Malagasy Guitar

By: Chris Johnson


Although guitar is not a native instrument of Madagascar, it is prevalent throughout Malagasy culture. Since it arrived in Madagascar alongside the viola and mandolin, the guitar has become a staple part of Malagasy music culture. Over time there have been many Malagasy guitarists and new playing styles that have evolved from the blending of Malagasy culture and the use of the instrument.


Renowned Malagasy guitarist Bouboul began his musical career at the age of 8 as a violinist. After learning several other instruments, he began working for a local music shop which enabled him to utilize his talents to a whole new field of instruments , one of these was guitar. He stated that he used to watch the Vazaha, or western white people, play the guitar. He always heard the guitar used as an accompaniment for the mandolin and wanted to make the guitar more central in his music, “We wanted it to sing a song not only to accompany ”. His unique style gained him a job writing and composing for a circus . This later led him to his career as a music teacher.
Bouboul points out the differences in Malagasy style. The strings are tuned down to compete with the piano, which at the time of the guitar’s introduction to Madagascar was very popular. They also employed the use of capos, a device which changes the guitar’s key, to mimic the high pitches of the piano.
Bouboul’s guitar playing sounds very much like American jazz or Classical pieces . It is melodic and employs the use of finger picking which gives it a very organic feel. He definitely achieves his goal of making the guitar “sing a song”.


D’Gary, or Ernest Randrianasolo, represents another style of Malagasy guitar playing which is more closely related with the native instruments of Madagascar. He always loved the sound of the Marovany, a native string instrument of Madagascar. D’Gary wanted to emulate the sounds of this instrument with the guitar. He said he often spent entire days trying to find new guitar tunings to achieve this effect.
D’Gary also states that his playing style can be attributed a lot to his environment which was often riddled with poverty and injustice. He says the rhythm of his music comes from,” …the footsteps of the malaso [cow robbers] who run away”.
D’Gary has a much quicker playing style than that of Bouboul. His guitar playing sounds very much like that of a Marovany in that it has a similar melodic structure and it uses many sweeping arpeggios , like those used commonly in Marovany playing.


Although it is not an instrument which originated from Madagascar, the Malagasy culture and music scene has brought forth a truly unique style of guitar playing and composing. Bouboul’s music has a simplistic yet deep sound creating an ambiance to soothe and entertain the listener, is one of the fore fathers of Malagasy guitar. D’Gary’s fast picking and melodic compositions, lead our ears to the sounds of traditional Malagasy music, such as that played on the Marovany. These players, and the many other players similar to them, are what make up the inimitable style of Malagasy guitar and give us a cultural twist on a contemporary instrument.


Works Cited
Malagasy Guitar. (1998). Retrieved April 2011, from Roots World:
National Geographic. (n.d.). Malagasy Pop Music. Retrieved April 2011, from National Geographic:
Rough Guides. (1999). World Music: The Rough Guide. London: Penguin.

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