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Gitara Gasy

"Then Randrianarivelo arrived. He brought another style of guitar. Then I arrived. One day, around 1951, Harry Hougassian, a Hawaiian guitar player and Mounitz (a Jewish player) played here in Madagascar. I was really taken by their whole way of playing. Harry played one of those guitars you put on your lap and slide it across and Mounitz accompanied him. [Hougassian was a celebrated Armenian player of the Hawaiian guitar, still alive and running a restaurant in Paris]. Every time a new guitarist arrived and brought a new style, others just took an inspiration from it and created another style again and so on and so forth. Hence we called that new person who brings a new style a 'pillar'. Now all my students are learning my technique but they are all going to create their own style later on."

Photo: Ian Anderson

What about the coastal guitar styles?

"Guitar started here in Tana. In the West of Madagascar, they copy the Rumba Congolese. In the South, they copy South African style, but they only use these styles as an inspiration. I told Ricky [major Malagasy star singer: check Froots #5] to do some research in his area about music because it is not good to come to Tana not understanding your musical background and at the same time come to a place where you do not understand its musical background! I always say to my students 'If you don't know where you are going, at least find out about where you came from...'"

A truly charming man.

In fact, the first interview I did specifically for this feature was with a player who really does know both where he comes from and where he's going, the formidable D'Gary. Relaxing in our kitchen in London on a spring morning a year back, he filled me in on his life story, trials and tribulations.

D'Gary - his real name is Ernest Randrianasolo - comes from Betroka in the central south, and is of the Bara tribe. His father was a gendarme working in Tuléar, and in their camp was a musical troupe for which his brother played bass guitar. The 13 year-old D'Gary would take the guitar after the troupe stopped playing. Later he learned tsapika, that combination of southern African influences with different rhythms from the Masikoro region and the Vezo tribe, that was already played on accordeon. At the time D'Gary only knew one accordeon player in Tuléar, Regis Gizavo (FR173). "I did not even see one marovany player or any other traditional instrumentalists", he now says.

This feature first appeared in fRoots 178, April 1998


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