Sylvestre Randafison

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This artist might not be the George Washington of Madagascar, but he comes pretty close. Many members of the population look to him and his music as if he was a relative such as a father, big brother,…
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This artist might not be the George Washington of Madagascar, but he comes pretty close. Many members of the population look to him and his music as if he was a relative such as a father, big brother, or just a really close friend. No amount of superlatives comes close to being a proper homage to the brilliance of this artist, whose subtle and virtuoso talents on the valiha have thrilled fans throughout the world. This is Madagascar's most famous musical instrument, basically made from large bamboo tubes, and he is one of its great ambassadors. Randafison shows up on recording anthologies made in several different decades. When the French Ocora label journeyed to Madagascar under the auspices of French national radio, this artist provided some stunning examples of his music for the resulting album collection. He was also on hand when American string fiends Henry Kaiser and David Lindley came to the island to record their A World Out of Time series for the Shanachie label, resulting in some of the best tracks on these collections.

Like many valiha players, he is also an instrument builder, and has contributed greatly to the manufacturing, rediscovery, and promotion of Malagasy traditional musical instruments. One of the attractions of this instrument family is the sheer number of variations on the basic design, summarized in a nutshell (or rather, a bamboo tube) as strings mounted in various combinations upon the resonating service. When it comes to instrument design, what has happened with the electric guitar is just plain ho-hum compared to valiha players. Often working with a severe shortage of raw materials, Madagascar's musicians have created beautiful instruments out of all manner of things, since one doesn't even need a bamboo tube to make one. One of the country's greatest players, Rakotozafy, made his out of a wooden box, which in turn rested on a bamboo tube. While some aspects of African stringed instruments are maintained, many of these valihas have more in common with European stringed instruments made by craftsmen, including stunningly accurate intonation. Randafison was a member of the of the famous trio Ny Antsaly, of which he was the only surviving member at the time of the Kaiser/Lindley expedition. This group was a trio featuring guitar, valiha, and violin. It is a combination that sounds exquisite and was a complete innovation at the time it began. It was the first group combining the valiha with the guitar, for example, and thus predicts the entire fascination guitarists would later have with this genre. The guitarist in this case was Sylvestre Randafison's big brother, the late Remy Randafison. Originally formed in the '40s, the group has continued on under the leadership of the younger brother. In 1988, he brought in guitarist Germain Rakotomavo, part of a new generation of Malagasy musicians. Randafison is a great influence on these younger players and has also been very active in the teaching profession. He was a professor of music at the National Institute of Research and a visiting instructor in the ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington. He was one of the founders of the National Center of Teaching of the Music and is a member of the National Academy of Arts, the Letters and Sciences.