Zebu Nation by Razia Said

Razia Said is a 50 year old singer from Madagascar who up to now hasn’t been promoted in World Music circles, but her album Zebu Nation (Cumbancha) is likely to change all that. Razia left Madagascar when she was ten, subsequently lived in France, and is now based in the USA. The theme running through the songs on her album is the environmental destruction going on in her homeland owing to climate change and to deforestation and the agricultural practice of ‘slash and burn’. But this isn’t heavy or gloomy music at all and is full of rippling melodies and infectious rhythms.

Zebu Nation

My own introduction to the music of Madagascar was through Henry Kaiser and David Lindley’s 1992 CD compilation A World Out Of Time which  surprisingly included a Malagasy language version of an Okinawan song – Shoukichi Kina’s  ‘Hana’. Since then I looked out for other music from this large and fascinating island, such as the excellent band Tarika. Razia Said’s album is not at all in the same vein, being much more pop-oriented and she employs local instruments sparingly. The music is mainly centred around the guitar work of the established Malagasy musician Dozzy Njava who sings backing vocals and also produced the album. This is accompanied by splashes of accordion, bass and drums, and some violin and sitar.  The recordings were made in New York, Paris and Antananarivo, Madagascar.  Razia sings in a relaxed way in Malagasy and French and there’s one track in English. The result is a very accessible album which despite its sombre theme and protest agenda is also hugely enjoyable. Although the  approach is contemporary the songs are also very obviously rooted in traditional Malagasy music.

Outstanding among many good songs on Zebu Nation is the irresistibly catchy ‘Yoyoyo’ in which Razia sings of her longing for Madagascar despite its miseries, and the sadness she feels for its poverty and tribal dissonance. A video of  this and other songs, plus information on the ecological situation of the island and suggestions on how to help can be seen at her website: www.raziasaid.com

The concept of this album inevitably made me think of the situation in Okinawa. While the problems of Madagascar are on a different scale and focus on somewhat different issues, the overall matter of environmental degradation remains the same. Okinawa, with its building works projects, tourist hotels, resorts, and military bases, faces unique challenges which need to be addressed if it isn’t to face an environmental crisis of its own.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

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