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Madagascar's hip hop stars mix rap and tradition
Over the last 10 years hip hop has gained popularity on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. Performers’ lyrics focus on serious issues - poverty, deforestation or young people's problems. And, despite the influence of US culture, the rappers use traditional Malagasy music.
In the seven months since they formed, Basy Gasy have already given several performances and have won hundreds of fans.
Their music is a mix of hip hop and traditional Malagasy music. The group members try to break the stereotypes about urban culture.
“People have a negative perception about rap," says Lovazen, one of the group's 15 members, at a recording session in Antananarivo. "All people think it’s all about the bling bling, all about the ladies and all about gangstarism. The first thing we try to do is to remind people that hip hop is none of this.”
His stage name alludes to his peaceful attitude. Basy Gasy means Malagasy gun but the microphone and words are the only weapons used by the group, Lovazen says.
“We do conscious music. We also know that, hip hop or rap, it’s also about entertaining people. Our vision is about educating people and to inform them about what’s going on in the world. It’s more social”.
Like other Malagasy rap groups, Basy Gasy is influenced by US-style hip hop. However, they sing in Malagasy and French. Rap has become increasingly popular on the Indian Ocean Island over the last decade.
“It’s due to the Dirty South, a rap music coming from the South of the United States," explans Basy Gasy member Lalaina. "According to young Malagasy people, it’s close to the ancestral Malagasy beat.”
The fact that rap performers address social problems may also explain the recent mainstream success of hip hop in Madagascar.
In this poverty-stricken country, rap artists voice the concerns and challenges faced by young people. In 2007, Unicef chose 15-year-old rap star Namesix as a Junior Goodwill Ambassador for his commitment to defend childrens' rights.
“There are some friends, they can't go to school because of family problems and things like that and I said 'let’s put that to the music, let’s sing that' so people could hear what’s going on," he recalls. "I believe music can change the world because it can change the people.”
Namesix starting singing when he was eight. He used to make strictly urban music. But the 21-year-old is now exploring Jamaica's reggae and ragga styles. His new album, Tongasoa (Welcome) is a return to Malagasy roots.
“I have this lack of identity and I want to know who I am and where I want to go,” he adds.
Namesix came up with the project after visiting his family village for the first time in 2010.
Mixed with the traditional Kabosy guitar, he says the acoustic album is an invitation to Malagasy culture.