JAZZEYE: Sa-Roy provides Malagasy Magic

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The first time I heard Sa-Roy was at the Francofete this year; they were billed with a cross-over collaboration programme run by the ever active and supportive Robert Trunz as part of the Forest Jam Series. Three lean young men, dressed in their Malagasy traditional attire, stepped onto the grass and sang their first song a capella; a melting sound of three perfectly matched voices. Then the dance: a light and rapid high-stepping on the spot matched with elegant arm movements and quivering fingers. I was smitten. (PIC: SA-Roy Source Google Images)

That gig, with the full collaborative band playing Sa-Roy’s repertoire, unearthed a profound interest in the people and culture of Madagascar, that huge chunk of land that pulled away from the Gandwana mass millions of years ago, preserving a treasury of flora and fauna that remains unique to the island. Madagascar was first populated by explorer sailors from Borneo, later joined by Arabs and Bantu tribes from the East Coast of Africa and the beautiful Malagasy language is derived from Malayo-Polynesian roots. 

Buying the Sa-Roy CD ‘Pelakolo’ turned out to be one of the best purchases I have ever made. Featuring singer, instrumentalist and song writer Soaraza Patrice Thomas with Ando Pra and Sambeto Eugene (bass) providing harmony, the album kicks off with ‘Telo Lahy’, an introduction to themselves as musical friends growing up together in their village. Staying with this theme of rural village life, the next song ‘Taragnandro Mena’ talks of avoiding the fierce heat of the midday sun. ‘Zara Mira’ is a hard-hitting lyrical song that reveals the philosophical penchant of social activist Thomas as he comments on the selfishness of those who forget their humanity and do not care about the sufferings of others. It is the only song sung in French.

Now follows an exquisite Antandroy number ‘Banaike’ with its insistently intense and extraordinary rhythms. Sung by the herders of the local Zebu horned cattle in the forest, Sa-Roy trio give it every nuance; and the wild acoustic kabosy solos from Thomas make this a very special addition to the album.  Hard to name a favourite, the magnificently realised a capella ‘Tavagnaigne’ says that those who are going to face life must rise early. It is a song that speaks of the hardship of earning a living and feeding a family. Largely worked as a call and response piece, it has several movements and tempo changes, but always finishes on the sweetest and purest of harmonies. 

Keeping Malagasy heritage and culture alive these days is dealt with in ‘Talilindroazako’; this contemporary ballad with complex salsa-type rhythms encourages people to know the story of their ancestry and hold onto their culture. ‘Sija’ tells the story an abandoned baby girl brought up by an old lady of the village and begs people to value their children. Here Eugene’s amazingly resonant and rich bass notes give power to the sweetness of the higher voices. Unexpected rhythm breaks between verses drive this story, creating suspense and interest.

Continuing the theme of family and community, the folk-styled ‘Soa ty Filongoa’ (enhanced by Swiss musicians Max Lasser on lap steel guitar and Mathias Abacherli on upright bass) reminds people that the world does not belong to us and we should concern ourselves with the well being of our families. Its easy gentle rhythm gives Thomas’ tender and mesmerising tenor full display.

‘Langopake’, again a purely vocal piece, talks of the destructive nature of gossip and the song says that people are like the langopake, a bird with a long beak which swallows anything. ‘Pelakolo’ is a love song, with a pulsating interlude and sweet and romantic verses; here Gontse Makhene’s hand drums drive the seductive rhythms.

The ode to music, ‘Mozika’, beautifully arranged by bass player Matthias Abacherli, who also produced the brilliant album and accompanied the trio on their three month tour of Southern Africa, is world fusion music at its best, where all the diverse ingredients create a really groovy  result.  This generous album closes with ‘Falefale’; and we are back to the purity of three voices as they sing of the blessing of life-giving rain to the parched countryside; bringing relief and sustenance to all living things.

It’s not hard to say why this album and these singers have captured my imagination and my heart; they bring with them an ancient and unspoilt island talent filled to the brim with authentic genius.  Merci beaucoup Sa-Roy!


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