We’ve safely arrived in the capital Antananarivo (called Tana for short) and are enjoying a warm welcome with musician friends. The first night we were greeted by Hanitra, leader of Tarika Be (fearless leader for the Afropop listeners’ tour of Madagascar in 2001), also the multi-instrumentalist Sammy and guitar virtuoso D’Gary. They all joined us at a cool new venue, the Piment Cafe Behoririka. What a fun, bohemian scene! We met a number of fantastic artists new to us–singers Lala and Monica of the group Njava, tsapika guitar master Pascal and others. As old friends introduced us to new ones, we were quickly in the stream of things–jetlag be damned! We ducked out in time to catch the last set of a smoking salegy band at the infamous Glacier Club, where a hot, young band moved seamlessly between styles, lead singers, and very sexy dancers.
Saturday night we went to Jao’s Pub (pronounced Joe’s Pub–and named after the famous NYC venue) to meet up with our old friend Jaojoby, perhaps the most famous roots pop bandleader on the island. Jaojoby beamed as he showed us around his impressive place and he proclaimed “You are home.” He took us to the roof of Jao’s Pub overlooking hills in all directions stacked with pastel-colored houses reflecting the warm late afternoon light. In an interview there I asked Jaojoby what his next big dream was and he said to build a professional recording set up to make live recordings of all the bands that performed at Jao’s Pub. That would be very cool. Sounds like a Kickstarter project!
On the bill that night was Ali Mourad and his young, high energy salegy band from Diego Suarez in the far north, where we are going next weekend. Another fantastic scene! The crowd of mostly 20-somethings filled the dance floor in a kind of mosh pit, clapping loudly to the 6/8 rhythms. The four singers performed feisty unison dance moves and the keyboard player created impressive-sounding accordion parts. We made plans with Jaojoby to return the next day when three different formations drawn from his musical family would perform for us to record. On the way back to our hotel through deserted, unlit streets, we dropped by another chic new venue, Le Pub, to catch a set by Johnny Bass, another staggering multi-instrumentalist who is making a very cool fusion of traditional Malagasy music and jazz. Old timers tell us the live scene in Tana is not up to the old days of grand balls, but it’s considerably better than when we were last here 13 years ago. Within 36 hours of arrival, we had already caught four very impressive live shows.
The next day, Sunday, we again enjoyed the hospitality of Jaojoby and his extended musical family. Each of his sons and daughters are musicians with varying interests, and his wife Claudine leads her own all-female group. We enjoyed them all in various formations. The finale was Jaojoby himself belting out a soulful tune to a salegy beat. He left us wanting more! (It so happens he will star on the Wake Up Madagascar tour this summer in the U.S., so stay tuned for details and catch him if you can.) We’re working around the clock, collecting interviews and live music sessions from morning to late night, and loving it! A big thanks to you and other Kickstarter backers for making this all possible. Stay tuned for more dispatches in the dense next three weeks.
Cheers, Sean and Banning