Monday, October 23, 2000

I’m spending my last days in Madagascar relaxing and doing virtually nothing. As I’m walking around TulĂ©ar or sitting in my hotel room reading, I’m starting to realize a few things I have gotten so used to in the past four weeks that I didn’t think of writing them down. These are some of my thoughts.

First of all, there is the music. Music seems to be everywhere. No matter where you go, you will hear a radio play or people sing. Most songs are Malagasy songs. However, there is currently a trend in African and Carribean rhythms and at times, you will hear some plain European techno, North American R’n’B or those singers that just made it everywhere (e.g. Celine Dion or the Backstreet Boys). A lot of times, people will sing along with the Malagasy songs, in the streets, in the club, or in the stores. Sometimes, a group of children or soldiers walk by singing or you hear the people on a bus singing loud and with joy. Most amazing, however, is that never have I heard a Malagasy sing out of tune or out of time (and I can tell, being a musician myself). The feeling for music just seems to be hardwired into the Malagasy brain. Even when two year old children dance in the street, their feet move perfectly in time with the rhythm. The reason for this, I believe, is not some genetic implant but rather the ubiquity of music. Whenever I think back about the times there was a Malagasy gathering (family or friends), there was always music.

When I left Germany to study in Canada, I noticed that in Germany, there was a tendency for “heavy” music, heavy meaning dark, somewhat depressing, and hard-to-digest yet interesting sound, with bands such as Massive Attack, Portishead, and various forms of hip hop and drum’n’bass. In Canada, especially with the then popular swing and Latin rhythms, there was little interest in such music. In Madagascar, however, the music is as light as it can get. Malagasy songs have their own unique rhythm, and as I was trying to get to the source of its magic ability to make people want to dance, I found that it is the fact that it is exactly the rhythm of our heartbeat when we dance: those two beats of our heart expanding and contracting, repeatedly pumping the blood in our veins. When you dance or do some hard work, take a moment and feel your pulse!

Here’s a sample of Malagasy music:

etiako.mp3 (166 KB)
Band name: Jaojoby
Song title: E Tiako!
Style: Salegy