Various Artists

Madagascar: Music of Mikea Province

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The Mikea are a forest people on the great island of Madagascar, a country with one of the most diverse and complex cultures on the planet. The Mikea are mostly hunters and gatherers, though they do grow corn. The music of the Mikea is highly ceremonial in that each occurrence in life -- and death -- has its own repertoire of songs: Funeral rites are "havoaza," "bilo" are magic and therapeutic rites, "tromba" are possession rites, "ringa" are fighting matches, "savatsy" are circumcision rites, and so on. Most Mikea music is chanted and accompanies dancing with drums; certain repertoires, such as the bilo, are elaborate ceremonies that invoke ancestral ghosts depending on what the occasion or illness is -- according to custom, they are accompanied by a valikha (a mounted zither) and require a "fomba" (a money offering to the musician) before they can be performed. Other instruments employed include everything from djembes (the classic African drums) and langoro drums to conch shells and the marovany (a box zither). The music collected here by Ocora showcases 18 different segments of Mikea life and the 18 different kinds of music that accompany it. The vast majority of the pieces here are chants with percussive and choral responses to whistling in everything from hunting songs to healing ceremonies to funeral rites. One example is a hunting and gathering song performed with a jejo lava -- a musical bow with a resonator -- which is played by the singer who beats on the string with varying force. The once common instrument is now a rarity and, when procured or made, is still popular with men who sing to one another. As in the case of so many recordings on Ocora, it would be wonderful to see the dances and rituals this music normally accompanies, but not being able to in no way diminishes a rich, colorful listening experience.

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