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Gitara Gasy

"In 1978, my father retired so we went back to Betroka, to my father's land. One month later, he died and there was the big traditional ceremony for the Bara funeral, called avoria. It is about calling everybody from far away to cry and sing. It is very musical. One woman would sing but it is also crying at the same time. It is called tany faty [crying for the dead]. That was the first time I experienced the traditional life of my ancestors. I found myself waking up with all these new styles of music. I was 16 years old then."

This obviously deeply affected D'Gary; indeed he claims that everything he now plays has a basis in it. He'd never thought music would become his profession. "In Betroka, I was very famous for playing guitar but I did not particularly care. People in Betroka were playing sega and 'blues' [the common name for slow songs in Madagascar]. I suddenly became famous in Betroka because I brought the tsapika from Tuléar with me."

Guitarist Hugues Randriamahitasoa, now London-based, remembers Gary from those days.

"I played together with D'Gary, around 1977 or '78. We had a band, but Gary played alone. Sometimes when we played in Betroka he passed by and played with us. Like me, the people in my group taught themselves. We used to listen to the sound of the marovany playing for the tromba [spirit possession ceremony] and we liked it. When I was in Betroka, nobody else played in that style at that time. We were all trying to find a different sound and we started to retune the guitar. We'd go out into the countryside and spend the whole day trying to find tunings. It wasn't just the sound of the marovany, it was the sound of the birds, or whatever was around."

Eventually, D'Gary headed north to the capital. "In 1979, a group from Betroka was offered a recording with Discomad [the only substantial Malagasy record label, now called Mars]. They took me to Antananarivo and I agreed to go because I had to take care of my mother's pension collection in Tana anyway. Charles Morin Poty [veteran record producer] of Feon'ala found me there, and I started to play as an accompanying guitarist for Feon'ala's concerts."

"I did not even have a guitar at the time. It was really during touring with Feon'ala that I started to have a lot of different styles. The avoria ceremony came back to my mind and I just automatically transferred this onto my guitar playing. I was already playing my own style by de-tuning the guitar, in hiding in my room."

It's at this point that the name of a man called Dida (once promoter of Antananarivo club Speedy and now owner of a studio in the East coast port of Tamatave) comes into the story. He'll make other appearances...


This feature first appeared in fRoots 178, April 1998

 

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