This music is like heaven. It comes from the island of Madagascar and sounds like it was developed on a different planet than ours – one with gentle breezes, warm oceans, and good feeling. What a minute! That is our planet. Parts of it, anyway. For the geographically challenged, Madagascar is a huge island off of the east coast of Africa. It’s where lemurs live.
It’s also where language is a fluid, endless expression represented in words composed of strings of letters that arouse wonder and intimidate the tongues of non-Malagasy speaking people. For example, the name of their seventeenth-century king is King Andrianampoinimerina. Or, if you want to say, Have a nice day, it’s mirary anao tontolo andro mahafinaritra! You might think this would get in the way of saying I love you or the beer is like the sound of your voice or my new car wants to take you to the ocean, but it doesn’t. The words and the music blend in a way that carries the listener off whatever island he or she happens to be on and delivers them to an entirely new and miraculous world.
Dihy In my stubbornness or willful and blissful ignorance or what I like to think of as pure listening, I don’t translate or read the translations. I’m afraid this knowledge will affect the pleasure I get from the sounds and will keep me from a mysterious experience that is as personal as mistaking weeds for flowers. I know this is a limiting attitude, but, so far, my brain can only assimilate so much.
In Malagasy music, the influences have accumulated through the centuries of indigenous development and learning from visitors like the Indonesians, French, African, Arabs, and English. The instruments are varied. The Valiha, a bamboo tube zither central to traditional music, is considered the national instrument. The Kabosy – a 4 or 6 string guitar, the Sidona – an end-blown flute, accordions, drums, and various percussion instruments round out the basics. There are a wide variety of electric combinations present in the modern music of the island, reflecting the influence of a world connected by radio, travel, and internet.
As mentioned, the language is as melodic as the instruments. To avoid being drawn into the entire magical world of Malagasy history, cultural development, language, flora, fauna, food, ecology, and politics, I just want to restate that their music is like heaven. I’m listening, now.