14 April 2008

Monday's mp3: Malagasy Magic

Paul-Bert Rahasimanana may not be a household name, even among global music fans. But he looms large in my own relationship with "world music." More commonly known as Rossy, the Malagasy artist recorded a delicious album ripe with the unusual -- even exotic -- sounds of Madagascar that was released by Real World Records in 1991.

Island of Ghosts is actually a soundtrack, I'm told, to a film of the same name. (I haven't seen it - if anyone can get me the film, you earn big SoundRoots karma points). But while it has something of a soundtrack's atmosphere, the music holds up solidly as a stand-alone musical album as well, though some of the tracks are much shorter than ordinary songs. Even the brief audio glimpses of mysterious instruments like the valiha, aponga, and kabosy are mesmerizing. Sure, the upbeat tunes also contain a fair amount of synth, but hey -- this was barely out of the 1980s, and Rossy was listening to pop as well as to his roots.

Rossy started out as a country accordion player, forming his first band in 1981. He quickly learned new instruments (valiha, guitar, flute) and musical styles (salegy, pop, rock, reggae) when he moved to the island nation's capitol, Antananarivo, and his group became one of the most popular in Madagascar. Despite this, only two or three recordings are available, sadly. And I have no idea if Rossy is still musically active (anyone?).

Many seem to consider the 1992 album One Eye on the Future, One Eye On the Past Rossy's key recording, but my early exposure to the entrancing melodies and instruments on Ghosts has kept the earlier album uppermost in my musical mind. This song, the liner notes say, "is an appeal to the Malagasy people to think of their island as an inheritance which must be preserved for later generations."

[mp3] Rossy: Madagasikara (Madagascar)
from the album Island of Ghosts

For more Malagasy sounds, check out Tarika and Vakoka.
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