Just singing is not enough
Born in Madagascar in 1954, Dama Mahaleo (Rasolofondrasolo Zafimahaleo) is head of the famous band Mahaleo, with which he has made songs in the local language acceptable as high culture. His way of playing the guitar has become known on the isle as Dama finger-plucking, and his texts are as poetic as they are political. As a member of the national assembly he backs many development projects.
It all began during the general strike of Madagascan students in May 1972. Dama and Dada were encouraging the strikers at their local grammar school when they were joined by Raoul with a guitar and violin, followed by Charles and Nono, and finally by Bekoto with a flute. The band Mahaleo was born. Its members sang about protest but also about life and death, and above all, in the language of Madagascar. For the first time a pop-group on the isle expressed the young´s feelings, hopes and search for identity in their own language. Up till then, radio broadcasts had been dominated by English and French pop-music. It took Mahaleo to persuade hearers that the language of Madagascar is a thing to be proud of.
Since then the band has given hundreds of concerts, widening its scope to include such themes as migration from the countryside, theft and destruction of the environment. Its stadium-concerts draw thousands of listeners, reflecting with its African polyphony and Polynesian and Malaysian influences the various waves of immigrants. By now, its members are megastars in their own land, but for them that is not enough.
"Music as such is political. Our songs are a kind of discourse. Once left to themselves, they make their way into the heads and hearts of our hearers," says the singer Fafa. "But just singing is not enough for us: in recent years the social and economic situation on Madagascar has worsened. The members of our group are now working - each in his own way and in his own region - on various development projects" (cited from www.welthaus.at). Bekoto is active on behalf of the rights of peasants and of local radios; Fafa, a doctor, has started a sanitation-project for the poor borough Isotry in the capital; Charlie, the percussionist, is also a sociologist concerned with problematic boroughs in Tana; Dada, a surgeon, is fighting corruption in the health sector; and Raoul, a further doctor, is a specialist in social medicine.
Rasolofondraosolo Zafimahaleo, called Dama, is a singer, guitarist, composer and the head of Mahaleo. Since 1994 he has also been a member of the national assembly of Madagascar. As a youth he listened to both local music and, on the radio, to French chansons from Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens and to the Beatles, Pete Seeger and Willie Dixon. His way of playing the guitar reveals not only his roots in Madagascar but also the influence of soft rock from American bands like the Eagles or Simon & Garfunkel.
The American guitarists Henry Kaiser and David Lindley praise the man who, for their collection ´A World out of Time´, brought them into contact with many musicians from Madagascar: "One could typify Dama Mahaleo as an unlikely mixture from Madagascar of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Muddy Waters and Merle Travis. His texts rise to the heights of Lennon and Dylan and even above them... Like Muddy Waters he took countrified ways of music-making into the towns and made them into a modern popular form.´ Hence Dama is to be heard on each of the Shanachie Madagascar compilations and has co-produced Shanachie albums from d´Gary. With the exceptional guitarist d´Gary he also recorded ´The Long Way Home´ (1994).
The calm, rhythmical songs, which Dama sings in his soft tenor, refer through poetical images to the social and political problems of Madagascar. Though now a member of the national assembly, he still tours Madagascar with these songs, to get in touch with folk through the medium of music. Since the very start, the members of the Mahaleo band have been actively engaged in politics. In the parliament with 150 members, their followers are a small minority of 10, including Dama himself since 1994: ´Only my reputation as a singer has saved me from being jailed,´ he says with a disarming smile. The small party is active on behalf of small farmers, to whom it wants to give back their self-respect. ´The elite, educated in the west, forget the roots of the nation - its 80% who live on the land,´ says Dama.
Due to lack of know-how and technology, peasants leave the fertile land and move into towns but have then no future. Dama sings about this in ´Kaboka´ (Lies), which was issued in the first collection ´A World out of Time´ (1992) before his years as a politician. He then sang about the illusion of plenty in ´the town of promises´, by which many peasants are enticed, advising them to look carefully and critically at the facts. He still sings about these themes, though now a politician himself. Just singing is not enough for him.
Events at the HKW:
28th and 29th October, 1994
Music from the forgotten Continent
Malagasy All Stars
Organiser: House of World Cultures together with the Cercle Germano-Malagasy
Rasolofondraosolo Zafimahaleo, called Dama Mahaleo, was born on 26.05.1954 in Marolambo near Tamatave on the east coat of Madagascar and grew up in humble but cosmopolitan surroundings. He studied sociology, then after a student general strike in 1972, he founded the group Mahaleo, which was the first pop group on the isle to sing in the local language and which is still, after nearly 30 years, one of Madagascar´s most popular bands.
Since the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s, when western producers like Henry Kaiser and David Lindley discovered the musical riches of the isle, Dama has often served as a go-between and given tips. Since then albums with Mahaleo and his solo recordings have been available on the world music market. In 1994 he became a member for Antananarivo in the national assembly for the first time, and now, as the delegate of the central region d´Ambatofinandrahana, he supports many development projects.
A World Out of Time, Vol. 1 – 3
USA, 1992, 1993, 1996
DAMA & D´GARY: The Long Way Home
Shanachie 64052: USA
Soundways 38 509: France
Playasound PS 65157: France
´Melodies de Madagascar´
Playasound PS 65124: France
Anima Music AJCD-03: Japan
MAHALEO: En Concert
AAFM/WDR 39914: France (recorded in 1983)