Rajery

Born : 1964 in Ambohimanga (Madagascar)
Country : Madagascar
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : world music

Germain Randrianarisoa – better known to world music fans as Rajery (pronounced "Rajer") – is a talented singer, songwriter and percussionist who, on his home isle of Madagascar, is hailed as the "prince of the valiha" (pronounced "vali").

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Germain Randrianarisoa – better known to world music fans as Rajery (pronounced "Rajer") – is a talented singer, songwriter and percussionist who, on his home isle of Madagascar, is hailed as the "prince of the valiha" (pronounced "vali").

The son of a poor farmer, Rajery lost the use of the fingers on his right hand before his first birthday and had to face amputation. Despite his handicap, the young boy was determined to do the same things as other children his age. Tenacious by nature, he refused to take the easy option of begging, and vowed to work.

And he spent a happy childhood in Ambohimanga (a neighbourhood on one of the many hills surrounding the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo), growing up on a musical diet of church hymns and the traditional folk sounds of the upper plateaux. Even as a young boy Rajery displayed great stubbornness and an incredible strength of will and, rather than resorting to begging on the streets with his handicap, he decided to work. 

At the age of 15 Rajery also decided to teach himself to play the valiha, a tubular harp made of bamboo which produces melodious notes that veer between the sound of the harp, the harpsichord, the kora and the sanza. The valiha, which originally comes from Indonesia, has been adopted as the national instrument of Madagascar. Indeed, these days the valiha is to Madagascar what the kora is to sub-Saharan countries. Rajery plucked away at his valiha strings over the years, developing his own original playing technique as he worked by day as an accountant.
 
In 1983, Rajery began playing professionally with the group Tsilavina, updating the traditional valiha repertoire. The enterprising young musician went on to create the first major valiha orchestra, bringing together 23 soloists who each played a different form of the instrument. (The valiha has undergone many radical shape changes in its Madagascan history). Later in 1993, Rajery also came up with the innovative idea of organising the first national Valiha Week in Antananarivo, in an attempt to popularise the instrument across the island and better acquaint his compatriots with valiha-playing techniques.
 
Abhorring the expression "despite his handicap", Rajery went on to set himself countless other challenges, establishing himself not only as a gifted valiha-maker, but also a talented singer and songwriter. Meanwhile, he also set up a local association to help Antananarivo's street kids and out all his spare time and energy into working as a music therapist.
 
It was through his French friends that the "prince of the valiha" finally came into contact with Christian Mousset, the man who had launched the "Musiques Métisses" world 'fusion' festival in Angoulême. Bowled over by Rajery's talent, Mousset got him into a studio in 1997 to record a debut CD album entitled Dorotanety (Bushfire). Released on Mousset's legendary "Label Bleu", Rajery's album garnered a number of good reviews and heralded the start of his international career.
 
In September 2001 Rajery went on to record a second album entitled Fanamby (The Challenge) with his quartet. This acoustic masterpiece pulled off the 'challenge' of fusing Madagascar's traditional music heritage with his own musical culture. On Fanamby the 'a cappella' polyphonies the group Senge had brought the world stood back to back with swinging Jaojoby-style salegy beats and the melodious blues of the upper Plateaux and the heady rhythms of Antandroy dances fused with the infectious groove of the "rija Betsileo".
 
Meanwhile, Rajery's international career continued to go from strength to strength. And in May 2002 the "valiha prince" and his group flew off for a major tour of North America, kicking things off with a concert in New Orleans and appearing at music festivals in La Fayette and Houston before finally bringing the house down in Chicago. It was while Rajery was on tour in the United States that he found out he had been nominated for RFI's World Music Award 2002. RFI organised a special awards ceremony concert at La Cigale in Paris (on 10 and 11 October) where Rajery shared top billing with rising Brazilian star Lénine.
 
2004: "Volontany"
 

Rajery hit the road again in 2003, playing a series of concerts across southern Africa in January and February. Then in the spring of that year he delighted fans in his homeland, touring Madagascar before flying off to Europe for a summer tour.
 
Rajery is renowned for taking time over his albums, honing each song with the skill and attention of a master craftsman. In 2004, three years after "Fanamby", he returned to the music news with his third album, "Volontany" (named after the colour of the earth, the rich red that symbolises the island of Madagascar). Working with a talented quartet of musicians, who proved to be equally at home playing jazz and traditional Madagascan music, Rajery performed the songs from his new album on a mini-tour of France in March 2004. On 19 March, he appeared at the "Chorus des Hauts de Seine" Festival. And on 30 March he brought the house down at famous Paris jazz club Le New Morning, before going on to support young Malian diva Rokia Traoré at La Cigale (on 7 and 8 April).
 
Switching between pure valiha instrumentals, a capella songs or jazz fusion moments, Rajery is a delight to watch on stage. And his new-found international fame does not appear to have affected his authenticity. "I draw inspiration from different Madagascan traditions and I think my music stands as a testament to the wide diversity of styles found on our island," " declares Rajery, "But at the same time my music moves with the times and I'm always ready to fuse it with other styles."
 
In December 2004, Rajery organised the first ever "Angaredona" festival (a Madagascan term for "collective effort") in the town of Majunga. The aim of the festival was to promote live music from Madagascar amongst his compatriots. The festival proved to be such a success that a second edition of Angaredona was held in the capital, Antananarivo. The third edition of the festival, also organised in Antananarivo (15-24 September 2006), featured appearances from more than sixty groups from all over the island as well as a number of foreign musicians including Driss El Maloumi, a Moroccan 'ud-player Rajery had met at the Timitar festival in Agadir a few months earlier.
 
It was on this occasion that the 3MA project (an abbreviation of Mali, Madagascar and Morocco) began to take form, bringing together Rajery (from Madagascar), Driss El Maloumi (from Morocco) and the Malian kora-player Ballaké Cissoko who stepped in when his compatriot Toumani Diabaté dropped out of the project. Rajery had long dreamt of fusing the sound of his valiha with a kora. With the support of the French Cultural Institute in Antananarivo, the three musicians embarked upon a series of artistic residencies in Madagascar, working on a collective project that they presented live for the first time in Antananarivo on 9 March 2007. After this, the trio headed off to La Réunion to record together.
 

2007: "Sofera"

Rajery released his fourth album, "Sofera" ("chauffeur" or "driver") in April 2007. He had spent an entire year with the musicians in his new band working on the songs for this new album at his Besarety HQ. So he and his group only needed five days to record the album in a studio in Angoulême when they appeared at the Musiques Métisses festival in May 2006. In August 2007, Rajery returned to La Réunion to take part in the Sakifo festival where he had performed the previous year. This time round, he was a member of the jury (presided by the singer Ziskakan) responsible for awarding the Alain Peters prize to an artist from the Indian Ocean region.
 
In the space of just a few years, Rajery "the prince of valiha" has managed to establish himself as one of the most brilliant and committed musicians from Madagascar. He has developed a range of initiatives to promote his native culture at home and abroad while pursuing an increasingly successful international career.
 

Most of 2008 was taken up with the 3 MA project, which took on an international dimension that was new to Rajery. From Yemen in January to Italy in December, the trio from Madagascar, Mali and Morocco gave 45 performances in nearly 25 countries. Half were in Africa, and Madagascar was a natural stopover. The album came out in April to critical acclaim and helped further establish the Malagasy musician’s reputation.

At the same time, he continued with his personal career, giving concerts with his own group in Paris and Brussels. The 3 MA tour continued in 2009, taking in another 25 dates, this time all in Europe with the lion’s share in Swedish towns.

Rajery was also billed at several festivals, sometimes performing solo, like at the Sud Festival in Arles, France, or the Journée de la Francophonie in Lebanon. He was back with his accomplices El Maloumi and Sissoko to play in Belgium early the next year for a new series of concerts that took him further east to Romania, Slovenia and Poland.  
He continued to feature on the Malagasy market, with the release of a greatest hits covering 1999-2010, and his celebration of thirty years playing valiha in one of the capital’s clubs. He also worked with the young group Vetson-Kira, a band that found fame on a TV talent contest but then chose to move into evangelical music, which corresponded to Rajery’s project at the time.

In early 2011, when the French-Malagasy singer-storyteller Talike made a visit to the island, he worked with her. Most of the following months, though, were taken up preparing a fifth album with his group, aiming at greater simplicity. Along with a new invitation to play at the 2012 Musiques Métisses Festival in Angoulême, he was billed at Madajazzcar in the capital, Antananarivo, in October that year. 

2012: "Tantsaha"

"Tantsaha" came out a few weeks later, comprising eleven tracks recorded in his homeland and focusing on the lives of poor country people and environmental issues. Every copy of the album sold generated a one-euro donation to the reforestation project, Arbre de Vie, set up by the association Les Amis de Rajery. Two of the tracks feature the valiha player performing on the ngoni, a West African string instrument whose sound he is particularly fond of. He gave concerts in France in November at the Musiques du Monde Festival in the Parisian suburbs, followed by Strasbourg with Moussa Coulibaly from Burkina Faso. He returned to Paris for an intimate performance at the Studio de l’Hermitage.

November 2012

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