Album of the Day: Various Artists, “Alefa Madagascar”

Alefa Madagascar plays like a highlight reel of Malagasy sounds from the ‘70s and ‘80s—a combination of salegy, soukous, and soul. Album-opener “Jean Kely Et Basth” by Andosy Mora begins with the kind of plush organs that would be fit to score a Sunday sermon. But when the hard drums hit and a fuzzed-out guitar snakes its way in and the organ begins to stutter, the song goes from solemn reserve to a vision of bodies suddenly catching the Holy Spirit.

Salegy is one of Madagascar’s most popular forms of dance music, and its roots date back to both ceremonial songs and an ancient ritualistic chants called antsa. Though the musical influences of Kenya, Congo, and Mozambique are apparent, Madagascar’s sound is distinct—a wild blend of funk, psychedelic rock, folk, and dance music.

The drums on Andeha Hanarato’s track, “Los Matadores,” march in lockstep with a splayed organ line, that in turn converses with a choir, which translates the organ’s melodies into thick and luscious vocal parts. Mahaleo’s “Izahay Mpamita” mines the folkloric sound that grew from rotaka farmers and student protesters who, in 1972, ousted Madagascar’s first president; a sodina flute (a native Malagasy instrument) sews the acoustic guitar and vocals together like a needle through fabric, floating high-pitched chords over the top.

These lesser-known records laid the groundwork for contemporary Malagasy artists like Ali Mourad, Tence Mena, and Eusèbe Jaojoby. Curated by Reunion Island-based DJs La Basse Tropicale and Percy Yip Tong, Alefa documents a time after the 1972 revolution, when the possibilities seemed infinite. The songs it contains capture that boundless spirit.

-Tracy Jones

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