Debut from UK based guitarist; a slice of modern Malagasy music aimed at the dancefloor.
John Armstrong 2003-04-23
Modeste Hugues Randriamahitasoa - who, thankfully, goes by the professional name of just plain Modeste - is a UK-based acoustic and electric guitarist of Madagascar origin. That wild and mysterious Indian Ocean island, where everything from flora and fauna to music seems to have developed in a vacuum relatively undisturbed by outside influences, has long held a fascination for traditional music fans. Nowadays, traditional instruments such as the valiha, sodina and kabosy sit comfortably alongside the European guitar and piano, whilst the poor communications within the island have preserved strictly localised playing styles and rhythms in the North and South.
But Malagasy guitar has a history all its own. European classical, Hawaiian slack-key, mainland African soukous and densely-styled playing that imitates the traditional marovany zither all jostle for attention. From the legendary Bouboul, Madagascar's first electric guitarist in the 50s came the electric salegy and watcha-watcha styles, but many other visiting guitarists left their mark on the immensely skilful and imaginative players.
Modeste's style is predominantly modern and dance-orientated. There's a soukous-style 'Lavitra', a more Hawaiian-type 'Zanakao rafoza'; a 6/8 salegy-rhythm piece (Agepy mou) and a great opener with a strong gospel feel ("Mifona'). Wisely, he has kept the more inaccessible time-signatures to a minimum, leaving the door open to the more casual record-buyer who is attracted to the general feel of Malagasy music but not to the 'earnest musicologist' aspect that it unfortunately attracts.
Malagasy music - admittedly often diluted - has always been popular in France, and some crossover bands such as Les Surfs and Mahaleo have even dented the French pop charts from time to time. With the almost endless variety of rhythms, tempos and styles, and with a growing UK-based population of talented Malagasy musicians such as Modeste, there's no reason why the unique and distinctive style of the Indian Ocean's jewel shouldn't break a few barriers here, too.