Music of Madagascar

Template:Malagasymusic Madagascar is an island off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It is a cultural oddity, its native inhabitants being Malayo-Polynesian in origin instead of Sub-Saharan African. They are believed to have migrated from what is now Indonesia and surrounding island chains to Madagascar around the 3rd century via Southeast Asia, Middle East and East Africa and not across the ocean. Thus, their culture is a mixture of elements from nearly all the cultures which surround the Indian Ocean, as well as Welsh, French and Arab civilizations. Musically, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo and France are the influences most evident in modern popular music, while indigenous folk music is syncretist enough that it sounds utterly unique.


International crossover

The first Malagasy band to achieve international attention was Les Surfs in the 1960s, who had a series of chart hits in France; they sang cover versions of Beatles and other popular songs in the French language. Les Surfs were not the first popular Malagasy musicians, however; that distinction probably belongs to Bouboul, the country's first electric guitarist, who was famous in the 1950s. Mahaleo was the next band to emerge as a major influence, beginning, in the early 1970s, to fuse soft rock music with Malagasy rhythms and instruments. Rossy arose next, touring in Europe during the 1980s and achieving limited crossover fame with the infusion of zouk and other popular genres. More recently, Tarika has become the most well-known Malagasy band, playing various kinds of folk music in a roots revival style. Other performers to achieve crossover fame include Ricky, a solo vocalist (which is unusual for Madagascar, where multi-part harmonies are more common), Tôty and Solo Miral, who fuse jazz with native vakodrazana (this fusion is sometimes called vakojazzana).

Malagasy pop

The first genre of Malagasy pop music was watcha watcha, a benga-inspired eletric dance music from the northwest coast of the island. Imported American rock and roll, hip hop and soul, British techno, South African kwela, township and jive, Congolese soukous, Mauritian sega and Tanzanian taarab are also popular. The 6/8 salegy rhythm is perhaps the most defining characteristic of modern Malagasy music.

In the 1970s and early 80s, many locally produced records were available. Economic problems, however, shut down many of the labels, especially Disco Mad and Kaiamba. This music was sometimes known as tapany maintso (half-green, in reference to the labels of Kaiamba records) and almost totally disappeared until economic revival began in about 1992. During the period of little recording, Western pop became extremely popular, and left a lasting legacy on Malagasy music. Many listeners came to hate anything to do with Malagasy culture; though this sentiment has somewhat subsided, Western pop is still extremely popular across the island and a minor roots revival took place late in the decade.

Indigenous instruments

In addition to the folk instruments described below, imported Western brass and woodwind instruments, pianos, guitars and accordions are also found. Accordion virtuoso Regis Gizavo is well-known among fans of the instrument, and has worked with Ray Lema, Les Têtes Brulées, I Muvrini and Manu Dibango.

Instruments found in Madagascar include:

Southern Madagascar

Madagascar is home to numerous tribes with distinct cultural practices. Of these, the music of the Tulear region is most well-known in the rest of the country. Tsapika bands include township influences; prominent groups are Tsodrano, Orchestre Rivo-Doza and, most famously, Tirike. The guitarist D'Gary is also from Tulear; he is often regarded as one of the greats of African guitar, or guitar in general, ranking alongside Jean-Bosco Mwenda or Ali Farka Touré.


  • Anderson, Ian. "Ocean Music from Southeast Africa". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 523-532. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

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