The "Graceland" syndrome has struck Madagascar -- some American musos went there, recorded with the local talent, and now it's the latest hotspot on the world-music scene. I try to weather the hype as best I can, and grab a few of the unexpected bonuses that these fads produce; namely, some good music getting much wider distribution than it would otherwise. This album is one such. I've been having a hard time finding the words to describe it, yet it's been a consistent favorite of mine for the last couple of months. Tarika Sammy contributed some a couple of fine tracks to the Kaiser/Lindley "A World Out Of Time" project, but on this album they're even better.
Tarika Sammy is a young quartet who are consciously changing a folk music into a performance style, just as Bill Monroe did in creating bluegrass. Like Monroe, Sammy and crew have created a polished, exciting sound that stays true to its roots. Their traditional Malagasay string and percussion instruments are augmented on many of this album's tracks by the rhythm section of Houzam and Sabah Habas Mustapha of world music blenders 3 Mustaphas 3. The Mustaphas, masters of tasteful multiculturalism, propel the music without overwhelming it. The group is quite capable of making driving music by itself, as well, with rhythms set out by drum and a bundle of twigs that makes a rattling, brushlike sound.
Tarika Sammy are especially notable for their sweet and exotic harmonies. My ever-astute fiancee Jessica described the song "Sarak'ela" as sounding like "The Roches singing Japanese folk songs", and I can't argue; Ian "no, the other one" Anderson adds some lovely slide guitar. The Malagasy zithers sometimes provide lilting rhythms reminiscent of mainland African (particularly Zimbabewan) mbira, other times they are as moody as a Japanese koto. The album is well put together, alternating upbeat and slower songs, mixing in the guest artists unobtrusively, and showing off a number of different Malagasy instruments.
This is one of my favorite acquisitions of the year. If you have any interest in so-called "world music", definitely check it out.