« Program: Hip Deep in Madagascar: The Tsapiky Story

Poster for Damily's first concert in Tulear in 14 years

Dispatch #4: Malagasy Tsapiky Star Damily Wows Tulear in Epic Concert

Voandala is a gift you give when returning from a long time away. And this concert would be Damily’s gift to Tulear, the southern Madagascar seaside town where he made his career as a tsapiky (tsapika) guitarist and bandleader. But he married his French wife, Yvel, in 2001 and left for rural France. This is his first visit home in eight years, and his first public concert with his family band—who all still live here in Tulear—in 14 years. Historic stuff.

Afropop’s Hip Deep guide to Tulear is Julian Mallet, an intrepid French ethnomusicologist living here for two years, writing his second book on tsapiky music. We could not have asked for more. For one thing, Julian was deeply involved in the planning of Damily’s return concert, and we had access to everything. The day before the show, we rode around Tulear in a pousse-pousse (three-wheeled bicycle that can take two passengers) behind Julian’s truck, which was rigged up with an improvised PA system. An MC in the back seat blasted Damily’s cranking tsapiky guitar music, and pumped up the show to passersby in what passes for rush-hour in this poor but vibrant bayside town.

Julien Mallet's truck, rigged up to promote Damily's concert (Eyre 2014)

Julien Mallet’s truck, rigged up to promote Damily’s concert (Eyre 2014) DamilyAmbulation2

Our view from the pousse-pousse (Eyre 2014)

Our view from the pousse-pousse (Eyre 2014)

Tsapiky is loud, fast, hard-driving electric guitar music, with overtones of South African mbaqanga of old, but with gnarly guitar riffs that also owe to Congolese dance music and Hendrix. But tsapiky is not just for entertainment. It is mostly played at burial parties when someone dies—mandriapototsy. These parties go on for days, and the music is nonstop. So a free public concert of tsapiky in Tulear’s seaside Jardin de la Mer is already a rarity.

Damily concert banner over Tulear street (Eyre 2014)

Damily concert banner over Tulear street (Eyre 2014)

No one knew what kind of crowd this show would draw. Did people even remember Damily?  He was once the biggest tsapika star around, but times move on, and with virtually no recording industry here to speak of, it’s the people who play ceremonies and make fresh video clips who are best known. As Saturday afternoon unfolded, though, all fears were allayed. A crowd of thousands, including lots of kids too young to have ever seen Damily play live before, assembled eagerly. Yvel, Damily’s wife, speaks fluent Malagasy and overheard people in the crowd wondering aloud if that could really be Damily up there. Maybe it was just a stand-in. But as this rocking show rose into high gear, and the sun went down, there was no doubting that this son of tsapiky, whose band all still live here in Tulear, was back and in fantastic form.

Crowd gathering for the Damily concert (Eyre 2014)

Crowd gathering for the Damily concert (Eyre 2014)

Damily's band onstage (Eyre 2014)

Damily’s band onstage (Eyre 2014)

Damily in action with his guitar (Eyre 2014)

Damily in action (Eyre 2014)

This was an epic concert—all recorded and filmed by our team, with help from Julien. The audience got very rowdy after sunset—kids laughing, jumping and hoisting one another above the crowd, butt-wiggling women fending off playfully flirtations young men, cameras flashing and panning. It was a massive party—a long awaited voandala for the people of Tulear.

View from the soundboard at Damily's concert after dark. A sea of heads and a warmly lit stage (Eyre 2014)

View from the sound board (Eyre 2014)

Kids going nuts at Damily concert (Eyre 2014)

Kids going nuts at Damily concert (Eyre 2014)