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Gitara Gasy

"People always say that my guitar sounds like marovany, but it is not necessarily true. I also do lokanga but at the moment my band is from Tuléar so it is easier for them to adapt to the sound of the marovany than all the rest. The rhythm of my music comes from the footsteps of the malaso [cow robbers] who run away... One really has to experience the life of the people being constantly attacked by malaso in order to play the style I do."

Haja of Solomiral
Photo: Ian Anderson
Haja of Solomiral

"The themes of my songs have never changed from the beginning. Our cows being stolen. Robbers who just get released two days after being caught. In Betroka, all police and gendarme are corrupt. The people whose cows are being stolen have also to spend their money on corruption. In Betroka, if there is peace, the gendarme are angry because they want people to fight so they can get money! They make taratasy poaka [anonymous letters] to encourage people to fight. Now people just decide to take the law into their own hands and they just shoot at those robbers. Bird guns became very big business because people now shoot at each other."

"I only talk about Betroka because I do not know about the rest of Madagascar. Betroka does not have a Bara politician to stand up for its region so I sing about the situation instead. I am not afraid of my life, I shall talk about it forever. Since Alatsao Balansy to Mbo Loza [his latest, highly recommended, Indigo album, reviewed in FR167], it is not about looking for a seat, it is about stating a fact and telling true life stories. When the music gets back to Madagascar, the very small advantage I get is that they won't touch my family."

I guess the real seed for this feature was planted about 4 years ago. Haja (pronounced 'Adz'), main guitarist with the band Solomiral, gave me a roughly recorded demo of himself playing solo electric guitar. It was the thing which finally switched on a light bulb marked 'There are far more of these amazing marovany-style guitarists than I imagined!' It blew me away, so much that I dubbed a copy for Ben Mandelson, GlobeStyle supremo and the man who, more than anybody else, kick-started the Madagascar mini-frenzy of these past dozen years.

Ben told me later that the cassette took up permanent residence in his kitchen tape player, the constant question in his head being "How does he do that?". Some years on, Ben was finally able to find out by the clever method of booking Solomiral to showcase at Womex in Marseille. He, me and Mike Cooper all stood in the front row, shaking our heads and alternately asking each other "How does he do that?"

Seizing the opportunity of a tape recorder at hand, I got Haja's story from him right there and then.

This feature first appeared in fRoots 178, April 1998


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