A World Out of Time

Kaiser, Henry and David Lindley with Musicians from Madagascar

album cover

Long Way to Go for a Jam Session

This is the first of five (!) records that the guitarists Henry Kaiser and David Lindley recorded on a two-week trip to Madagascar in 1991. Both musicians have a healthy sense of adventure—Kaiser has recorded free jazz and tributes to the Grateful Dead, and Lindley made key contributions to Jackson Browne's best records—but for this project, they behaved more like culturally sensitive treasure hunters. Rather than snatching elements of the island nation's exotic music for their own purposes, they sought collaboration and discovered what happens when worlds collide. First they learned native songs and musical customs, which are drawn from both Indonesian and African sources. Then they turned the tape recorder on, capturing spirited traditional folk songs and extended jam sessions.

This approach opens a window into the rich musical world of Madagascar, the island which lies off the southeast coast of Africa. Kaiser and Lindley regarded the artists they collaborated with as teachers and guides, and as this record shows, became "fluent" enough in the musical details to make contributions without derailing the grooves. On "Ambilanao zaho," the high-energy electric band led by Rossy (Paul Bert Rahasimanana) seems to come alive when Lindley's searing slide guitar appears; later comes a solo by Kaiser in which he (unintentionally, apparently) imitates the cry of a native lemur. Key to the enterprise are the fluttering, defiantly ethereal voices: On the rivetingly dejected "Kobata," Dama Mahaleo, one of the country's most popular singer-songwriters, gathers elements of music from South Africa, the Middle East, and India into a swirl of emotion that nearly overwhelms the visiting Westerners. Another Mahaleo track, "Dihy," begins with a caprice by Rakoto Frah, the master of the sodina flute, and then evolves into a spry dance, with lyrics about a very old woman dancing with a young woman symbolizing the circle of life.

Other highlights include "Vavarano," which finds young guitarist D'Gary translating the motifs of traditional Malagasy instruments to fingerpicked acoustic guitar. This first volume, the best of the five, triggered a wave of international interest in music from Madagascar. Several of the featured musicians wound up with their own record contracts, and have continued to explore the cross-cultural possibilities they chased with such spirit here.

Genre: World, Madagascar
Released: 1992, Shanachie
Key Tracks: Ramilison: "Kabary." Mahaleo: "Dihy," "Kobata." Tarika Sammy: "Hana." Sylvestre Randafison: "Izahay sy i malala."
Catalog Choice: A World Out of Time, Vol. 3
Next Stop: Tarika Sammy: Balance
After That: Rossy: Island of Ghosts
Book Page: 416

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