Tinder Records has released the French-Madagascar trio Wa-Zimba's debut, Mande Wazy, Stateside. Based in France and founded by French jazz-fusion guitarist Philippe Robert, French keyboard player, Pierre Acourt and Malagasy bassist and vocalist Julio Rakotonanahary, the trio creates a musical atmosphere of African polyphonic vocals and rhythms anchored to musical genres and instruments of the modern age.
The band’s name derives from the legendary first people of the East African island, Madagascar, the Vazimba. Long before, the Indonesians, Arabs and Africans invaded Madagascar, the Vazimba inhabited the island. Nowadays the Vazimba defend their identity and place on the island. Meanwhile, the band, Wa-Zimba also preserves the heart of Malagasy music in the midst of modern western influences.
According to Philippe, the main arranger, guitarist and sound designer for the trio, “Vazimba is the original tribe from Madagascar. We just use the name for symbolic reasons to let people know where we are coming from even if we don’t play traditional music.” Philippe Robert who had studied guitar at Berklee College of Music in the US, had performed in orchestras and a Beatles’ cover band in Marseilles before joining forces with keyboard player Pierre Acourt. In 1996, Philippe had discovered the Malagasy guitar sensation D’Gary while completing his first album. The studio assistant Simon Rasataniaina had shared D’Gary’s music with Philippe which in turn led Philippe to purchase all of D’Gary’s records. Later he would discover other Malagasy artists including, Justin Vali, Règis Gizavo and Jaojoby.
Prior to the formation of Wa-Zimba, Philippe had performed in jazz-fusion groups that incorporated music of Africa and the West Indies. Philippe and Pierre formed Wa-Zimba in 1999 after they met Malagasy bassist and vocalist Julio. Together these musicians have created a new fusion with Julio’s soaring vocals over African polyrhythms and the vocal polyphony of several renowned guest vocalists, including BBCWorld Music Award winner Coco Mbassi of Cameroon (also on Tinder Records), Malagasy chanteuse Sha Rakotofiringa and others. Solo jazz artist, Remy Chaudagne contributes bass on the recording.
Although the trio’s sound is modern, the musicians do bring the Malagasy bamboo harp,Valiha, a traditional flute, Sodina and Malagasy percussion to their repertoire. The trio does not consider themselves to be a traditional Malagasy group, but Julio sings in Malagache and as a group, the musicians are inspired by Jaojoby and Tarika who also sing their distinct repertoire in Malagache.
Philippe reflects on this musical influence. “In Madagascar we love vocal polyphony and the Malagasy people are highly influenced by traditional music. And because of this, it is easy to recognize the music coming from Madagascar when you have lived there or have gone to visit. The Malagasy are extremely influenced by the South African.”
The trio is proud of all the tracks on their debut recording and prefer to let the public decide which songs are favorites. So far, French rapper Akhenaton has come on board after he was inspired by Wa-Zimba’s song Tsy Mampaninona and on the rapper’s last album, Wa-Zimba contributed Vue de la Cage, which they composed.
“It was a really interesting meeting.”
The musicians in Wa-Zimba are passionate about African music, especially music hailing from Madagascar and they are inventive in the way they fuse all of their musical influences to create sunny music that will have many listen