“I don’t sing,” proudly proclaims Jaojoby, the “King of Salegy,” upbeat dance music from Madagascar. “I shout! I am very influenced by James Brown.”
Jaojoby’s new album, Malagasy, will be released on World Village on August 10, 2004, and is accompanied by a month-long North American tour starting July 28 hitting Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Seattle, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Portland (OR), Chicago, and several other towns (see full schedule below).
In Madagascar—an island nation east of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean—salegy is very popular and Jaojoby is its acknowledged monarch. Born at the end of the ’60s around the time the nation became independent from the French, salegy is electric music with no debt to the West. The compelling 6/8 rhythm, which descends from traditional, ancestral Malagasy music forms, entrances dancers. It is said to date back to the 15th century when humans first settled on the “Red Island.” The term salegy, of Indonesian origins, emerged in the 1960s and refers to a new, electric music once Malagasy guitarists transposed popular and traditional music from instruments like the tube-zither called the valiha. “We play folklore music that we have electrified,” says Jaojoby. “If we take away the electricity, it would be like the music of our ancestors. We have only added it to get people to dance; to get more… [wide smile] decibels.” Before Jaojoby and a few others popularized the sound in the 1970s, there were few salegy recordings, and they were only instrumental.
Jaojoby, the band, is a family affair with Jaojoby’s wife Claudine on vocals, son Elie Lucas on guitar, and daughters Roseliane and Eusebia singing and dancing. And dancing is a big part of the show.
“I used to sing in a hotel,” recalls Jaojoby. “We had cha cha cha, the jerk, and that kind of thing. And then we began to introduce the Malagasy 6/8 folk music into our shows. I remember the French called it the ‘cow dance.’ Why? Traditionally the dance is done in a circle, a sort of walking to the beat. So it reminded them of how the cows plow the fields. But now we have updated the dance too.”
Ask Eusebia what she and her sister have done to update the dance and she says, “We have choreographed it more, which isn’t easy since the beat doesn’t change that much.” Press her more and she hesitates to answer and looks at her father. Jaojoby’s smile surfaces once again as he says, “They made it sexy!”