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Written in Folk Roots issue 66, 1988


RAKOTOZAFY
Valiha Malaza - Famous Valiha
Globestyle ORBD 028 (1988)

RAKOTOFRA (PHILIBERT RABEZAZA) & GROUP
Flute Master Of Madagascar

Globestyle ORBD 027 (1988)

Jo Shinner's article in F.R. 64 covered some of the background to the musicians on these two albums, numbers three and four in Globestyle's Madagasikara series.

      Rakotozafy, who died at the end of the '60s, played valiha vato, an arched, garden-cloche shaped sheet metal version of the box-like 'suitcase zither' marovany which has developed alongside the long-established cylindrical bamboo form of Madagascar's tube zither, the valiha. He made a series of recordings for the Malagasy label DiscoMad around 1960 which made him famous on the island. This album is a compilation of fourteen of them, showing a skipping, rippling style of music which evokes comparisons with the Paraguayan harp, kora, mbira and scampering African guitars. The melodic and chordal structures wouldn't sound out of place in Latin America, and his playing has a lot to inspire guitarists.
      Vocals are interjected by Rakotozafy himself, his wife, and his ill-fated son Marc, whose agile rattle-playing adds a driving rhythmic energy to most tracks and whose singing is particularly appealing. Ny Fitiovana Rcha Voo Miaraka (Love Is Like Two Rivers That Flow Into One) is probably the most dazzling track with at least two melodic parts intertwining; if investigating, try starting here.

      Rakotofra plays the sodina, a metal flute end-blown like the Balkan kaval. He came to Britain last year with other Malagasy musicians; these recordings were made by Ben Mandelson and Roger Armstrong, visiting Madagascar with help from the national airline. His music, connected with the hira gasy theatrical shows and famadihana ancestor-homage ceremonies, has, like Rakotozafy's, a Latin feel, which is intensified by the pan-pipe-like sound and the use of the kabosy, a small strummed guitar sounding something like a charango. Even the drums, European military rather than African in form, contribute to the Iberian accent, though in fact they are a relic of Madagascar's period as a French colony.
      Recordings like these are 'of' the musician, rather than 'by'; the music is for the moment, whereas the record is for the living room or whatever. As such, the Rakotozafy recordings are probably the more likely to be played, but Rakotofra's music is full of energy and ideas, and both are parts of a living tradition until now little known in the West.

 

1988 Andrew Cronshaw
 


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