Friday, 4 October 2013

Reunion on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent programme is billed as "Insight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world". First commissioned in 1955, it takes the format of a half-hour programme in which five correspondents each broadcast 5-minute monologues on topical current events from countries outside the UK. No music or interviews are included, and it gives the correspondents the chance to offer a personal account of events that can be epoch-making or inconsequential. 

It's a programme I've enjoyed listening to for the past few years, either live, or more often as a podcast, and I was pleased to learn there would be a report from Reunion in the programme broadcast on October 3rd 2013. 

You can listen to the programme here; the part about Reunion was made by journalist Robin Denselow and starts at 11'38". There's a year left to listen.

Although broadcast in October it was obviously made in early June when Denselow visited the annual Sakifo music festival. In it he talks about maloya music - how it was banned until 1981, and what it represents now. Unfortunately the impression given by the report is of a strict local vs mainland French division of wealth, which was probably true in the 1970s, but is no longer the case (division of wealth still exists, but not along local vs mainland lines). Denselow does however correctly remark on the rising popularity of maloya on the global world music scene.

Maloya has its origins in the music of slaves and along with sega, is one of Reunion's two major music genres. It has mainly African origins, but possible influence from Tamil drumming has been identified, making it a hybrid genre - not very surprising on the melting pot of Reunion. Maloya is slower and more reflective than sega, and like blues music has a chant-response structure. Song themes are often carry a political and social protest message (e.g. slavery, poverty, search for cultural identity, independence, links to the Communist Party of Reunion) which explains why maloya was banned for being too subversive until 1981. Traditional instruments used include the kayamb, a type of flat rattle made of sugar cane flower stems and filled with seeds which is shaken horizontally, and the roulér which is a cylindrical hide-covered drum.

Christine Salem with a kayamb (source)

Some of the most well-known maloya musicians are Firmin Viry, (credited with having stopped maloya from becoming extinct), Danyel Waro, Gramoun Lélé, Nathalie Nathiembe and Christine Salem. Groups such as Ziskakan, Baster, Granmoun Baba, Rwa Kaff and Ti Fock have also mixed maloya with other genres such as sega, zouk, reggae, jazz and rock.

Here's the Firmin Viry performance at Sakifo 2013 that Denselow refers to in his report:

Maloya was inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO for France. The video below about maloya was uploaded by UNESCO onto Youtube following this inscription.

Further reading:

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