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Gitara Gasy

"I was a guitarist since I was 8 years old", he says. "We were raised by a guitarists' family. Our grandfather Ranaivo Betànana is one of them. We were all there but I was lucky enough to have the quickest fingers. I chose what I do because our grandpa played Malagasy traditional style guitar, from the Merina and Rasaraka tribes. Grandfather was a mechanic. He did not play guitar as a profession but for ceremonies, weddings, circumcisions... He had a twin brother (who is dead now) who played concertina with him. His open tuning can play so many styles of Malagasy music and this is what I do. I did not know anybody else who played to copy from: it was just inside of me. The strings are tuned in open C and the last string is adapted from the kabosy. Grandpa did only the first 5 strings of the tuning, and I added the last one."

The family tuning is CGDGCD, but when Haja demonstrated it on electric guitar, he'd dropped it down another full tone to Bb/F/C/F/Bb/C.

"We heard Grandpa, father and mom play music. Then wherever we went around the island, we heard something similar. We were listening to people like Rakotozafy, Bao Angèle, Mama Sana and especially Sylvestre Randafison. The base is the diatonic harmonisation. When I play guitar, I always start from this basis."

"There were 7 brothers in Solomiral at one point but 2 have died. All of us play guitar but Mendrika decided to play drums from childhood, Fanaiky changed to bass guitar after being a solo guitarist in a rock band, Ny Ony now plays guitar in Tarika, Njaka also plays guitar and writes songs, and there is me, Haja, of course."

Solomiral was started in 1976 by Bruno (who died) together with Mendrika and Haja. All the others were very young then, or not even born. In 1979 they put out an album. Haja was 14 years old.

"If one listens to that album now, we can also say that other people have listened and copied us because our style has never changed. Then we moved to Tamatave. Dad was always moving around because of his work. The disc become a signature tune on the radio. We stayed in Tamatave for ten years until 1987. Dad had a girl friend from the Betsimisaraka tribe and we also played some Betsimisaraka folk music and dance."

A familiar name enters the tale...

"In 1986, we started to work as studio musicians at the Ravinala which is Dida's studio. One day, he found me and asked me to work there rather than doing menial jobs. At the studio, we played basesa and zouk rhythms. We mainly worked there to make or arrange people's songs. Then in 1989, we came back to Tana. Dida helped us to go to Tana to work with Tôty. It was really nice because we had met him in Tamatave at Dida's place."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 178, April 1998


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