The American guitarists Henry Kaiser and David Lindley were longtime connoisseurs of various musics from around the globe and, in 1991, made a journey to the island country of Madagascar seeking to learn about and record many facets of its contemporary sounds. The island's unique history, with a blending of cultures from South Africa, the Middle East, and India, makes for a music that sounds like no other. This is the first of three volumes that resulted from the trip and it's a major contribution, premiering several groups and musicians who would go on to have successful and productive careers. The music is divided roughly in half with regard to traditional versus pop-oriented songs, with some bands straddling that divide. Tarika Sammy is heard performing a charming number, "Fanaon'ny Ankizy," in an early incarnation of that band before the addition of the two singers, Hanitra and Noro, who would vault the group to some degree of fame and precipitate a rancorous breakup. Two of the major "discoveries" of this venture are the superb singer Dama Mahaleo and the brilliant guitarist D'Gary. Mahaleo is something of the Bob Dylan of Madagascar and the comparison is nothing if not reasonable; his song structures and deep, beguiling voice put most Western singer/songwriters to shame. His brooding song "Kobaka" is a masterpiece, alone worth the price of the disc. D'Gary's guitar work is breathtaking, with attacks and phrasing unheard of in the West, tossed off with misleading ease. Some of the groups, like Rossy and Roger Georges, have something of a cheesy pop quality to them, importing a bit too much of Western rock structures for comfort (Kaiser sits in unnecessarily on a couple of tracks and the closing version of "I Fought the Law" could have been discreetly discarded), but they're more than balanced by brilliant pieces by older Madagascans like Sylvestre Randafison and Rakotofrah. Overall, this is as excellent an introduction to the contemporary state of music in this exotic and fascinating culture as one could desire. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick