Sega, a traditional Indian Ocean dance rhythm, is internationally known, but few people outside the island of Reunion have heard of maloya. Maloya is a compound rhythm on which plantation workers have long been singing their joys and woes. It’s a sort of réunionese blues.
Danyèl Waro, living in the middle of sugarcane fields high up in Saint-Paul, is probably the most famous maloya singer of the island, singing maloya in creole and with traditional instruments : kayanm, flat instrument made from cane flower stems and filled with saffron seeds ; bob (called birimbau in Brazil), a musical bow attached to a calabash for resonance; rouler (literally, “rollers” big drum made from barrels with a cowskin head, in short, all the traditional maloya instruments. «For me, maloya is first of all the word». Indeed, his songs border on poetry. He speaks of love death or politics, using a popular, peasant vocabulary that his urban listeners have often forgotten. He creates unexpected, beautiful and powerful imagery and, most importantly, feels the convergence between words and music that makes great songs.
Philippe Conrath, whose Cobalt label has released Danyèl Waro’s music for the past ten years, writes “If Danyèl Waro always wanted to remain free and to lead his career to his own rhythm – a rhythm embedded in the earth, in the good son of a farmer who knew the work of the fields from a tender age – he has nevertheless, in the course of these last fifteen years, played at the biggest European festivals.”
Danyèl Waro “A part of his professional history begins elsewhere in Berlin, at the Tempodrom in 1996, in the framework of the Heimatklänge festival whose artistic director had discovered him at the festival Africolor in Paris in December 1995. It’s in Berlin where he records a live album “Foutan Fonnkér”, which becomes a revelation in France, a CD which will go on to sell fifteen thousand copies in La Réunion (amongst a population at the time of 750,000 inhabitants!).”
“The journey may seem slow until this WOMEX Artist Award 2010, an award that he will receive almost ten years after his favourite artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but it is exemplary because Danyèl Waro has never made even the slightest compromise during all these years, nor at any time in his life. At the age of twenty, he spent two years in prison in France for refusing military service.”
Danyèl Waro “Danyèl Waro has remained faithful to the tradition of acoustic maloya, the blues of La Réunion, the volcanic island of the Indian Ocean, two cable lengths from Mauritius. There he is recognised as a hero. Musician and poet, he knows how to sing Creole with unparalleled emotion: ‘For me the maloya is first of all the word. I seek the cadence, the image, the rhythm in the word. Thanks to the maloya, I have stepped back from a connection to Cartesian philosophy and too conceptual judgments. The maloya has put me in harmony with La Réunion, with the people, with our language’.”
“Long obscured, the maloya was revived in the 1970s by the independence movements, prior to the renaissance of the 1980s. And Danyèl Waro with his talent enables the maloya to find again its original meaning and bear a message of revolt, hope and courage in raising awareness of many in La Réunion of the importance of their cultural heritage.”
WOMEX is delighted to present the WOMEX 10 Award for Artists to this special musician, singer, activist and poet who has fought, for decades, to revive a musical treasure from the Indian Ocean and who has popularised its pearls on an international level. WOMEX feels honoured that Danyèl Waro has accepted this Award..
Original text in French: Phillipe Conrath, English translation: Colin Bass
If maloya is the musical emblem of the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion, Danyel Waro is without a doubt its most important ambassador. This talented musician, poet, instrument-maker and committed militant of Creole culture has, in the space of just a few albums, established himself as a major artist on the international ‘world’ music scene.
Born on 10 May 1955 in Le Tampon, in the south of the island, Daniel Hoarau was the fourth child in a family of five. “The little white boy from the Highlands” grew up in Trois Mares where his father, a former day labourer, had bought three hectares of land to farm himself. The Hoarau family lived on the land in semi-autarchy in a makeshift cabin with no running water or electricity. Young Daniel spent more of his childhood working in the fields than he did playing and there was little room for pleasure or entertainment in this austere day-to-day lifestyle. The only music he ever heard was via the small transistor radio the family used to listen to the news.
At the age of fifteen, Danyel made a major musical breakthrough when he dug through his sister’s record collection and discovered Georges Brassens. Inspired by the French chanson star’s clever wordplay, he vowed one day he would use his love of language to promote the Creole language. Like other young people of his generation, Danyel did not actually grow up listening to maloya. This specific style of Indian Ocean blues, with African, Madagascan and Indian roots, had practically died out. Maloya was (unofficially) banned on the island and only survived thanks to a few families before it was saved by the Reunionese Communist Party as part of its drive for independence for the French overseas ‘département.’
Maloya, a traditional music dating back to the slave days (and integrating strong African influences, slave chants and work songs) was instrumentalised and went on to become a symbol of the Reunionese fight for identity. Danyel, aware of the political struggle through his father’s actions as a militant communist, developed a veritable passion for maloya after attending a concert by Firmin Viry (a maloya star under whom he would later serve an ‘apprenticeship’ ), organised by the local communist party newspaper in 1970. Danyel recognised the force of maloya as a political weapon in the fight against mainland France but, more importantly, he discovered himself through the music and woke up to his own cultural identity.
1975: live début
Fired by his passion for maloya, Danyel mastered the fundamental elements of the rhythm by himself and began making his own percussion instruments. On 27 December 1975, he gave his first official maloya performance with a group of young agricultural workers. At school he followed the example of his father’s activism and staged a pupils’ strike in the sixth form. He ended up failing his ‘baccalauréat’ and this precipitated his call-up for military service in France in 1976.
The young anti-militarist refused to wear army uniform, however, and was sentenced to two years in prison for insubordination. It was while serving time in his cell at the detention centre in Ecouvres that Danyel penned his first texts in Creole (which were later published in 1979 as “Romans ékri dan la zol an frans”).
When he returned to Réunion, Danyel joined the Troup Flanboiyan, a group that had been set up by his brother, Gaston, a few years earlier and whose repertoire was essentially made up of hardhitting protest songs. Danyel continued to play with the group up until 1984, performing at local communist party meetings. But he gradually distanced himself from the Communist Party as he became more involved in the artistic side of things.
1987: recording début
In 1985, Danyel accompanied Lo Rwa Kaf live on stage in France when the veteran maloya star gave a series of concerts at the “Musiques Métisses” festival in Angoulême and at Unesco. Then, accompanied by his own group, Danyel Waro went on to record his first cassette album in 1987 with the support of Ziskakan (a group who spearheaded the maloya revival). The album “Gafourn” included “Soweto”, a song he had written while in prison in France. Meanwhile, although he began to receive his first payments for concerts, Danyel continued to earn a living from making instruments, running maloya ‘training’ courses and organising workshops at local schools.
Danyel had long been resistant to the idea of leaving Réunion and making a career out of his music. But in 1990 he performed outside Réunion for the first time under his own name, appearing in concert in Japan. The following year, he accepted an invitation to play at the “Musiques Métisses” festival in Angoulême, France. And he performed his first date in Paris on 24 May 1991. His next major appearance in France was at “Africolor”, a festival organised in the Paris suburbs, in 1993. He returned to France a few months later to play at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, then went on to bring the house down at “Jazz Pulsations” in Nancy.
Meanwhile, on his second album “Batarsité”, released in 1994, Danyel urged his compatriots to be proud of their island’s “bastard” society made up of Africans, Madagascans, Indians and Europeans. Waro, who wrote all the lyrics and music on the album, recorded it with four percussionists who would collaborate with him up until the end of the decade.
Two years later, coinciding with the release of “Sega la pente”, an album he made with the Reunionese singer Françoise Guimbert, Danyel Waro published “Démavouz la vi”, a collection of poems written in Creole.
Waro also harboured political ambitions and in Reunion’s regional elections in 1998 he stood as a candidate for “Nasyon rényoné dobout” (The Reunionese Nation on its Feet), a party campaigning for a more prominent use of Creole. Despite his ongoing popularity as a singer and ardent defender of his island’s cultural identity, the party only gained 0.77% of the vote.
1999: “Foutan Fonkèr”
A new dimension was added to Danyel Waro’s career in October 1999 when Cobalt, the label he has remained loyal to since his early days, released a new album entitled “Foutan Fonkèr”. Recorded live in Berlin in 1996, “Foutan Fonkèr”, like all Waro’s previous albums, featured songs written at various stages of his career (the earliest dating from 1978, the most recent from 1994). The album went on to win the prestigious Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros and Waro was invited to play at the Transmusicales festival in Rennes. He went on to make an appearance at Africolor, too
In 2000, Waro was back in France headlining at the ninth edition of the “Nuits Atypiques de Langon” festival. Here he took to the stage with Loy Ehrlich, René Lacaille (who had invited Waro to guest on his album “Pantapo” in 1999) and other stars. He also took part in a special concert organised by Africolor paying tribute to the late great maloya star Alain Peters, who died in 1995.
Playing to a packed audience of his compatriots at La Ravine Saint-Leu, Danyel Waro celebrated the release of a new album, “Bwarouz”, in February 2002. This hard-hitting album included a reference to the Reunionese who had ended up exiled in France in the 1960s. Musically speaking, Waro intended his new album to be a slower, softer, more intimate affair with a capella songs where his voice starred as lead instrument. Later that year, Waro was invited back to play at the “Musiques Métisses” festival in Angoulême and he also performed in Brussels in May. After that, he played to a full house at the Café de la Danse, in Paris, three nights running before embarking upon a mini French tour.
2003: “Rest’la maloya”
February saw the release of a new album, “Rest’la maloya”, a live recording of the collective tribute to Alain Peters organised three years earlier. Meanwhile, Waro also released “Sominnkèr”, an album recorded with the Reunionese harmonica-player Olivier Ker Ourio, who had moved to Paris ten years earlier. The pair presented this first fusion of maloya and jazz live on stage together at Africolor, after Waro finished a French tour which included appearances at Les Transmusicales in Rennes and La Fiesta des Suds in Marseilles.
In 2004, Reunion’s leading maloya ambassador toured the island’s highlands in support of plantation workers. In June of that year, he appeared at the Festival Do Boluarte in Mozambique. In August, he went on to perform at Reunion’s very first Sakifo festival organised in Saint-Leu.
In 2005, Danyel Waro produced “Sitantèlman”, a debut album by one of his former musicians, Ti Fred. Later that year, Waro was invited to perform at the Chinese edition of Transmusicales in Beijing where he put in a memorable appearance, defying torrential rain and thousands of soldiers drafted in as security guards. A few days later, the maloya star headed out to Morocco to perform at the eight edition of the “Gnaoua & Musiques du Monde festival” staged in Essaouira. Back in Réunion, at that year’s Sakifo, Waro’s former percussionists Serz Dafrevil and Loran Dalleau paid a stirring tribute to their mentor, covering tracks from his album “Gafourn” with an orchestra of 20 musicians and a 50-strong choir.
2006: “Grin n Syel”
After ending 2005 with another memorable performance at Africolor, Danyel Waro locked himself away in the studio to work on thirteen tracks for his new album, “Grin n Syel”, released in August 2006. Waro’s new group included his 24-year-old son, Samy Pageaux Waro, whose percussion talent had been widely acclaimed and who has carved out his own career playing with major artists such as Nathalie Natiembé.
2006 also included more headlining appearances at “Musiques Métisses”, Le Festival du bout du monde in Brittany and at Sziget, in Hungary (one of the biggest European music festivals). After three concerts on consecutive nights at Le New Morning in Paris in September 2006, Waro headed off for a series of concerts in Martinique. After this he returned to France to present his joint creation with the French guitarist Thierry “Titi” Robin at the 18th edition of Africolor.
Another important partnership in Danyel Waro’s career was with the Corsican polyphony group, A Filleta. At the 20th Rencontres des Chants Polyphonique in Calvi in September 2008, the musicians presented a creation that marvellously married the Réunionnais singer’s maloya with the deep voices of the Corsicans. Inspired by the exchange, they renewed the experience two years in a row at the Africolor Festival just outside Paris (2008 and 2009).
2010: “Aou Amwin”
The adventure continued when Danyel Waro invited A Filleta to come and record three tracks for his new album. “Aou Amwin” (“from you to me”) came out in 2010 and for the first time presented collaborations with artists from different worlds, although the music and lyrics remained firmly rooted in Réunionnais culture. As well as the Corsican group, Waro invited the South African singer Tumi (from Tumi & and the Volume) on a version of “Mandela”, a track from his album “Bwarouz” (2002).
A French tour followed and on 31 October 2010 Danyel Waro went to Copenhagen to receive the prestigious 2010 Artist’s Award at Womex, the international world music professional event. He also received the Charles-Cros Academy Grand Prix. The awards not only recompensed his musical talents, but also his commitment to promoting and disseminating maloya throughout the world.