DANYEL WARO / ZANMARI BARÉ
REUNION ISLAND



Banned for a long time, Maloya (the musical style mixing African, Madagascan and Indian origins) was adopted in the 70s by the movements for independence before truly re-emerging in the 80s. Danyel Waro is one of the main protagonists of this renaissance. Through his music, he has awakened an awareness of their cultural heritage's importance with many of his compatriots from the Reunion Islands (lost in wanderings through jazz, zouk and reggae). For example, the musician René Lacaille willingly explains that it was while attending Danyel Waro's concert at the French festival "Printemps de Bourges" that he was brutally thrown back in touch with his roots.
At over fifty years of age, he has left jazz to take up the music of his childhood once again. And he is not the only person who has retrieved a sense of pride in his origins thanks to Danyel's music.
A man of commitment and integrity, Danyel Waro does not dissolve in warm water. He does not appreciate triteness ("The sega became easy listening music"), preferring an almost rough-edged straight to the point attitude. His rare recordings are only of the music he loves, the rest of the time he spends growing his crops. "I don't want any promotion", he explained in an interview in 1992. "Promotion of Maloya, why not ? but not through me. People here don't understand where I'm coming from, they think I should have lots of money for singing, but I'm not interested in that : my work is making instruments". He chooses his words with the same attention, the same love of things well-done with which he puts the finishing touches to his kayams, roulérs and pikérs (traditional percussion instruments), while the Creole language flies away on the drums denouncing the new forms of dependency still tying the islands to metropolitan France. Ever the rebel (he spent two years in prison rather than serve the French flag), Danyel Waro is a man who fights against social injustice and defends his culture. A free man, and an angry man.

On the eve of Sakifo (festival), in a state theatre near Saint-Pierre, we heard Zanmari Baré and his band. They play maloya, the creole folk music of Réunion, and Baré has a voice that summons wooden ships, the ghosts of extinct birds, a tugging ecstasy of loneliness. The lyrics are in Réunion Creole, an offspring of French and African, Malagasy and Indian tongues. Let’s just say you’re not going to understand it, ever.
An extra jolt of mystique is added by centuries-old instru- ments: a musical bow (a distant cousin of the Xhosa uhadi) called a bob; a flat rattle made from sugar- cane stems and seeds called a kayamb; the sati and piker, steel and bamboo idiophones played with sticks; and the rouler, a low- tuned drum.
Across a bay of poly-rhythmic percussion tacks the singular voice of Baré. Each line prompts harmon- ic echoes from his bandmates. They all wield that perfectly contained melodic accuracy common to the greatest creole musics, from Brazil to Cuba to Cape Verde. The sweet fruit of bitter empires.
When I asked Baré, a former child psychologist, whether his mu- sic voiced the collective memory of the island, he was gently dismis- sive. “For me it’s not primarily about nostalgia, even though you may think it is. When I write a song it’s always connected with some- one: for my daughter, my wife, my grandmother. It’s quite concrete.
“The music comes from Africa [via slaves who were brought here], but it’s also from India and Eu- rope,” says Baré. “Maloya comes from this encounter of peoples. The lyrics are contemporary, and the themes are rebellions and demands as well as the pains and joys of con- temporary life.”
During the ’60s and ’70s, maloya singers took a radical turn, sound- tracking the island’s movement for autonomy, and Paris was not amused. “When the communist party presented maloya perfor- mances, some events were banned and thus maloya was banned as part of them. Maloya played in fam- ilies has existed forever. But it was not widely known.”








Danyel Waro