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African Legends


By Jan Fairley
Published November 21, 2006

Madagascar’s Tarika, led by Hanitra Rasoanaivo, has since the mid-1990s introduced the lively rhythms, vocal harmonies and unique instruments of Madagascar to the larger world.

Son Egal, the group’s award-winning 1997 album, made positive links between Madagascar and Senegal against a complex colonial history, while D celebrated the various regional dance musics and local 45rpm vinyl hits of the 1970s and 80s. 2001’s Soul Makassar, the group’s most acclaimed release, traced the deep links between Madagascar and Indonesia.

In the mid-’80s, Hanitra had served as a translator for a London-based label’s recording of Malagasy traditional music. In 1987, she went to London, where she and her sister Noro appeared on a BBC program on acappella singing. The positive response to it encouraged the siblings to get involved in music back home in Madagascar. From these roots, Tarika emerged.

Hanitra and Noro first performed in a group called Tarika Sammy, which broke up after making one album. In 1993 Hanitra re-formed the group simply as Tarika (meaning, literally, the group), incorporating traditional instruments of Madagascar, including the tubular bamboo zither called the valiha; the marovany double-sided box zither; the jejy voatavo, a distant relative of the dulcimer, with a large gourd resonator; and the small kabosy guitar. To establish themselves, like most world music groups, Tarika embarked on grueling tours in Europe and America, staying on the road for four years and performing at concerts and festivals.

That Tarika’s music has had an impact back home is undeniable, just as it is undeniable that Hanitra believes music can be a force for change there. But she is doing it her own way, acquiring land and putting her efforts into the building of an arts center for people to come, “to make music, drink tea, talk, become friends,” as she put it.

Recommended Recordings

Son Egal (Xenophile)
D (Xenophile)
Soul Makassar (Triloka)