Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sweet and Smooth Highlife

If you're in the market for sweet, smooth Ghana highlife music, Nana Tuffour always delivers!

James Kwaku ("Nana") Tuffour was born on Valentine's Day, 1954 in Kumasi and first came to notice in Alex Konadu's band, then moved on to stints with Waza Africo and King Sunny Adé's African Beats. He released his first solo album, Highlife Romance, in 1979.

Odo Ye Nteasee (KAM Records KAM 1004, 1988) is just the thing to chill out and relax to if you're stuck inside all day. Enjoy!

Download Odo Ye Ntease as a zipped file here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Malagasy Divas 2


Since posting Malagasy Divas back in January, I've been continuing my explorations of Malagasy music via YouTube, and have come to a realization: That collection was merely scratching the surface - there is a universe of talented chanteuses in the Big Island! And applying the criteria I used before - sticking with all-new artists, and only one track from each one, there is enough material for at least two more compilations. Hence this collection: Malagasy Divas 2. I hope to put together another volume in the future.

Here you'll find more variations on salegy from the northern part of Madagascar, more red-hot tsapiky from the South, and updates of traditional Central Highlands music. What's come as a revelation to me, though, something I was completely unaware of before setting out on this journey, is the world of Malagasy jazz.

I think it's fair to say that out of all the countries in Africa that, apart from South Africa, Madagascar is the one where jazz is the most popular and has the deepest roots. The Wikipedia article on the subject dates its introduction to the country at 1950, when a group of talented amateurs - "the Rabeson brothers, Georges Rahoerson, Rakotoarivony, Arnaud Razafy, Berson, Stormy, Ramboatina Étienne"- organized a concert at the Hotel Fumarolli. Ten years later they established the Tananarive Jazz Club, where aspiring musicians could get support and hone their craft. Over the years the genre has had its ups and downs in Madagascar. Numerous musicians have been forced to emigrate because of political turmoil and economic difficulty, but this has also had the effect of encouraging musical cross-pollination, as Malagasy jazz musicians played alongside their American and European counterparts. A memorable product of the early '70s is the album Malagasy (Lumen LD 33 908, 1972), a collaboration between French jazz pianist Jef Gilson and a group of players from Madagascar.

In the last thirty years Malagasy jazz has really developed and come into its own, supporting numerous festivals, most notable among them Madajazzcar. The pioneers - Jeannot and Lalao Rabeson, Serge Rahoerson, and Fanja Andriamanantena, among others - have made way for a new generation of singers, players and composers, in many cases their own children. Among these are Ella, Datita and Tony Rabeson, Silo Andrianandraina, Joel Rabesolo, Solo Andrianasolo, Olivier Andriamampianina ("Tôty") and many, many others. Jazz musicians in Madagascar have struck out in bold new directions, taking inspiration not just from players like Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius but masters of Malagasy music like Rakotozafy and Rakoto Frah and traditional sounds from all over the island.

Of course, pride of place in Malagasy music belongs to a number of wonderful female singers, either in or influenced by the jazz scene, who are a major part of this compilation - not just the aforementioned Lalao Rabeson and Fanja Andriamanantena but amazingly talented younger singers like Mbolatiana, Poopy, Lalatiana and Joëlle Claude, all featured here. I'm not embarrassed to say that such is the beauty, technical ability and emotional depth of their music that I'm sometimes brought to tears listening to it. They're not just pop stars but "divas" in the true sense of the word.

It's been commented that Malagasy music is not only like every other music in the world but totally unlike all of them. The island, of course, is unique in Africa, having been populated by waves of settlers from modern-day Indonesia beginning around two thousand years ago. These were supplemented by the slave trade from East Africa beginning around 1000 AD, contacts with Omani traders and others and the rise of various kingdoms and empires that spawned a variety of different cultures and traditions. Madagascar was conquered by France at the end of the 19th Century, bringing a different set of influences, and regained independence in 1960.

The music of the island reflects all of these influences. The lovely polyphonic vocals which are characteristic of much of Malagasy music, especially that of the central highlands, are also heard in Polynesia. The national instrument of Madagascar, the valiha, is from southeast Asia as are a number of other instruments. The handmade guitar, or kabosy, is probably derived from the Arabic oud, while the various rhythms of popular music around the periphery of the island come from East Africa. Over the last 70 years Malagasys have been exposed not only to jazz but to French chansons, rock & roll, R&B, South African mbaqanga, soukous from Congo, coupé décalé from West Africa, zouk from the Antilles, gospel and hip-hop. The music on this collection is testimony to the fact that these genres have not only been mastered and assimilated but thoroughly "malagasified."

All of the music on Malagasy Divas 2 was downloaded from YouTube. It was a real struggle to winnow all of this wonderful music down to an 80-minute format (you can make your own CD if you like), so I've posted videos of songs that didn't make the cut. Unlike my usual practice I'm not making the tracks available individually as they're meant to be listened to in sequence. Here's the playlist:

1. Aiza Ilay Malala - Lalao Rabeson
2. Telo Mianaka - Mbolatiana
3. Tiaka Raha Ianao - Fanja Andriamanantena
4. Ranomason'ankizy - Lalatiana
5. Miala Tsiny - Joëlle Claude
6. Topimaso - RyKala Vazo
7. Misy Antenaina - Poopy
8. Reggae Music - Adriann aka ADR
9. Tsy Vahaolana - Stéphanie
10. Mifankatiava - Onja
11. Kamarady - Vaiavy Chila
12. Za Baban'ny Zanako - Lianah
13. Zana Drafy - Khelene
14. Amboaro Tarehy - Mamehy w. Bodida
15. Capitaine - Star w. Tsiheje
16. Ankarabe - Warda Metis
Let's discuss the artists.

It's only fitting that Malagasy Divas 2 should open with "Aiza Ilay Malala," ("Where Are You, My Beloved?"), a lovely song that Lalao Rabeson first recorded in 1969 (this is a later rendition). Lalao (Minoalinoro) Rabeson was born in 1945 in the cosmopolitan city of Mahajanga (Majunga) in northwestern Madagascar. She established herself as an actress at the age of six in the theatrical play "Ny Firenko" ("My Homeland"), and recorded her first LP with the group Ny Railovy when she was 20. It was upon meeting and marrying Jean Bernard ("Jeannot") Rabeson, a pioneer of the Malagasy jazz scene,  that Lalao achieved her greatest fame. "Matokia," a Malagasy rendition of Miriam Makeba's "Ntjilo Ntjilo," was a massive hit for them in 1968. Jeannot passed away in 2017 and Lalao, who has lived in France since 1977, periodically returns to Madagascar to great acclaim. Lalao's and Jeannot's son Tony and daughter Ella are both acclaimed musicians in their own right.

The wonderful singer Mbolatiana has been on the scene since the early '90s and released her first single, "Mpilalao Fitia," in 1995. In 1997 she played a leading role in the musical "Kiolonolona."  She's lived in France for many years but periodically returns to Madagascar for concerts. Like many of her songs, "Telo Mianaka" ("Three Children"), featured here, was penned by Silo Andrianandraina, one of Madagascar's most esteemed composers and arrangers. Mbolatiana has also released an album of Malagasy children's songs, Madagascar: Rondes, Comptines et Berceuses. Not only does Mbolatiana have the voice of an angel, her arrangements are always top-notch. Here's another one of her songs:

Fanja (Fananjofy) Andriamanantena is the doyenne of Malagasy jazz and a mainstay of the Malagasy music scene since the mid-'60s, although she didn't pursue a serious career in music until late in life. Niece of the famed Malagasy poet Georges Andriamanantena ("Rado"), Fanja was born in Antananarivo and first made her mark in 1964 as the winner of a local contest for "Best Singer of the Blues." From 1964-66 she composed and recorded several compositions and fronted for several local and visiting jazz groups. After studying commerce in France she chose to devote her next 30 years to raising a family and pursuing a career in business while occasionally performing. Her first album, Ravin-Dohataona, was recorded in 2000, and since she has performed frequently and served as a mentor for the younger generation of Malagasy musicians. She has produced a number of albums and her many compositions are standards of Malagasy music. "Tiaka Raha Ianao" ("I Love You") is a slow-burning scorcher in the style of Aretha Franklin.

Lalatiana (Malalatiana Rajaofara) began her career in the early '80s as a member of the group Oro and in 1986 wrote her first song, "Ho An'iza ny Masoandro" ("The Sun Will Bring Warmth For Those Who Will Receive It"), a standard for her to this day. Other canonical hits followed - "Avelao," "Nofy" and many others. In the late '90s Lalatiana held the post of Director of Heritage in the Ministry of Culture under the regime of Didier Ratsiraka. When a contested election and civil conflict in 2002 led to his fall and exile, she too was forced to leave the country for Paris, but returned to great acclaim and a triumphant performance at the Palais des Sports in Antananarivo in December 2012. In "Ranomason'ankizy" ("Children's Tears") she is accompanied by her longtime guitarist Rija Randrianivosoa. From the Palais des Sports concert:

Joëlle Claude was a "revelation" at the Madajazzcar jazz festival of 1993. However, she only released her first album, I'll Sing For You, in 2016. A tour de force of some of the best musicians in Madagascar, it combines updated versions of beloved Malagasy songs with jazz standards. "Miala Tsiny" ("Im Sorry"), featured here, is a classic first recorded in the '70s by the legendary singer and composer Bessa (Rabe Samuël). Innumerable versions have been recorded over the years, but Joëlle Claude gives it her own unique spin. She is accompanied by the brilliant guitarist Joël Rabesolo, Nicolas Vatomanga on sodina (traditional flute) and Miora Rabarisoa on drums.

RyKala Vazo was founded in 2015 by three young singers - Mitchou Amy, Mirana and Vanintsoa - who had some experience in the entertainment industry but sought to create modern sounds using traditional Malagasy instruments - the valiha, a tubular zither that is the national instrument of Madagscar, the kabosy, or traditional guitar, and percussion. Their first hit was "O Rykala!" and a number of others have followed, one of them a Malagasy remake of Pitbull's "Options." The group suffered a big blow last year when group leader Mitchou Amy (Miarintsoa Andriambolatiana) passed away from an ischemic stroke at the age of 34. An actress, dancer and multi-instrumentalist, she leaves a huge void in the Malagasy music scene, but RyKala Vazo have pledged to continue her legacy. Malagasy Divas 2 features their song "Topimaso" ("A Small Glance"). Here's another one:

Josée Helihanta Ramahavalisoa ("Poopy"), who comes from a musical family, started her career in 1983 with the group Njila, which notched a number of hits before falling apart in 1990. The singer continued with a solo career, releasing her first album, Andao Handihy, in 1991. Her professional collaboration with the musician Naivo, who later became her husband, has led to a series of well-received albums - Fandresena, Malagasy Rainbow and Ny Tiako Rehena among others. Ms. Ramahavalisoa usually sings in a contemporary pop genre, but "Misy Antenaina" ("There is Hope"), featured here, is a lovely piece in the traditional Malagasy Highlands style.

I 've been unable to unearth any information about the singer Adriann aka ADR, but enjoy this tune by her, appropriately entitled "Reggae Music."

She was born in 1988 in Ambatondrazaka, north central Madagascar, of an Arab father and a Chinese mother, and spent much of her early life in Nosy Be off of the northwestern coast. Ramanampison Niriana Stéphanie Bachra came to notice in Pazzapa, a televised talent competition, in 2008, and was a member of the group Tsakarao before striking out on her own to great success. Some of her recent songs have addressed social issues like economic inequality. In 2017 she won the title "Best Malagasy Artist" by the Voix de l’Océan Indien in Saint-Denis, Réunion. My selection for Malagasy Divas 2, "Tsy Vahaolana" ("No Solution") is from 2014. Here's a video from Ms. Bachra's Tsakarao days:

From Ambovombe in far southern Madagascar, the traditional musical group Tinondia was founded in 1994 by brother and sister Tooler and Onja Nofisoa Pascal. It lasted until 2009, when Onja went her own way. During its existence Tinondia toured extensively throughout the world and leant its prestige to numerous campaigns, including for childhood health. Onja's numerous hits since and her skills as a dancer have brought her the nickname "La Petite Shakira Nationale." Recently she's expanded her aspirations to cinema, starring in the film Jalôko with fellow musician Jerry Marcoss. The song "Mifankatiava," featured here, has a definite "South African" feel, as do many of her songs, but Onja, and the group Tinondia before her, have also become well-known as ambassadors for the culture of the Antandroy people of southern Madagascar. Here's a video they made with the group Vilon'Androy featuring the traditional lokanga fiddle:

Eusèbe Jaojoby has been called the "King of Salegy," and Ninie Doniah, who will be included on the next edition of Malagasy Divas, its "Queen," but Chilaristin Soamazava, better known as  Vaiavy Chila, has been dubbed the "Princess of Salegy." From Borizny (Port Bergé) in northern Madagascar, she began her career as a backup singer for the musician Tianjama in 1996, releasing her first album, Mahangaoma, in 2004. Successful appearances in Paris and across Madagascar have followed, as well as numerous hits. Soamazava calls her particular style of music salegy mahangôma, and it incorporates all sorts of influences. "...When I was very young, I sang the antsa sakalava , the traditional song from the countryside of my home. I always use it in my shows. It's a bit of my rallying point, even if in the group, I have dancers from Tana, Fianar, musicians from Sambava, Maroantsetra… It's very mixed, like the salegy..." "Kamarady" ("Friends") seems to be about Facebook!

The singer Lianah was born in Mahajanga (Majunga) and hit the scene in 2005 with hits like "Tiavo Mama sy Papa," "Sifirity" and "Tano Tsara." Malagasy Divas 2 features her song "Za Baban'ny Zanako" ("Child of a Child"). Lianah is known as much for her sexy image and hot dance moves as her music. Here is her video "Ass":

Malagasy Divas 2 closes out with four artists I've been unable to find much about. Khelene ("Zana Drafy") and Warda Métis ("Ankarabe") are both up-and-coming stars of salegy, while Bodida of the group Mamehy ("Amboaro Tarehy") and Tsiheje of Star ("Capitaine") both front very popular tsapiky groups from Toliara in southern Madagascar.

So that's it for now. There is far more great music than I've been able to put on one 80-minute compilation. As well I've had to leave out some great singers like Nanie, Bodo and Ninie Doniah, so they'll be included on Malagasy Divas 3 when I get around to putting it together. But for now, enjoy!

Download Malagasy Divas 2 here.

Download Malagasy Divas here.

Row 1: Lalao Rabeson, Mbolatiana, Fanja Andriamanantena, Lalatiana
Row 2: Joëlle Claude, RyKala Vazo, Poopy, Adriann aka ADR
Row 3: Stéphanie, Onja, Vaiavy Chilla, Lianah
Row 4: Khelene, Bodida (Mamehy), Tsiheje (Star), Warda Métis

Monday, February 17, 2020

Farewell, "Evil Genius"

Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, known as the "Evil Genius" of Nigerian Highlife music, passed away Wednesday, February 12, at the age of 89. Thus ends an era in Nigerian music. Olaiya was probably the last paladin of the classic "Big Band" highlife style, certainly one of the few remaining practitioners of highlife of any kind in southwestern Nigeria. The genre continues as a guitar-based style in southeastern Nigeria, although there it is endangered as well.

The Daily Post of Lagos reports that President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria responded to the news with a statement of condolences:

A statement signed by Femi Adesina, the president’s spokesperson, said President Buhari “condoles with the family, friends and all lovers of vintage highlife music as played by Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya, who passed on at 89.” The President noted that the highlife maestro, known for his mastery of the trumpet, brought joy and delight to people across generations, with his songs which were both entertaining and didactic. 
According to President Buhari, “His place in history is guaranteed. He sang, not just for the entertainment value, but also taught critical lessons on life, good neighbourliness, and national cohesion. He will be sorely missed.” He urged the younger generations of musicians to learn a lesson from Olaiya, so that their songs can also remain evergreen, and outlive them, noting that the departed musician’s works transcended Nigeria, the West Coast, and, indeed, the African continent, the President prayed God to rest Olaiya’s soul, and comfort all those who mourn him.
Commiserations have poured in from across the Nigerian entertainment world. Ebenezer Obey said, “Nigeria has lost one of the African fathers of highlife music. He has contributed his quota to the development of the entertainment industry and I pray his soul rests in peace and God comforts his family. Olaiya was a very serious-minded person who projected the highlife music throughout the entire world. He is indeed a man to emulate. He later diverted to do business and he was a successful businessman also,.”

Olaiya was born on New Years Eve, 1930 in Calabar, present-day Cross River State, where his parents, Yorubas from southwestern Nigeria, had settled. Moving to Lagos after finishing secondary school he found his musical calling as a trumpeter with various local bands. In 1952 he left Bobby Benson's famous highlife orchestra to establish his own Cool Cats Band, achieving such popularity that he was chosen to play at Nigeria's Independence celebrations in 1960. Olaiya's band, rechristened the All Stars, was the launching pad for Fela Ransome-Kuti, Victor Uwaifo and numerous other musicians over the years. Olaiya and the Cool Cats were also called up to perform for the Nigerian Army during the Congo Crisis of the Early '60s and the Biafran war of 1967-70.

As highlife music receded in western Nigeria during the '70s Olaiya persisted, notching numerous hit records like "Trumpet Highlife" and "Omele 'Dele," serving as president of the Musicians Union of Nigeria, building a thriving business importing musical instruments, and establishing the Stadium Hotel in Surulere, Lagos, home of his Papingo Davalaya nightclub.

Papingo Davalaya (Polydor POLP 156, 1986) may be the last album Victor Olaiya ever recorded. It is a worthy coda to a life well-lived. Enjoy!

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Tina Ma Te

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Papingo Davalaya

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Africa

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Oruku Tindi Tindi

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Gbemi Sola

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Aiye Ye Dun

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Akwa Mberi Nugo

Download Papingo Davalaya as a zipped file here.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Malagasy Divas


Many years ago, Matthew Temple's Matsuli Music blog posted a series of fifty compilations, African Serenades. Back in 2007, I assembled a two-part installment for African Serenades, Vol. 47 Pts. 1 & 2: African Divas. Later I posted them here on Likembe as African Divas Vol. 1 and African Divas Vol. 2, which you can still download (follow the links)! Our good friend Ken Abrams later weighed in with two more volumes in the series. You can get African Divas Vol. 4 here.

For a long time I've been wanting to do another installment in the African Divas series. My idea for these collections is to get only the best music by female singers, eighty minutes or a CD's worth in each one, with the caveat that each installment would feature only artists that hadn't appeared in earlier volumes. By those criteria I easily have enough great music for at least two more sets.

However, I got sidetracked a while back. Lately the African music blogosphere has brought forth some excellent music from Madagascar - for instance, on the blogs Wallahi le Zein and Lola Vandaag. In search of more of these sounds, I took to YouTube, and discovered something I should have known already: If you're interested in what people in Africa are listening to right now, YouTube is where it's at, in all its crass, commercial, raw, AutoTuned glory. There's an incredible variety of sounds that don't make it to mainstream European and North American African music releases, which often contain music that's twee, deracinated or 20 to 30 years old.

Anyway, back to the subject of this post. I discovered something else: If you're in the market for talented female singers, Madagascar is the motherlode! There is an amazing diversity there, enough for a whole volume of African Divas, and probably more.

So I present to you this collection. My aim with Malagasy Divas was to gather only the best of Malagasy chanteuses, with as much variety as possible. The first half features the folkish sounds of Njava and Hanitra Ranaivo, the jazzy Faniah and Minah Bolimakoa, the "bubblegum music" of Wendy Cathalina, techno-pop hits by Tence Mena, Aïna Quach, and Black Nadia, even a reggae tune by Dah' Mama! Part Two covers two geographical extremes - pumped-up salegy from northwestern Madagascar by Perle Noire and Sisca, and raw, electrified tsapiky by Rasoa Kininike, Mizeha, Mirasoa and Mahafaly Mihisa from the southwest corner of the country.

With the exception of two tracks, all of the tunes here were downloaded from YouTube, so the sound quality is not always up to snuff, i.e. there's a fair amount of  digital clipping. I tried to correct for this with audio software, but the results were not satisfactory, so I left the files the way they were. It's not too distracting. From all the wonderful material that was available, it was very difficult trying to winnow it down to 80 minutes, so I've thrown in some videos that aren't included on Malagasy Divas. Here's the tracklist:

1. Paoary - Njava
2. Ny Foko No Ni Mbaiko - Faniah
3. Raopilany - Hanitra Ranaivo
4. Tsara Ny Tany – Minah Bolimakoa
5. Je T'emmènerai - Aïna Quach
6. Miangotro – Wendy Cathalina
7. Papa Money - Black Nadia w. H'Mia
8. Tompinbady – Tence Mena
9. Nahazo Ny Tiako - Dah' Mama
10. Salama Salimina – Perle Noire
11. Manambaly Mampirafy – Rasoa Kininike
12. Vorom-Be - Mizeha
13. Mahapotake - Mirasoa
14. Berene - Mahafaly Mihisa
15. Tara Baly - Sisca
Let's discuss the artists.

Njava was founded in Europe by a group of five brothers and sisters from Morondava in western Madagascar. They achieved international fame in the '90s with the groups Deep Forest and African Diva, and released two CDs. Two members of the group, Monika and Lala Njava, have gone on to solo careers. Monika sings lead on "Paoary," from Njava's 1999 album Vetse.

The eclectic sound of Faniah (full name Faniah Ramalanjaona) draws on jazz, R&B and Malagasy traditions. She came to notice in the reality show Pazzapa in Madagascar in 2004 and assiduously built a career until releasing her first album, Lavitra Ahy... in 2017, from which "Ny Foko No Mibaiko," ("My Heart Decides") is taken.

Hanitra Ranaivo was born in 1962 in Fianarantsoa, south central Madagascar. She established herself in the early '80s as a member of the folk-pop group Lolo Sy Ny Tariny. The band relocated to France later in the decade and subsequently dissolved, its members, among them Erick Manana, forging successful solo careers. Hanitra self-released her first solo album, Omeko Anao, containing "Raopilany," featured here.

Called "The Black Panther of Malagasy Funk," Minah Bolimakoa, from the northeast corner of the Red Island, has established herself as a model as well as a chanteuse. "Tsara Ny Tany" ("The Earth is Good") from last year, is only the most recent of her numerous hits. Here's a video of another one:

The background of Aïna Quach is diverse, as is her music. Born in Europe, her father is Chinese/Vietnamese and her mother is from Madagascar. She got her start as an artist at the age of 9 with a performance at the Embassy of Madgascar in Paris and has recorded and performed across Europe and the US. The song we hear, "Je T'emmènerai" ("I Will Take You") was recorded in 2016. She sings mainly in French but recorded a lovely album of traditional Malagasy songs in 2008, Ry Iarivo Tsy Foiko, with veteran guitarist Erick Manana.

Wendy Cathalina Rakotomalala just turned 18, but she's already made quite a mark on the Malagasy music scene. From Antsohihy in northwestern Madagascar, she's released an album, Voly, and a number of hit singles, among them her latest, "Miangotro" ("Please Be Careful"), presented here.

Kantoniana Ornella Edith Nadia, aka Black Nadia, has a reputation for packing in the crowds wherever she goes and has a number of international tours under her belt, including in China. She's from South Amboasary in far southeast Madagascar but has lived in Toliara in the southwest as well. Last year her hit with Nael, "Tsy Vazaha Fa Teany," was accused of plagiarizing the hit song "Yélélé" by Ivorian singer Elody and the controversy has only boosted views for both videos online! Yet the hits keep coming, not only 2019's "Papa Money," recorded with H'Mia and featured on Malagasy Divas, but this one, also from last year:

It's debatable who is the bigger star in Madagascar in 2020, Black Nadia or Tence Mena (née Hortencia Moroanjana). From Antsirana (formerly Diego Suarez) in far northern Madagascar, she started out as a dancer in groups like Ejema, Tirike, Wawa and Fandrama before hitting the scene on her own in 2010. Afropop Worldwide writes, "...Her roots lie in salegy dance music, generally associated with northern Madagascar, but like so many 'tropical' music artists today, Tence Mena has incorporated musical influences from a number of popular African dance music styles - ndombolo from Congo, coupé decalé from Ivory Coast, and others..." "Topimbady"("Spouse") is featured on Malagasy Divas. As one online profile put it, "...The story of Tence Mena is that of thousands of Malagasy women who (in the bush, but not only) spend their days at home, in the pain of waiting for a fickle husband...."

Dah' Mama (real name Elda Narijaona) was born in 1975 in the Sofia region of northern Madagascar, and got started in music at the age of 13. Her music is a fusion of antosy, a traditional style of the region, with afrobeat, but "Nahazo Ny Tiako" ("My Favorite") which we hear now, is reggae. Midi Madagasikara writes, "She is one of the most popular female stars of Malagasy tropical music and she proves every year during this period that she has a Golden Heart. Yesterday morning, Dah Mama came to Ambohimiandra hospital to comfort sick children and offered them gifts and treats to allow them to spend a Christmas of joy and happiness. She was, yesterday morning, at the bedside of 18 of them, forced to spend the end of the year there because they are undergoing treatment. They warmly thanked the artist who was very touched by their smiles and their thanks."

What to make of the wonderful vocalist Perle Noire? I haven't been able to find out much about her, other than that she's from the island of Nosy Be in northwestern Madagascar and quite popular. Her island origins may explain her musical style, especially the song we feature here, "Salama Salamina," which seems to owe a lot to the chakacha sounds of the Swahili coast of mainland Africa and the Comoros. We know that many people from the Comoros have settled in Madagascar and vice versa, and that Malagasy musicians often perform in that island country. To add to the mystery, we have this video, which is apparently in Malagasy and Swahili, or the Comorian variety of it. Can someone solve this for us?

Travelling now to the southwestern port city of Toliara (Tulear), we encounter the fiery local genre called tsapiky toliara. Born of the convergence of local styles, southern African music broadcast across the Mozambique channel, the ubiquitous soukous from Congo and any number of other foreign influences, it is the sound of the relatively poor southwestern region, isolated by many miles of bad roads from the capital Antananarivo. There are a number of tsapiky subgenres, including all-acoustic versions, but your modern electric tsapiky band usually features a guitar wizard, often accompanied by a sassy female vocalist. Here we listen to four of them.

Claudine Rasoakamisy, better known as Rasoa Kininike, "The Queen of Tsapiky," sadly passed away in a car accident on September 22, 2014 on her way to a show. Rasoa was from Tongobory in southwestern Madagascar, stopped her schooling at an early age and began making music when she was twelve years old. She then joined the group Los Belia and scored her first solo hit, "Fohaza Izay Miroro," in 1996. She caught the notice of the guitarist Pascal, who became her husband and musical partner. Malagasy Divas features her song "Manambaly Mampirafy" ("Happy Marriage"). Her son Lico is carrying on Rasoa's musical legacy.

A few years back Awesome Tapes From Africa shared with us a wonderful cassette by the group Mizeha, graced by vocalist Tsatsiky. Today we feature a tune by them called "Vorom-Be." Banning Eyre of Afropop Worldwide writes, "...On our recent visit to Tulear, Madagascar, the Afropop team met Lamily, the lead guitarist, and Tsatsiky, the lead singer, of the tsapiky band Mizeha. Since the mid-90s, this has been one of the most in-demand tsapiky acts for ceremonies – usually funerals, but also huge parties that last for days with non-stop tsapiky music. Mizeha means something like “young people gathering in a high place,” and the spot where Lamily and Tsatsiky, who are married, live seems to qualify. It’s perched on a high sand dune overlooking the town of Tulear and St Augustine Bay – very sweet. Their lives are tough as there are less ceremonies these days, mostly on account of deteriorating security in the countryside, but they seemed quite determined to press on with their music-making..."

I've been unable to find out anything about Mirasoa, who is ubiquitous in tsapiky videos, not only on her own but in collaboration with groups like Star, Los Belia and Les Metis. "Mahapotake"is her contribution to Malagasy Divas. Pretty sweet, no?

Mahafaly Mihisa has been called the "flagship" of the tsapiky toliara style, and here we present their killer track "Berene." The group was founded by Marcel Voriandro in Betioky, southwest Madagascar, in 2013. Midi Madigasikara writes, "... it is difficult to evoke this group without speaking of the voice of singer Nina. A comet, recalling the warmth of the south, enveloping with a liberating natural power. In octaves and accuracy, nothing to complain about, probably one of the best voices of the tsapiky at present. Between rhythms and guitar solos, sometimes organic, sometimes stealthy, her proud voice flows...."

By the way, if you're interested in more tsapiky toliara, I highly recommend the collection Tulear Never Sleeps (Sterns/Earthworks STEW 49CD, 2003), which you can purchase here. There is another fine compilation, Tsapiky: Panorama d'Une Jeune Musique de Tuléar (Arion ARN64661, 2004), which is unfortunately out of print (but you can get it here). Some years ago, the Aduna blog posted a wonderful collection, Tulear Market Mix 2008, which you can get here. Finally, our friend Matthew Lavoie recently posted Roots Tsapiky on his blog Wallahi le Zein. Get it here.

Finally we journey back north and close out this collection with "Tara Baly," in the mogodro style, a pumped-up, red-hot version of salegy from Sisca (real name Francisca Razafy), a native of Sofia region in northwest Madagascar. Ms. Razafy honed her style on the island of Mayotte, the French dependency off the coast of Madagascar. A multi-instrumentalist, she is quite popular throughout Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands as well as Madagascar. Here's another killer mogodro track:

So here I present Malagasy Divas for download. In a departure from my usual practice I'm not making the tracks available for individual streaming/download as they're meant to be listened to in sequence. I've supplied an inlay card if you want to make your own CD. I'm pretty proud of this compilation and I hope you like it also!

Download Malagasy Divas here.

Row 1: Monika Njava, Faniah, Hanitra Ranaivo
Row 2: Minah Bolimakoa, Aïna Quach, Wendy Cathalina
Row 3: Black Nadia, Tence Mena, Dah Mama
Row 4: Perle Noire, Rasoa Kininike, Tsatsiky (Mizeha)
Row 5: Mirasoa, Nina (Mahafaly Mihisa), Sisca