Creole Islands of the Indian Ocean

Various Artists

Auvidis Ethnic YA 225716

At first glance the Auvidis Ethnic Musical Travelogue series seems meant to accompany the numerous popular guidebooks that fill the travel section of any local bookstore.  Perhaps this is part of a deliberate marketing strategy geared toward prospective or returning vacationers who before/after visiting a country or island unknown to them would like some exposure to the local music.  If you're going to Mexico, you might pick up the Musical Travelogue CD for Mexico; going to Reunion, Mauritius, or Rodrigues, then pick up Creole Islands of the Indian Ocean.  It makes sense.  To support this overall 'travelguide' feel , the accompanying booklets in this series, which are written in French and English, have small maps, population statistics, information on language and religion and even tidbits concerning the countries' primary resources.  Additionally, each selection in the series, and this one is no exception, invariably include atmosphere interludes which I suppose are supposed to give the listener a feeling for the natural sounds of the country or island, usually the sound of a market or a church.  Luckily for us, the music found on these CD's, and on this one in particular, is good music.  Not the fluffy pop music that tourists are most likely to hear, but for the most part established traditional styles.

The first three tracks on Creole Islands of the Indian Ocean come from Reunion island, the home of the maloya, a local name for the sega primitif.  Two of these tracks are from maloya master Firmin Viry and his group (featured on Harmonia Mundi CD LB2548) who, as the liner notes tell us, spent time in jail for having sung the maloya in public when the island was still under French administration.  Listeners familiar with artists such as Granmoun Lele and other proponents of traditional maloya, will not be disappointed with the catchy but steady drumwork and the call and response vocals of this group.  The remaining track is the first of the atmosphere pieces of this CD, the sounds of work in a sugar cane field.  The calls of the sugar cane workers, although potentially out of place, actually seem to fit well with the two maloyas that sandwich it.

The next five tracks take us to the island of Rodrigues and a mixture of styles.  Featured is Lorenza Gaspard singing a French romance (she can also be heard on Ocora C 580060 ).  While I am not particularly familiar with the history of the 18th century French romance or other European ballad forms this piece seems not unlike Creole versions of European ballads that can be found in the Caribbean.  Also in the European vein is a polka schottische, played in a style which can be found on a number of islands and continents, distinctly European in form and flavor but with definite Creole influence in its style of performance.  Reflecting the Afro-Creole population that dominates Rodrigues there is an example of the sega tambour, the faster, more frenetic version of primitive sega found only on Rodrigues.  It is performed with wonderful energy by Group Tino Samoisy.

In the following 8 tracks the voyage continues on to Mauritius, where there is in addition to the large Creole population a large Indo-Mauritian population as well.  Three of the eight selections show the influence of this Indo-Mauritian population.  While the rollicking Na Hoibe Jawan by the Bhojpuri Boys is fun to listen to, its Indian pop sound seems at odds with the more traditional music found on the rest of the CD and leads one to wonder as to the reasons for its inclusion.  More characteristic of the CD's general intent are two more traditional Indian pieces, one a qawwali representing the Muslim tradition found in Mauritius and the other a mixed traditional piece that shows more Hindu influence.  The qawwali, performed by Idriss Lallmahomed and his brothers, is absolutely delightful.  While it may seem rough to fans and listeners of the more celebrated and professional Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, it is rooted in the same great tradition and reminds me of the more anonymous qawwali musicians that can be heard in and near mosques in North India and Pakistan.  I have long complained that there needs to be more recording of the folk traditions within India and Pakistan and their respective diasporas in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands , as opposed to the more internationally famous classical tradition or the ubiquitous 'film music', and the charm of these two pieces I think is good proof of that.

There are two examples of the sega ravanne from Mauritius, ravanne being the name of the drum used in both the sega and maloya.  One of these, Montagne le Monde, is performed by a young exciting group named Kiltir Ravanne, and shows the participation of the various ethnic groups in this nationally celebrated musical form.  Three of the 8 tracks from Mauritius are atmosphere tracks that do very little for the CD musically, although one of these atmosphere tracks introduces us to the bobre, an instrument clearly related to the berimbau of Brazil, the benta from Curacao, and all of its original forms found on the African continent.

Following this musical tour of Mauritius the CD returns to Reunion with two more selections from Firmin Viry and two selections from another internationally famous traditional maloya group, Okile, led by Rene Paul Elleliara.

Other than giving the various geographical and statistical information I mentioned earlier, the booklet for Creole Islands of the Indian Ocean makes cursory comment on the history of these islands, more to establish the diverse (African, European, and Indian) influences on the music than to explore these islands' past.  We learn that the Black/African population comes from Mozambique and Madagascar, that the islands were under French influence (at times they were under British influence), and that following the end of slavery there was an influx of indentured Indian and Chinese labour - a history similar to the history of many other Creole islands and nations.  There is also a brief description of the primarily Afro-Creole sega and maloya and then a whirlwind tour through the artists and selections found on the CD.  At times the booklet backfires somewhat, sounding paternalistic and overly sentimental; perhaps this is a vestige of a colonial past or perhaps it is part of the 'travelguide feel' I mentioned earlier.  Another, perhaps more substantive complaint, is the dearth of information given for some of the performers.  It also would have been nice to have transcriptions and translations of the lyrics, particularly those of the segas and maloyas, for those of us who don't understand Creole.

All in all, this CD is a great introduction to the wonderful music of these islands.  It is also useful as a reference for comparisons to the music of other sugar cane Creole islands such as Sao Tome, Cabo Verde, and the Creole islands and nations of the Americas and Caribbean, whose African population primarily comes from West Africa.  The segas and maloyas seem to show similarities to other African/Creole styles, such as the candomble of Bahia, Brazil.  The European dances found on this CD also show remarkable similarities to creolized versions heard on any number of Caribbean islands.  Still, while there are certainly similarities with other Creole/African/European traditions, these genres retain a characteristic sound native to these islands.  I can only hope that there will be a greater availability of this traditional music (outside of France and the Mascarene Islands) in the years to come.

Nathan Luna - 11.3.99

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