photo © RIJASOLO / KISARY
Prizewinner in the Découvertes RFI (Radio France Internationale) in 2008, Mikea incarnates this new generation of Malagasy artists which combines with talent tradition and modernity. Théo Rakotovao, the leader of the group, draws his inspiration in the « Beko », a traditional vocal style in the south of Madagascar. Accompanied by a trio (guitar, bass, drums), Mikea sings loneliness, poverty, exile and home sickness, treason and theft, justice, family and love, but also deforestation and environmental problems.
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Samples from album Hazolava
Samples from album Taholy
« Zebus in their hundreds watched over by boys barely ten years old; a dry, thorny forest in southwest Madagascar, in which singing is the only way to locate others and not get lost yourself... When Théo Rakotovao performs outside the Grande Île, he likes to tell such stories of his childhood, stories of the Mikea people he belongs to and for whom, having named his group after them, he is the standard bearer. And upon returning home to Antanimieva, still without water and electricity, he teaches the folks who stayed behind what the incredible 21st century world of the neighboring cities is like, bearing witness,
forging links, extending in his own way the reaches of the global village to include compatriots from other regions, all the while flying the flag for the Mikea, whose culture has to date either been ignored altogether or considered tacky. It’s a role he takes seriously on a musical level too, a personal vision of the relation between tradition and modernity resulting from a timehonoured artistic journey. The singing may be rooted in the authentic beko blues of the Mikea people, but the playing and songwriting look further afield, their arrangements and melodies universal. All come together in Hazolava, the song that gives its name to Mikea’s new album. Some of the musicians have flirted with jazz rock, and Théo himself started out in a vein closer to local pop before realising it wasn’t the path he wanted to follow.
A graduate from business school, the ninth of thirteen children, he set out to take stock of the diversity of his island before focusing on his own identity. Finalists in the Prix Musiques de l’Océan Indien in 2007 and prizewinners in the Découvertes RFI the following year, Mikea recorded their third album in their studio in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. Handea Aho, brought back from a 16-date, 11-country tour of West Africa in 2009, sits side by side with Cafrik, co-written in French and Malagasy with an author from Reunion Island, and songs that first appeared on 2006’s Longo, at the time only released locally. And then there’s the 100% Malagasy version of Hey Joe. When he first heard Jimi Hendrix sing this timeless hit, Théo thought he was one of his uncles in the village! But above all Hazolava draws its inspiration from the concerns of the people and the crisis their country is going through. “It’s a call for help”, Théo explains, determined to show a cliché-free image of Madagascar. » Bertrand Lavaine
« Mikea is what is described as an author, composer, and performer. He has chosen to orient himself towards a simple, both personal and universal aesthetic, carried by the trio of guitar, bass and percussion, a trio over which the voice can freely unfold and directly lead the listener to the topic.
But the modulations of the voice, its tone, its flights and the language will endlessly remind us that we are in Madagascar. And Mikea’s country also appears in the colours, sounds and rhythms of the guitar. Here and there, the light notes of a flute can be heard, reminiscent of the Sodina during certain rituals. Or the throaty voices that lift the solos and make one think of traditional chants.Beko, the funerary music sung by several voices, also inhabits Mikea’s singing. This tradition has found a new function and singers like Mikea have shaped a social song based on this time-honoured style.
We immediately understand this artful alchemy between a faintly perceptible past, a set of traditions accessible only to the initiated and a willingness to build the subject in an internationally perceptible form so that a statement entrusted to the song is passed. Mikea sings about loneliness, poverty, traditional values, the earth, the despicable power of money, exile and homesickness, treason and theft, justice, family and of course, love, but also deforestation and environmental problems. It is a kind of love song, soaring from the voice of a singer who has made the right choice to allow a profoundly subtle although apparently obvious music to speak. Without any pretence or heavily audible production, as can be heard on so many contemporary albums, Mikea sings because singing is something vital, fundamental. He sings to speak of his own: a song with a moral like an old ballad, or a blues from the deep bayous, like gospel, like an African proverb...
Madagascar gives us Mikea. Mikea gives us Madagascar. All that remains is for us to listen, united in their songs, sung in union. » Etienne Bours
Hazolava (Music & Words/Zimbraz) 2013
Taholy (Contre-Jour) 2010
Longo (Valimad) 2007
Theo Rakotovao : vocal, guitar, kabosy
Johnny : bass, vocal
Mbossa : guitar, vocal
Dô : drums, percussions, vocal
Watch Mikea live at "Jazz sous les Pommiers" festival in May 2009: