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


Matthew Lavoie said...

Fantastic Post John!! This is what the internet is supposed to be for. Thank you so much for taking the time to wade through so much Malagasy music and to pull out the gems, as well as for the research and time you put into the text. Great stuff!!

roberth said...

thank u so much for the musc, all the work and research

roberto t. said...

Wonderful! Thank you!

SimonM said...

Re: Jef Gilson- there was a tribute album in 2018 by the Parisian jazz trio Palm Unit, you can listen on Bandcamp. I particularly like their version of The Creator Has A Masterplan with Del Rabenja on the Malagasy valiha.

Latest News updates said...

Thanks for sharing

Dripjamz.com said...

Very nice post, thanks for sharing music

John B. said...

David W.: Thanks! I've completed Malagasy Divas 3, probably the best one yet, and have the beginnings of a fourth volume. I just have to get around to doing the research. When I FINALLY get this blog going again!