Popular Malagasy music and the construction of cultural identities
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This paper explores the construction of cultural identities through contemporary music from Madagascar, in particular the songs by Dama — singer-song-writer of the eponymous group of musicians- the Mahaleo. Specific focus is on the role that the discourses of and about popular Malagasy music play for the identity constructions of Malagasy people in Madagascar and abroad. Discussions about contemporary African music on the media and in the cultural studies literature, and the record industry’s own appropriation and commercialization of such music as generic ‘world music — tend to neglect the lyrics — and thus the often radical social critique — contained in these songs. Since much of African music is sung in languages not normally known to ‘Western’ audiences, their appreciation hinges on the vibrancy of rhythm and sound, to the exclusion of content. Yet to ‘home’ and ‘diapsoric’ audiences, the texts are of huge significance. Our paper discusses the significance of language choice for popular music in Madagascar in the political movement of 1972 and its aftermath. We will also analyse in detail the lyrics of some typical songs from Mahaleo’s repertoire written by Dama. These will exemplify some of the ways in which the group attempts to encapsulate aspects of Malagasy every-day life, thus providing a cohesive link not only between several generations of Malagasies in Madagascar itself, but even more pronouncedly for those Malagasies who have left Madagascar and settled overseas. Finally, we will show the ways in which audiences create and perform ‘being Malagasy’ through the medium of their popular music, demonstrating the extent to which the project of ‘Mahaleo’ is being reflexively and consciously understood and taken up by their listeners.