René Lacaille

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Digdig Review

by Thom Jurek

This may be an early contender for world music album of the year for 2002. It was recorded on the volcanic island of Réunion, 600 miles east of Madagascar in the southern Indian ocean, and named after the French colonists who found it uninhabited over 300 years ago. This collaboration between the island's master musician, René Lacaille, and virtuoso slide and Hawaiian guitarist Bob Brozman is a revelation of rhythm, song from, improvisation, and juxtapositions of musics from Europe, Africa, the United States, and various Indonesian folk traditions. The pair were introduced at as festival on Réunion in 2000, and became fast friend and collaborators, playing together almost immediately and then taking up a residency together a few months, later to begin recording sessions for what would be come this album. Lacaille plays the charango, accordion (an instrument on which he is acknowledged as a modern master) and the tschoulas; Bernard Marka and Joel Gonthier accompany them on percussion. The two formal song forms found here are the sega and the maloya. Maloya is older and has a modal harmonic form and is derived from African folk sources though it resembles Delta blues without the Western chord changes. Sega is an adaptation of the French colonial musette harmonies, which are diatonic with European song forms and the hint of gypsy swing. There are also a number of tunes here, which are binaire in that they have the feel of Caribbean music. Time signatures vary from two beat to three beat, and the swing elements present themselves almost as if by accident alongside the chants and the Creole party songs of Lacaille. Ultimately, this music is a string- and rhythm-driven fantasia of sources that is sensual, aurally exotic, and yet strictly earthy and celebratory. Suffice to say you've never heard anything like it before. The only point of reference may be Henry Kaiser's Madagascar recordings, but even here the comparison fails. This is music that is as joyous as it is sophisticated and as gorgeous as the landscape of Réunion. There are a full complement of liner notes and translated lyrics in a lush package that makes this set indispensable for any serious fan of world music, or for the music lover looking for something really different, yet completely accessible.

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