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