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar of an Afro-Arabic Mother and an Indian Father. She was raised with the sound of valiha, a local stringed bamboo instrument and singing to her Uncle’s guitar playing.
At the age of ten she moved to Gabon in West Africa where she began to sing in a local church choir and continued listening to traditional Malagasy music, the Beatles, Bob Marley and James Brown. Razia draws on a vast diversity of cultures. Her music blends African percussion’s with more urban R&B arrangements.
With her soothing mellow voice, Razia’s haunting melodies combine with ethnic percussion to blend magically into an irresistible groove that is filled with optimism, and speaks of the truth found in daily life. She has lived in Madagascar and France and is now a resident of New York.
Ricky Randimbiarison was born on 23 June, 1964 in a small town in the South East of Madagascar,
After working temporarily with the young Malagasy group, Hippies, Ricky’s vocalization and polyphonic exercises led him to explore drum techniques and traditional music. He studied the hazolahy drum and began to combine his melodious voice with traditional types of percussion such as amponga or adabo. Ricky also collected different types of indigenous music such as the sireko (a special song for the funeral of an elderly, a wise or a wealthy person); the koendra (the form used by the Vazimba people to sing for prayers, funerals and weddings); and the balitika (the rhythm of a dance from the Antaisaka tribe in the South East).
It wasn’t until 1989 that Ricky decided to reappear in the public eye, choosing to do so on the popular television program, Salohy, using the name ‘Dio-ricky-mangamalandy’, signifying: ‘Dio’ – the purity, the originality; ‘imangamalandy’ – the clarity and quality of Ricky’s voice, which has been described as “clear as the blue sky”. Since then , Ricky has gathered around him a group of the hottest musicians in Madagascar to form an electric band whose stated aim is to fuse their native vako-drazana folk music with jazz to produce a mixture they call vakojazzana. The band is built around the extraordinary bass player, Toty, who uses his instrument to simulate the deep. buzzing resonance of the cythar which underlies marovany music.
The result of this forward-looking approach to traditionally-rooted music has been so popular as to have engendered the phenomenon identified by the Malagasy press as ‘Rickymania’, with Ricky emerging as by far the most popular performer in Madagascar. In 1995, the Swiss band, Patent Ochsner, toured Madagascar and met Ricky. Determined to give Ricky and his band the opportunity to record, they flew the six Malagasy musicians to Switzerland, where they recorded 12 songs. When Robert Trunz heard the sixty minutes of music, he noted the similarity of some of the sounds to Brazilian music and wondered if Airto Moreira might be interested in working with Ricky.
Consequently, Ricky Randimbiarison came to Brownhill Farm during the summer of 1997 and worked on the tapes of his album Olembelona Rocky (BW113) with Airto Moreira, completely re-building the tracks . Suzan Hendricks, Mabi Thobejane and Diana Moreira were also staying at Brownhill and got involved with the project.
Tarika, led by the charismatic Hanitra Rasoanaivo, was one of the hardest working bands on the 1990s World Music circuit. Madagascar’s most successful musical export. Tarika’s name means simply “the group” or “led by”- or in their case, “the group”. They evolved a unique, modern blend from the roots musics of the different regions of their Indian Ocean island home, strongly featuring local instruments played in innovative ways.
In the early 1990s, Hanitra (pronounced “Anch”) led Tarika Sammy, the first modern group rooted in the traditional music of Madagascar with the vision to adopt a professional approach to international touring, and unique as a band led by a Malagasy woman. Songs written by Hanitra or her sister Noro on their chart-topping second album Balance began to address challenging, controversial subjects such as the situation of women in Malagasy society, pushing the boundaries of Malagasy roots music.
This group split up at the end of 1993, after which Hanitra put together Tarika. Hanitra and Noro stayed as the new group’s live focus, delivering their fabulous sibling harmonies, driving percussion and spirited dancing, but the new band’s instrumental side was much stronger. Featuring a specially designed and crafted array of up-dates of traditional Malagasy instruments that they had commissioned – marovany (box zither), valiha (bamboo zither), kabosy (the small Malagasy guitar), jejy voatavo (gourd dulcimer) – Tarika immediately achieved international success.
The other Tarika members since 1994 have been three multi-instrumentalists/singers. Donné is a top all-round musician on marovany, valiha, kabosy, melodeon and percussion. He had long experience in traditional music, including touring in Malagasy bands Voninavoko and the Malagasy All-Stars. Ny Ony came from the brother group Solomiral whose members all regularly work with Madagascar’s top modern artists: he’s one of Madagascar’s best guitarists and bassists, and a fine kabosy player. Solo, the youngest of the team, traveled throughout the island with the vakodrazana (traditional music) group led by his father: he too plays bass guitar, kabosy, valiha, marovany and percussion, and adds the bass voice to the famous Tarika harmonies.
Tarika’s 1994 debut album Bibiango addressed thought-provoking, controversial issues for the Malagasy audience, with strong questions about priorities and values.
Their second album, Son Egal, was released in 1997, produced by Simon Emmerson (Baaba Maal/Afro Celts) and Martin Russell. On a creative surge and tackling powerful historic and political themes, it received rave reviews in Europe and the USA (everywhere from The Times to Playboy!), shot to the top of the European World Music Charts and spent an unprecedented 8 weeks at No.1 (15 weeks in the top 5) on the CMJ World Music Chart in the USA. In Madagascar, released at a time of political upheaval, it received saturation airplay. They were nominated in the 1997 Kora All-African Music Awards and won the AFIM Indie Award for Contemporary World Music Album in the USA.
Hanitra kicked off 1998 working with Mali’s Oumou Sangare, South Africa’s Sibonghile Khumalo and Cameroon’s Sally Nyolo as part of the hit Women Of Africa tour (with Tarika’s Donné in the house band) that sold out all venues across the UK and Europe. Tarika then got to work on their third album D, a nice contrast to the intensity of Son Egal by being a bright, upbeat, sizzling celebration of Madagascar’s myriad dance styles. It provided them with a massive No.1 hit at home and another CMJ No.1 in the USA. Following a series of dazzling, sold out Madagascar shows in Spring ’99, it was business as usual touring Europe and the USA.
Tarika signed an international 4-album deal with Wicklow/BMG and completed recording their first Wicklow album, Soul Makassar. Unexpectedly, the Wicklow label was dismantled and the the album eventually came out under Triloka in the USA and Sakay in Europe.
Soul Makassar explores the ancestral links of the Malagasy with Indonesia. Although the Malagasy are usually thought of as African, their origins from perhaps 1500 years ago are Malayo/ Polynesian. In September 1999, Hanitra spent an inspirational month in Sulawesi, Indonesia, uncovering many traces of these long ago ancestors. The stories and ideas she gathered there provided the framework for the new album, which was recorded in London and Indonesia.
Tarika 10: Beats, Ghosts and Dancing With History, released in 2004, is a ten-year retrospective of one the most important bands in Afropop. The Enhanced CD features 15 tracks from the past decade including rare and previously unreleased remixes and tracks, a live Performance from the WOMAD festival and two video tracks from Soul Makassar.