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Gitara Gasy

"I didn't know those musicians like Haja or D'Gary. Every musician has their own way, their own style. There are many guitarists in Madagascar, but no real big heroes. My way was just to stay in Tuléar. I first composed a song in 1985, already with the marovany guitar. When I started to play guitar it was for listening: at home, with the family, with nice harmonies and the guitar. I never played the guitar-marovany for dancing. You would never use it for the tromba - people wouldn't want it, they respect the marovany. But for circumcision, the bands who play for dancing have guitarists who play marovany-style, playing tsapika, but I never played that."

"I think the guitar is now like a traditional instrument in Madagascar. A lot of people are interested to learn this style, but we need good teachers, we need schools, because it is difficult. I would like this style to be like flamenco guitar, a specialty that people will know everywhere."

So there we are. Everywhere and yet hardly anywhere! And there are of course many players that I've missed and many more that I haven't even heard of yet. Another time...

One last thing that I still can't figure out is this. In 1988, in Ziguinchor, Casamance, southern Senegal - a whole huge continent away - I recorded the brilliant guitarist Pascal Diatta. I noted in passing in these pages, a feature which became sleeve notes to his subsequent Simnade album, that his playing - supposedly influenced by Balanta xylophone - had elements which reminded me of the Malagasy valiha. Bear in mind that back then my knowledge of Malagasy music was mostly from a few live gigs and the pioneering GlobeStyle and Ocora collections. But after spending the entire '90s completely immersed in this stuff, Pascal Diatta's style sounds even more Malagasy to me. Explain...

Many thanks for musician finding, invaluable translation work and patiently listening to endless vazaha theorising, to Hanitra Rasoanaivo of Tarika, without whom most of this would have been impossible!

We were sad to hear that Ranaivo Betanana passed away in June 2000

This feature first appeared in fRoots 178, April 1998


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