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Jaojoby at the Thau Festival

The King of Salegy in France


20/07/2004 - 

The 14th Thau Music Festival, organised on the banks of a picturesque lagoon in the south of France (9-18 July), attracted a big turn-out thanks to a line-up which included Madagascan ‘salegy’ star Eusebe Jaojoby. Jaojoby, who recently released his fifth album, Malagasy, ended his extensive two-month French tour in Thau before heading out to delight audiences in Canada and the U.S.

Defending multi-culturalism in a region where France’s far-right party, the Front national, hold sway is a major challenge – and one which festival organiser Monique Teyssier and her team have pulled off in style! The Thau Music Festival, featuring vibrant ‘world’ sounds from the four corners of the earth, invites music fans to visit the small towns dotted around the Thau lagoon (a long expanse of brackish water separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow stretch of sand). The festival, organised 30km up the road from Montpellier, is organised on a human scale and boasts an agreeable family atmosphere. What’s more, the seaside holiday ambience is reinforced by the presence of oyster farmers from Bouzigue and local wine producers from Picpoul who set up their stalls in the festival enclosure, decorated with multi-coloured garlands and flags.

Here, just a few feet from the local fishing boats, a host of international stars including Malouma, Raul Paz, Idir, Frédéric Galliano and his African Divas, Ba Cissoko, Miossec, Salem Tradition and Jaojoby took to the stage. RFI Musique paid a visit to Thau to hook up with the king of ‘salegy’ before he flew off to America.

RFI Musique: Your new album was recorded under live conditions in La Réunion. Why did you decide to work this way this time round? Jaojoby: It was my producer, Christian Mousset, who wanted to record things over there. La Réunion is like a mini France in the Indian Ocean where you have good studios and good equipment. We don’t have all that at our disposal back home in Madagascar, you know. Another thing is, it costs a lot less to go off and record in La Réunion than it would in Paris or Amiens where we recorded the previous albums. I never really feel all that at ease in the studio and, I have to admit, working under semi-live conditions suited me perfectly. I went off with my group to Bato Fou, in Saint Pierre, and we spent three nights out there recording, playing in front of an audience made up of our friends.

Your album Malagasy is like your own personal tribute to Madagascar… It certainly is! It was like after all the political problems and upheavals we’ve been through the past few years, I felt I really had to pay tribute to all the people who stood up and fought for democracy. I feel I did my bit in difficult times, too, supporting the current president, Marc Ravolomana. But I don’t want to push myself forward and stand in the political spotlight any more. On Malagasy, the title track from the album, I encourage my compatriots to trust in the future, urging them to fight for changes to improve their lifestyle and get the country back on its feet again.

And this time round you’ve spiced up your album with musical influences from La Réunion…
I decided I wanted to have a number of guest stars on this album from La Réunion such as the legendary Granmoun Lélé, who invented maloya. Granmoun came along and played with his wife and son on Mahore. That was particularly apt as this is a song which celebrates friendship between the different peoples of the Indian Ocean region.

I must say your group functions like a well-oiled machine. I believe half of them are actually members of your own family…
That’s right, apart from the rhythm section – that’s to say, bass, rhythm guitar and drums – and the second singer, the rest of the group is made up of my family. There’s my wife, Claudine, my two daughters Eusebia and Roseliane and my son, Elie, on guitar. It’s very important for me to have them on tour with me. At the moment we’re in the middle of a three-month tour abroad and it’s obviously nicer to be surrounded on stage by your own family rather than complete strangers. When we’re at home in Madagascar, barely a month goes by without us having to play in concert somewhere -so I guess this is my way of combining business with pleasure!

Interestingly enough, many people abroad see you as some kind of rock group. Would you say ‘salegy’ is that close to rock?
Well, I have to admit, it reached a point where we had to electrify our music to satisfy the current passion for mega-decibels and get people to dance. So fans of pop and rock have come to love ‘salegy’, too. Actually, we once played in this club in Germany and all these skinheads in the audience went mad dancing with us on stage. We find that wherever we play our music always goes down well with the audience. We never leave people indifferent – and that holds true whether you’re talking about Europe, Africa, Asia or the United States!

But in spite of this, isn’t there a problem when it comes to audiences understanding Madagascan?
That’s our only handicap, actually. I try and sum up the lyrics of each song before we play it, but it would obviously be better if audiences could really understand what I’m singing as I sing it. I’m looking into things with my producer right now, in fact, to see whether on my next album I could sing in French or English.

Last question here. I was wondering whether performing at music festivals abroad is primarily a means of making a living or whether it gives you the opportunity to travel?

It’s mostly work, but it’s true, performing on the festival circuit gives me the chance to travel, too. I see it mainly as an opportunity to encourage a sense of sharing and understanding between different peoples – and that’s something I’ve always actively fought for. On the new album there’s a track called Tany Tsaratsara which means ‘A Better World.’ It’s a song about peace, love, tolerance and respect – and those are values I feel we’re very much in need of right now given the current conflicts in the world. I believe if singers and musicians take up the cause, we’ll get somewhere in the end!

Jaojoby Malagasy (Marabi-Harmonia Mundi) 2004

Pierre  René-Worms

Translation : Julie  Street