Freddy Ranarison is a respected name in music from the island of Madagascar. The traditional music of this island is vastly different than most music from the African continent, but one thing that is common is the fascination with the guitar, both acoustic and electric. In the case of Malagasy music, the love flows both ways as guitarists all over the world have developed an intense fascination with Madagascar and its traditional instrument, the valiha. Ranarison has of course been recorded on the valiha, but he is also known as one of the island's finest guitarists. In addition, his abilities on the European contrabass are impressive and in collaboration with bandleader Maurice Halison, he helped create one of the best fusions of European classical and African music traditions.
As is so often the case, the richness of Malagasy music comes from the incredible palette of influences. The progression of technology has only caused an increasing eruption in this process, which once upon a time depended on someone landing on the shores of the island itself. By the time Halison formed his groups in the '60s, radio was also an important influence, particularly in the big cities. The influence of French cabaret and chanson is something a listener could pick up right away from the recordings Halison and Ranarison created for the Ocora label during that era, and after all the country was a French colony for more than 60 years. The mind boggles at what the musicians might have done if allowed to express themselves outside of the restricted format of so-called "ethnic music" documentation. Listeners who are fortunate enough to come across locally produced 45s from this era have reported a bizarre mix of surf guitar and Herb Alpert, meaning somebody must have had their ear glued to the radio speaker. This kind of music might have represented the regular hotel dance band gigs that Ranarison was apparently doing at the time; if so, lovers of oddball music fusions will probably want to know how they can make a reservation. There should be no conclusion, however, that the work of these artists was totally influenced by Western trends. In fact, the meat of the Malagasy music styles, even at their most European-sounding, are derived from the rhythms of different musical cultures, such as the Northern Basesa or Southeastern Tsapika. Other influences come from Africa itself, including the large South African recording industry, as well as musical winds blowing in from Kenya, the Congo, and other exotic neighborhoods. The guitar began gaining in popularity from the outset of 1960, as if the New Year's baby character brought one onto the island in his rucksack. The island's music lovers were already string-sympathetic due to years of exposure to the valiha, an instrument generally created out of long bamboo tubes, with sets of strings mounted around the circumference. Ranarison was one of the players who worked on combining valiha and guitar, a sound that came together as naturally as just about any combination of stringed instruments. Of course, he was influenced by Rakotozafy, who first combined these instruments in his group Ny Antsaly. Ranarison is one of a selection of Malagasy players who appear in a BBC documentary film about the legendary Rakotozafy.