Tarika, Soul Makassar, 2001
Sakay SAKD 7037
2. Allô chéri
7. Set me free
11. Malalako (Be my baby)
Tarika have an amazing and fairly unique ability to produce songs about politics that you can dance to or history lessons in party mode. Their albums are far more than just random selections of tracks, always steeped in uncompromising pride for their cultural roots while being joyfully and mesmerisingly accessible to outsiders. A large part of their award-winning 1997 album Son Egal dealt powerfully but upliftingly with the legacies of colonialism, racism and corruption in Madagascar: their forthcoming Wicklow CD Soul Makassar is often inspired by historical connections.
The first settlers of Madagascar around 1500 years ago were not from nearby Africa but of Malayo/ Polynesian origin, arriving from Indonesia either by a circuitous coastal route around the north and down the east coast of Africa or directly across the Indian Ocean. They were related to the same people who, two thousand years earlier, had begun to spread out and eventually populate the Pacific, reaching Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand many centuries before European explorers. Similarly, ancient connections between Indonesia and Africa have been well documented: recent research might point to a catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa around 535 AD as a good reason for Indonesians to get on the boats and go west. But hearing of dry academic research is one thing: encountering living evidence is another.
It was after Tarika's leader Hanitra Rasoanaivo first ventured abroad in the late 1980s that she began to be stopped in her tracks by remarkable discoveries. A TV travel documentary from Sulawesi that showed people who looked like her relatives involved in ancient burial customs that were startlingly familiar; a bamboo instrument called the sasandu from the island of Roti near Timor which was a close relation of Madagascar's valiha tube zither; records of music from far away Polynesian islands and even Okinawa, right on the other side of the Malayo/ Polynesian diaspora, that contained strong echoes of music made at home.
It became a burning ambition for Hanitra to visit Sulawesi and meet the descendants of their shared ancestors. In September 1999, although it coincided with the problems in East Timor, she took a break from the hectic year in which Tarika had enjoyed massive hit success back home, and had an inspiring month's stay among the Bugis, Makassar and Torajan people. She could probably fill a book out of an experience which it is likely that no other Malagasy has ever had. So many connections, similarities and ghosts - the look of the people, food, religion and beliefs, language, customs and rituals, clothes, rice cultivation - and extraordinary that they should still be so strong after 1500 years of mutual separation. The central core of songs on this album came directly out of her Sulawesi voyage, and part of the recording involved Hanitra and the production team taking the tapes to Bandung and Jakarta to work with musicians from other parts of Indonesia.
One of the reasons for Tarika's success is that every album they make is full of variety and always different from its predecessor. Their last one, D, explored the energetic dance musics of the many regions of Madagascar. Soul Makassar is different again as it focuses more on the musical roots of their own Merina people in the Malagasy highlands and its capital Antananarivo. Of course, it has a few wild cards too, and sources of inspiration outside the Sulawesi experience which Hanitra will tell you about in her notes on the songs (watch this space around release time, July 2000.)
Soul Makassar is more evidence (as if it were needed) that Hanitra and Tarika are becoming an ever-greater force in world music making for the 2000s. Their ancestors achieved remarkable things long before what gets called "the first world" arrived on the scene, and they're here as a shining example that taking strength from your roots and having pride in your culture can keep your head held high, wherever you come from.
Available in the UK distributed by New Note, or from Weekend Beatnik.
Tarika website (goes to MySpace)
New: 21 December, 2010 | Now: 21 December, 2010