The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar separated from mainland Africa some 130-million years ago. Since then, its geography, biology, culture and history have evolved along unique lines. The island's famed lemurs and other fauna and flora found nowhere else in the world, are explained by its physical isolation. But the unusual cultural mix that underlies Madagascar's sensational palette of musical styles reflects the brave souls who came to live in this vast, wild, beautiful land. Indonesians, Africans, Arabs, Persians and ultimately Europeans and Asians have all left their marks.
Madagascar's cultural diversity makes for fascinating music, dance and other art forms but also for complicated politics. Prior to the colonial period, the ethnic Merina had established an expansionist regime based in the island's central highlands. The Merina succeeded in rebuffing English colonial exploits, but in 1895 the French fought their way to power and created a colony that would last until Malagasy independence in 1960. Government since then has been unstable, marked by riots, coups, rigged elections, one impeachment and, for the people, an ever-worsening economic situation.
Still, there is reason for hope. One need look no further than the country's musicians to perceive the wealth of resourcefulness and creativity inherent in the Malagasy people. International audiences have mostly heard the roots pop and traditional folk music acts featured on this site. However, present day groups adapt hard rock, Zairean soukous, bubblegum pop and a variety of other foreign sounds, flooding local airwaves.
Schooled in the Paris soukous scene after his years playing with Zairean guitarist Diblo Dibala, guitarist/singer Freddy de Majunga has pioneered salegy-rumba. Salegy stalwarts like Jaojoby Eusebe and Jean-Fredy remain popular, despite the rise of a promising crop of younger salegy stars, including singer Mily Clément and groups Zaza Club and Ejema. Charting a new course, singer Feon'ala mixes pop elements in search of a new fusion sensation.
Meanwhile, another powerful vocalist Randimbiarison (known as Ricky) has inspired a phenomenon dubbed "Rickymania" in the local press. Ricky's crack band includes bassist Toty, whose playing evokes the deep, droning resonance of the traditional marovany box zither. Ricky's update of the old vako-drazana folk tradition, which he calls vakojazzana, has inspired one seasoned observer of the Madagascar scene to select him as the likely Malagasy superstar of the '90s.
Also, Justin Vali Trio, based in Paris, forges an international roots sound that took them all the way to Woodstock '94, and guitarist Solo Razafindrakoto has gained a worldwide reputation in the 1990s playing in Miriam Makeba's band. Banning Eyre, Courtesy Afropop Worldwide: www.afropop.org