Monday, June 26, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days # 007: Dama and D'Gary: The Long Way Home

Astonishingly (and criminally), this CD is now out of print ($32 used from Amazon). It’s essentially a jam session, featuring one legendary and one obscure Malagasay musician plus a supporting cast. Its genesis was in the field collecting/collaboration trips by Henry Kaiser and David Lindley to Madagascar in the early ‘90s. I had the opportunity to interview Henry about this several years after the event, and he emphasize that he and Mr Dave had gone there, as much as possible, simply to meet, hang out, and play with musicians. They brought a pretty-decent-for-the-period digital recording setup, liaised with local producers, and put the results on two CDs called A World out of Time. There is amazing stuff on those records, but they suffer from some of the problems of any compilation.

The Long Way Home was a followup disc, when Dama and D’Gary were brought by Henry to La Fete Internationale de Louisiane, a fantastic festival of Francophone music held in Louisiana every April. Because the Malagasies are more comfortable in the French colonial language, they were a natural for the festival, and both made a hit: Dama (an elected legislator), who is described as a Malagasay combination of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Victor Jara, and Dama, a cowherd and guitar virtuoso who had never owned an instrument until Henry and Dave gave him one. Dama writes and sings beautiful and resonant songs, proverbs, and cautionary tales (Hiakatra Sa Hidina, I Alamino (Be Cool!), and Voasary), while D’Gary plays astonishingly complex and polymetric guitar instrumentals in a rainbow of tunings.

Henry put them into a bayou studio in French Louisiana, found them some compatible French-speaking collaborators in himself, slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, and fiddler Michel Doucet of Beausoleil, and turned them loose. The result is magnificent: warm, loose, joyful, musical, and hellaciously groove-filled. Favorite moment: the long jam on Mpanjono Mody (The Fishermen’s Return), an instrumental depicting a group of fishermen returning to shore, happy with a full-to-overflowing catch. Dama plays kabossy (a small, box-shaped, open-tuned guitar), D’Gary plays the Martin he got from Henry and Dave, Doucet plays fiddle, and they play and play and play. It’s a first take, and you can hear them searching for and finding musical solutions moment-to-moment, with the same sense of astonished joy as the fishermen they’re depicting. Best moment: when they finally coast to a beautiful as-if-rehearsed tutti ending, the tape keeps running, and there’s a burst of delighted laughter and excited 4-way French chatter between the Malagasies and the Cajuns. Warms my heart every time I hear it.

(Secret weapon: Dama’s hair-raising rhythm section of Pana and Laurent Razafindraibe on congas, sticks, and bunches of grass. As Lindley says, “nothing ever scared me so much as watching the Malagasies tap their feet!”)

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