Tarika, led by the charismatic Hanitra Rasoanaivo, are Madagascar's most successful musical export. Tarika's name means simply "the group". They have evolved a unique, modern blend from the roots musics of the different regions of their Indian Ocean island home, strongly featuring local instruments in a way that has been described as "virtuoso traditional music with the energy of punk rock!".
Their tight harmonies, buoyant grooves, infectious melodies, wild instruments, energetic dancing and captivating presentation have been a live hit all over North America and Europe, and their albums have topped the World Music charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The music lacks the earnestness and pomposity that commonly affects much "world music" and deserves as big an audience as any popular rock, country, rap or soul act.
In the early '90s, Hanitra (pronounced "Anch") led Tarika Sammy, the first modern group rooted in the traditional music of Madagascar with the vision to adopt a professional approach to international touring, and unique as a band led by a Malagasy woman. Songs written by Hanitra or her sister Noro on their chart-topping second album Balance began to address challenging, controversial subjects such as the situation of women in Malagasy society, pushing the boundaries of Malagasy roots music.
This group split up at the end of 1993, after which Hanitra put together Tarika. Hanitra and Noro stayed as the new group's live focus, delivering their fabulous sibling harmonies, driving percussion and spirited dancing, but the new band's instrumental side was much stronger. Featuring a specially designed and crafted array of up-dates of traditional Malagasy instruments that they had commissioned - marovany (box zither), valiha (bamboo zither), kabosy (the small Malagasy guitar), jejy voatavo (gourd dulcimer) - Tarika immediately achieved international success.
The other Tarika members since 1994 have been three multi-instrumentalists/singers. Donné is a top all-round musician on marovany, valiha, kabosy, melodeon and percussion. He had long experience in traditional music, including touring in Malagasy bands Voninavoko and the Malagasy All-Stars. Ny Ony came from the brother group Solomiral whose members all regularly work with Madagascar's top modern artists: he's one of Madagascar's best guitarists and bassists, and a fine kabosy player. Solo, the youngest of the team, travelled throughout the island with the vakodrazana (traditional music) group led by his father: he too plays bass guitar, kabosy, valiha, marovany and percussion, and adds the bass voice to the famous Tarika harmonies.
Tarika's 1994 debut album Bibiango addressed thought-provoking, controversial issues for the Malagasy audience, with strong questions about priorities and values. Their intensive touring in 1994 and '95 - all over Europe and North America - caused a big stir, surprising everybody with their ever-increasing energy level.
Their second album, Son Egal, was released in 1997, produced by Simon Emmerson (Baaba Maal/Afro Celt Sound System) and Martin Russell. On a creative surge and tackling powerful historic and political themes, it received rave reviews in Europe and the USA (everywhere from The Times to Playboy!), shot to the top of the European World Music Charts and spent an unprecedented 8 weeks at No.1 (15 weeks in the top 5) on the CMJ World Music Chart in the USA. In Madagascar, released at a time of political upheaval, it received saturation airplay. They were nominated in the 1997 Kora All-African Music Awards and won the AFIM Indie Award for Contempory World Music Album in the USA.
Hanitra kicked off 1998 working with Mali's Oumou Sangare, South Africa's Sibonghile Khumalo and Cameroun's Sally Nyolo as part of the hit Women Of Africa tour (with Tarika's Donné in the house band) that sold out all venues across the UK and Europe. Tarika then got to work on their third album D, a nice contrast to the intensity of Son Egal by being a bright, upbeat, sizzling celebration of Madagascar's myriad dance styles. It provided them with a massive No.1 hit at home and another CMJ No.1 in the USA. Following a series of dazzling, sold out Madagascar shows in Spring '99, it was business as usual touring Europe and the USA.
Although the Malagasy are usually thought to be African, their origins from perhaps 1500 years ago are Malayo/ Polynesian from Indonesia. In September 1999, Hanitra spent an inspirational month in Sulawesi, Indonesia, uncovering many traces of these long ago ancestors. The stories and ideas she gathered there provide the framework for Tarika's latest album Soul Makassar, recorded in London and Indonesia with Indonesian musicians participating. Another special project with a major theme and yet more variety from their seemingly inexhaustible musical treasury, the new Tarika album was released in January 2001 and immediately became another World Music chart No.1.
In October 2001, Time Magazine voted Tarika one of the 10 best bands in the world on a list that also included U2, Radiohead, Portishead, Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers, Japan's Brilliant Green, Pato Fu from Brazil, Aterciopelados from Colombia, Iceland's Sigur Ros and Cuba's Orishas. If this encourages people to give a listen to a great band it can only be a good thing.
This is largely adapted from an article on the Folk Roots website.
Soul Makassar 2001
Son Egal 1997
As Tarika Sammy