Sa Roy: Madagascar Music

Soaraza Patrice Thomas is a very talented singer and song writer. He is from the port village of Toliara in the South East of Madagascar. His primary musical experience was singing gospel and traditional music in the Lutheran church. His grandfather is a highly accomplished bow player. Together with his school friends, Ando Pra, a great singer and dancer and DamySinaotsy, a strong baritone singer, he formed the Sa Roy trio. The musicians are from the same clan, the Antandroy, a people known for their traditional dances, ancient culture and respect for the ancestors.
Many of their songs tell stories about traditional life of the country and the social environment. As today in the village, people have adopted modern practices, the songs add awareness of the depth and importance of traditional culture.Thomassaid, “Traditional life is good. It is helpful and teaches one how to respect others.”
After school Sa Roy entered a competition at the Goethe-Zentrum Antananarivo. Director of the institute Eckehart Olszowski has been living in Madagascar for 35 years and is a cultural activist. He recently produced a TV series about Green Crimes and the robbery of raw materials through deforestation.

Madagascar has a fascinating richness of culture and unique musical sound, marked by the depth and variety of their self-made instruments.

After school Sa Roy entered a competition at the Goethe-Zentrum Antananarivo. Director of the institute Eckehart Olszowski has been living in Madagascar for 35 years and is a cultural activist. He recently produced a TV series about Green Crimes and the robbery of raw materials through deforestation.
Forests in Madagascar are some of the most unique in the world with 95% of the flora and fauna endemic. Because so much of the natural forest has gone, temperatures are rising, the earth is drying out and there is less food and water. Performing on home-made instruments including mandolin (guitar) and korintsana (a shaker on a stick), Sa Roy sung a Thomas composition calling for the protection of the indigenous “spiny forests.” Sa Roy won first place including urgently needed prize money and a computer. Thomas said, “Our music begins from that.”
‘Forest Jam’,a team of music students, producers and master musicians from Switzerland and South Africa toured Madagascar in 2015 for the purpose of workshops and collaborations. Forest Jam was created by music entrepreneur, partner in B & W speakers and founder of Melt2000 records, Robert Trunz. He has hosted many gatherings in his career, including Gathering Forces in Kwa Zulu Natal and Outernational Meltdown in Johannesburg where he creates rehearsal spaces for diverse musicians to collaborate and innovate. Forest Jam, a collaborative approach to music education and the industry was started in a chapel in the mountain forests of Switzerland.
Forest Jam Madagascar took place at the Goethe-Zentrumin Antananarivo, a multi-purpose venue for intimate and big concerts, and workshops. The musicians became immersed in the depth of traditional Madagascan music, jamming with fantastic performers such as Zamba who has constructed a chromatic variation of the indigenous Valiha (tubular zither) instrument and the accordion player Jahleky. Madagascar has a fascinating richness of culture and unique musical sound, marked by the depth and variety of their self-made instruments.
As big parts of Madagascar that used to be completely forested have been stripped, Forest Jam continued the awareness campaign. Hailing from the mountain forests of Switzerland, Trunz had seen the mountain forests of the Swiss Alps turned around after they were threatened by the acid rains from the industrial revolution era. Madagascar has a very rich herbal heritage which provides the basis for many perfumes and medicines. Protecting the forests of Madagascar is a priority.

After hearing the recordings of Sa Roy from the Goethe competition, Trunz insisted they travel to Antananarivo to join in the workshops and collaborative performances.
The musical master on the tour was Madala Kunene from Kwa Zulu Natal. Madala’s nickname is ”Bafo” which means friend and his gentle and generous approach to sharing his music is a quality that makes him a musician of choice for major local and international projects. He creates multi layered music that reaches beyond all boundaries.
The magic that Madala Kunene made with Sa Roy was very special. Robert said, “Madala was like a father with his three kids. He would teach them some of the songs in Zulu. And they would add their own lyrics in Malagasy.”
After six weeks of rehearsals and performances, the musicians travelled north to the furthest village, Diego Suarez where they hosted an enormous concert for school-kids and performed at a derelict and iconic colonial ruin.
The experience of touring with Sa Roy prompted the recording of their debut album Pelakolo.The album tells the story of these three young men and includes traditional instruments and the traditional Antandroy dance. It is as gentle as an island breeze and as strong as the hot sun that beats down on the tropic of Capricorn.
Through support from the Goethe institute, Pro Helvetia and the embassies of Harare, Maputo and Switzerland, funds were raised to continue the collaboration in Southern Africa with a touring band including young Swiss musicians Matthias Abächerli, bass and Fabio Meier, percussion. Sa Roy arrived at the beginning of March 2017 and begun a series of concerts that swept the length and breadth of the region, with performances atAlliance Française venues in celebration of international Francophone day, March 20th.
To be performing alongside an international icon like Madala Kunene opened up many doors for the young musicians from Madagascar. Kunene’s latest album is licenced across Europe and Sa Roy will be following suit with an international release and tour.
Trunz concludes, “With Forest Jam, once you have some people who are getting established like Sa Roy, when they go back they will have more experience and they must start working towards collaboration with other malagasy musicians. It is all natural steps. We have proved how much can be done with musicians who are not well established.”

Struan Douglas

Struan Douglas is a freelance writer and author based in South Africa.