There was a definite frisson at this year’s WOMEX for Toko Telo, a Malagasy Trio with two acknowledged stars. For me, that frisson was mostly due to guitarist D’Gary. Of all the world music in my collection, Dama and D’Gary’s “The Long Way Home” is the only disk that my guitarist partner seems to enjoy hearing. That’s actually quite reasonable, since it is a guitarist’s dream of acoustic sounds, and I love it too, because the music is honestly sweet. D’Gary’s guitar playing is stunning with precise fingerpicking over lightning fast syncopations. And with all that speed, he still manages to make the guitar sing.
But while I was drawn to hear the music of the trio because of my familiarity with D’Gary’s playing, I stayed because it was enchanting stuff.
The Trio of Toko Telo focuses on original music with traditional roots, those roots being primarily in the southwest of the island, the home of Tsapiky and Beko music. Tsapiky is infectious trance/dance music while Beko is more of a powerful vocal music that deals with serious subject matter such as hardship, death and injustice. Though all three of the trio sing, it is Monika Njava who delivers the soul-searing lead vocals on the songs. Possessed of a rich and powerful voice, she is also steeped in the style of Beko, and studied with the master of that tradition, Ramanindry.
Rounding up the group is the youngest member, Joël Rabesolo, who provides a sort of bridge between tradition and innovation. Raised playing the kabosy, the acoustic “ukulele” of Madagascar, he has also studied Western music at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. On stage he alternates between a standard electric guitar and a Washburn Rover travel guitar (which he plays much like a kabosy) on stage. His understanding of jazz chord structure adds a contemporary color to songs like Diavola, while his tonal sensitivity adds a lovely orchestral flourish.
The song: Hainao Moa (You Know)
After a night of partying a reveler is ready to return home. He admonishes the wagon driver to hitch up the zebu (an African cow frequently used to pull a cart) correctly. He may be drunk, but he still wants to arrive home safely! Composers: Monika Njava, D’Gary
For more about Toko Telo visit: http://aniorecords.com/portfolio/toko-telo/