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close this bookThe Courier N 156 - March - April 1996 - Dossier: Trade in Services - Country Report : Madagascar (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry report
close this folderMadagascar: A history of the unknown
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe red moon
View the documentProfile
View the documentPresident Albert Zafy's priorities
View the documentGuy Razanamasy, Mayor of Antananarivo
View the documentAn economy on the rocks
View the documentExaltation of the senses in Madagascar
View the documentEven the Malagasies have the blues
View the documentCulture and tradition in Madagascar

Even the Malagasies have the blues

A frank discussion with up and coming singer, Bodo

You have to learn how to pronounce her name: 'Bou'd' for Francophones and 'Bood' for English speakers. She enbodies the new dynamism in young Ma/agasy music, grafting swing from other islands in the Indian Ocean and the rhythm of nearby Africa onto local nostalgia. With her ta/ents and apparently mild but firm disposition - she does not mince words - there is every chance that Bodo will be one of the first batch of Malagasy singers to invade the music market in the North Let's listen to what she has to say.

The music I play is called Hira Gasy (pronounced 'Ira Gash,) and it is genuine popular music which mixes all the influences found in Tana (Antananarivo), from the North and the South. We don't make a scholarly distinction. Hira Gasy blends together all Malagasy styles, including courtly music. During the last five years there has been an explosion in terms of young music. In the 1970s, people on the coast came up here with their tunes. There were also various musical styles in the capital that had originated here and elsewhere. Before that, there were the 'Kitanate'. At their gatherings, groups would play together, each one retaining its regional style, as if they were competing with one another. Today, young people have really begun to play together.

Some claim that rock is a corrupting influence in our music, but the Malagasy art will keep its individual character. Loss of identity does not necessarily spring from colonisation. On the contrary, colonisation can be used to make oneself heard and understood in other places. I use French so that people can understand what Malagasy means. If I want to pass a Malagasy message, I do so in French, or in another international language. Rock is the same; it's a universal language. Everyone has the blues in them, even the Malagasies.

It's incorrect to say that music from the high plateaux has no rhythm, because all music has rhythm. Reniry is languorous, a kind of lament that suits the blues. Salogy is a different style of music which has more movement. And Hira Gasy, which is a blend of influences from the high plateaux and the coast, is a style which is becoming more popular, a happy medium between romanticism and rhythm.

I am not sure whether the authorities have understood our young music which can seem puzzling to them. The composition of the current government is significant in that they have omitted to appoint a Minister of Culture. Perhaps they think that culture is a waste of time and that anyone can do the job.

You know that in 1993, two of us were selected to perform at a big festival in France (Jeux de la Francophonie) The event was postponed for a year and, in the intervening period, the government here changed. Our participation was thrown into doubt. The pretext given was that our style was that of someone like Whitney Houston and therefore did not represent the country. In the end, we went, accompanied by two 'babysitters' from the ministry. They spent all their time sitting around while we worked, with no one doing our promotion for us. We rehearsed, did our own publicity and made contacts without their help. They had no idea about music. I hope I am not sounding too harsh about them. They were very nice but they weren't really able to help us. I saw myself as representing my country, which was a big challenge, and we ended up winning the silver medal against tough competition. But they did not even come to congratulate us. Why? Because culture in this country is so underestimated that people working in a Ministry of Culture are unaware of the importance of their task.

The same attitude can also be seen in certain sectors of the press. The day I left for France, there was only negative criticism of the fact that I was going to sing in French. They seem to have forgotten that I was going to take part in a competition for French songs. The important thing for me was to present the Malagasy spirit and the Malagasy rhythm. They could have made constructive or sincere criticisms. I would have understood it, for example, if they had given their opinion on the rhythm and the words or suggested that I should give up my melancholy style.

I find it difficult to understand music critics in the media. An artist puts on a show to an empty auditorium and they will report that it was wonderful. Another one attracts a full house and there is always a newspaper ready to decry them. This is what happened recently to a very good artiste called Irosy.

Malagasy music is on the move but what we need here is a big shake-up, particularly in the ministries. Let them come to the aid of our Malagasy heritage! Fortunately, dynamism is sweeping through the Indian Ocean. The islands are beginning to wake up and, with a bit of luck, my CD will be coming out next year in Rion. They not only have good equipment but the producers want to manage Malagasy artists so that they can launch them in Europe. And, of course, with your article, who knows? Interview by HG