Tence Mena is one of the most successful popular singers in Madagascar today. Her roots lie in salegy dance music, generally associated with northern Madagascar, but like so many “tropical” music artists today, Tence Mena has incorporated musical influences from a number of popular African dance music styles—ndombolo from Congo, coupé decalé from Ivory Coast, and others. We first became aware of Tence Mena when ethnomusicologist Julien Mallet directed us to her hot song “Soa’G.” We observed Julien speaking on a panel of musicologists at the Alliance Francaise in Tulear. He seemed to surprise a somewhat stuffy crowd when he enthusiastically presented Tence Mena’s video for this song. Julien told Afropop: “’Soa’G’ comes from the word ‘swag.’ That’s an American term meaning to be à la mode, classy. But she’s made it Malagasy. Soa, that means the same as tsara on the high plateau, basically good or beautiful. And G is gasy, as in Malagasy. So it’s a play on words, a reference to the American universe, hip-hop and all that, but also to young people who are connected internationally. The message is to be proud of being Malagasy. Be proud of your affiliation. Her lyrics say, ‘Even if you are Makua…’—Makua is an ethnic group much reputed to be connected with the African slaves who were brought to Madagascar. So, ‘even if you are Makua, be proud to be Malagasy, be proud to be coastal.’ She doesn’t say it like that, but it’s implied. Be proud to be a young person in the world, and connected internationally.” Here’s the video, well worth watching to the end!
You might note that the song “Soa’G” is not actually in the salegy rhythm. To get a sense of Tence Mena’s evolution, here’s a link to a video playlist of 25 clips produced for her over the years by Vazatsara. Lots of great salegy here, and you can see that this is an artist who has long been ahead of the game when it comes to creating inventive videos that tell provocative stories.
25 videos by Vazatsara
Tence Mena comes from the north of Madagascar and her fellow pop diva these days, Black Nadia, comes from Fort Dauphin, and lived for a while in Tulear. So both represent the coastal influence Julien Mallet referred to. This is significant in Madagascar where so much political and media power are generated from the central highland capital, Antananarivo. Says Julien, “Black Nadia, just with her name, says a lot. There is a branching out to larger world movements. Black: this connects with hip-hop, rap, with modern music—the identity of being black. And for these people of the coast to play regional music and make a mix, it’s a positive development.” Recently Tence Mena and Black Nadia collaborated on this stylish video clip.
“Face à Face: Tence Mena et Black Nadia”
Finally, here’s the latest clip from Tence Mena, “Hypocrite.”