Traditional Roots of Malagasy Music
By Robert Campbell
The music of Madagascar has been highly influenced from many countries including Southeast Asia, Arabia, England, France, and Africa. Traditional Malagasy music is known to be very melodic and traditional, creating different styles than nearby Africa Each region of Madagascar contains different instrumental and musical styles (Dawe 55). Major keys and diatonic scales are usually traditionally used but again changes among the regions. In addition, the locals of Madagascar consider music to be very spiritual and social events (Madagascar).
Traditional Vocal Traditions
In Malagasy music, the vocals tend to be polyvalence, meaning more than one harmonic function. In the Highlands region, there is a huge influence of the European Church (Madagascar). Around the 19th century, many locals would gather together in large groups called an antsa to sing their music. However, in the South and Western parts of Madagascar, they tended to keep a much lower number of people singing in their performances. In addition, the Highlands have vocal styles depicting the Merina people of Madagascar (Manuel 47).
One of the most representative and traditional instruments in Madagascar is the valiha. The valiha, now considered the national instrument in Malagasy music, was one of the earliest instruments brought to Madagascar from early Indonesian settlers. This chordophone is usually made from bamboo and was traditionally played at rituals. Another common chordophone used in Madagascar is called the kabosy. This instrument is very similar to the modern guitar and it is extremely common in the Highlands region of the island (Holm 264-267).
This is a man demonstrating how to play a valiha
The sodina, one of the oldest aerophones on the island, is common in traditional Malagasy Music. Around twelve inches long, the sodina is similar to a flute containing six finger holes (Holm 268). In the history of Malagasy music, Rakoto Frah was considered the “master of sodina performance.” Growing up in the Central Highlands region of Madagascar, he began playing the instrument at the age of seven. Being very talented at a young age, he established his name by performing at famadihana, or traditional funeral ceremonies. As a result, he has created more than seven hundred different pieces for famadihana ceremonies. Growing popularity and fame, he began touring the world on his art (Culture Base).
The Master of the Sodina performance, Rakoto Frah, performing with his band. At the 20 second point, he enters onstage.
The Malagasy band Mahaleo
Because there are only a few groups that still play strictly traditional Malagasy music, there is one band that has portrays traditional music with some western influences called Mahaleo. The group, Mahaleo, was founded around the 1970s. The seven-member band grew up in the Highlands region of Madagascar; therefore, their style is mostly Polynesian and African influenced (Manuel 48). As a early band, their lyrics and musical styles were influenced by the European Church. As they gain popularity, their themes included everyday matters such as love and friendships. They use many different styles of guitars, including the valiha in their music. Because of their western influence, they commonly use pianos and electric synthesizers in their music. Mahaleo is a world known band that is still actively in performing that still has some traditional roots of Malagasy music (Holm 269).
The Band Mahaleo performing their song Faribolana live in concert.