Alternately driving and lilting, the maloya music of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion is likewise deeply traditional while reserving the right to be thoroughly contemporary where topical matters are concerned. Danyel Waro, he of the wispy beard and otherworldly bespectacled gaze, has been maloya's leading musical ambassador for decades. He came up hardscrabble, tending fields from early childhood, living without much in the way of simple pleasures and feeling the wrath of the authorities because of offenses that included refusing military service.
At first an instrument maker and soon a singer and composer, Waro took naturally to maloya's configuration of percussion and vocals only. It's a music which, like West African apala, overcomes potential limitations and instead wields its rudimentary elements with every manner of ways in which voices and percussion can be all the melody and rhythm one might require. Homegrown drums, shakers, bows and scrapers, struck wood, bamboo and metal implements and influences from mainland Africa, Madagascar and India give the percussion its foundation. The voices, led by Waro's often startling wail and shadowed by ghostly response passages, sing of poverty, spiritual syncretism and such blessings as a good mother.
Surprises like the Gnawa-ish rhythm turns taken in the midst of “Madanm Baba” keep predictability at bay, as does the concluding “Karinm,” a haunting 11-minute acapella piece in which the female voice of Florans Feliks Waro (presumably a relative) joins at the halfway point before taking it solo to the end. It's a most unusual duet, and a quietly bold way to end the album. Given maloya's history as a music that was frequently banned and suppressed during Reunion's French colonial period (and beyond) because of its creole origins and political affiliations, it makes perfect sense that Waro's sound has a kind of cautionary feel at times. Regardless, the recording's forward motion, refined groove attack and the obvious passion are never undermined, making Monmon a satisfying listen. - Tom Orr
This CD is being released in North America on July 17th.
You can order it from cdRoots.