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(MADAGASCAR, 2007) @
Damily's tsapiky sets a fast pace
A modern spin on tradition
"Ravinahitsy" is a local expression used in the Tuléar region of Madagascar to wish someone success. So it makes a fitting title for the latest album by Damily, the first of the guitarist's career to be released abroad. Back in his homeland, Damily is renowned as a leading pioneer of tsapiky, a popular fast-tempo sound from the south-west of the island. With Ravinahitsy, Damily is now looking to take his modern-traditional mix much further afield.
Damily was born in 1968, in Tongobory, a region largely populated by fishermen and cattle farmers some 1, 000 kilometres from the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo. And it was here, in the south-west of his native isle, that he taught himself to play guitar whilst officially looking after a troupe of zebus. As a teenager, Damily was an avid listener to Mozambican radio stations which were readily available in the region. "Mozambique is in south-east Africa, " Damily explains, "just opposite my home region, on the other side of the canal. It was really easy to pick up radio stations from there. I was totally fascinated by all the modern sounds those stations were pumping out."
Damily left school at 18 and it was at this point that his mother sent him off to work in the rice paddies in Bezaha (about 25 km from the family village) where his younger brother, Rakapo, was already based. In 1987, both Damily and his brother joined a group called Le Miriori then went on to work with Le Bazarsy Groupe. The band regularly performed at neighbourhood street parties, playing a repertoire based on western hits from the late '80s. But Damily already harboured other ambitions even back then. "I wanted to inject a bit of new blood into the Bazarsy Groupe's repertoire, " he says, "Besides using guitar, drums and the mandolin, I introduced traditional homegrown instruments such as the 'katsa' (a sort of rattle) and the 'langoro' (a traditional tam-tam style drum). I drew inspiration from the traditional rhythms of my region and from the cadence of Mozambican music. We considerably speeded up the tempo, too. Those are the essential ingredients of tsapiky - we pronounce it tsapik! "
Modern music inspired by tradition
One of the reasons Damily was so keen on persuading fellow band members to break out of their pop cover rut was that he had seen how interested villagers in Tongobory had been when he picked up his guitar and started developing modern songs based on traditional sounds. The lyrics of Damily's songs have always tapped into local themes, drawing inspiration from popular beliefs or making direct comments about social issues affecting the local population. "I'm very much like traditional artists in that respect, " Damily says, "I've always sung about the day-to-day worries of my fellow countrymen. The region I come from is in a terrible state right now with people suffering terrible poverty... I wanted the words of my songs to provide some sort of comfort for them. I was trying to give people something that would keep their spirits up and help them through hard times."
Given Damily's virtuoso skills on the guitar, it was not long before his socially hard-hitting lyrics caught on across the south-west of Madagascar and his popularity soon spread across the entire island. In 2001, after a successful concert in France, Damily moved to Angers, than later relocated to the Charente region from where he launched his first French tour in 2006. This brought his tsapiky to the ears of producer Valentin Langlois who offered to step behind the studio controls on Ravinahitsy, Damily's first international album.
The twelve finely-wrought tracks on Ravinahitsy display Damily's usual concern for his countrymen, particularly those from his native region of Antadroy, a region which has been plagued by recurrent drought (Talilio). On other songs such as Fiaina Toy, Damily evokes the harsh conditions endured by those to whom modernity has dealt an unfair hand. On other tracks he caricatures the bruised soul of an abandoned lover or sings about a prodigal son's inevitable return.
Damily's brilliant combination of limpid vocals, melodic guitar and pared-down orchestration shines on tsapiky classics (Liamboro nomaly) as well as songs from the traditional repertoire (Bekobe) and simple ballads (Mifona).
Over the years, tsapiky has become a veritable phenomenon in the south-west of Madagascar. The region has become a hotbed of tsapiky orchestras - informal line-ups which constantly form and re-form according to new musical allegiances and encounters. Damily's group is one of the rare outfits to have stood the test of time with its original line-up intact. And the six albums he has released in the course of the past twenty years have cemented his nationwide popularity.
Damily's tsapiky is a lively, rhythm-fuelled affair which regularly turns around itself in a loop like other forms of trance music. With the traditional "langoro" drum and "katsa" rattle adding in staccato beats, Naivo accelerates the tempo on his drumkit and Damily and Claude's guitars let rip, Rakapo's bass rounding the compositions out and Gany Gany's plaintive vocals giving the overall mix a hint of gentle nostalgia. There's no doubt about it, Damily's driving tsapiky is a festive sound that has lost none of its social edge.
Damily Ravinahitsy (Helico) 2007
Upcoming French dates:
7 & 8 June at the Ti' Piment Festival (Nancy)
18 July at the Estival de Beaufort (Anjou).