Razia Said and her fellow Madagascar-bred musicians hope to inspire more than peculiar barefoot dances at this year's La Fête de Marquette. Said, Charles Kely, Jaojoby and Saramba will visit Madison on Saturday to share the cheerful 6/8 gallop of Madagascar's national music, salegy. But the Wake Up Madagascar tour's real goal is to protest illegal logging activities and slash-and-burn farming techniques that scar the island. Said spoke last week from her home in New York.
Your music tends to be somber and pop-influenced, whereas Jaojoby is more dance-oriented. Does the tour deliberately try to present a range of styles?
Everybody kind of originated from the traditional Malagasy stuff and turned it into something more suited for Western ears. Charles Kely, he's one of our up-and-coming guitar players, and when you hear him play the guitar, you really feel the sweetness of the Malagasy.... [Kely is] more acoustic. He's from the plateau of Madagascar, so it's totally different kinds of rhythms.
Was the song "Slash and Burn," from your 2010 album Zebu Nation, your first attempt to address environmental issues in your lyrics?
I went around the island to get some inspiration and to record certain musicians, and it happened that through that looking around the island, I realized it was devastated by slash-and-burn and illegal logging. All along the way, there was a lot of burning and smoke. The whole wood and furniture industry is using semi-precious wood from Madagascar, Brazil and Indonesia. It's like kind of a mafia going on.
One of the only jobs being offered lately in Madagascar, where people are making $2.50 a day, is cutting wood and going into national parks. Madagascar is so famous for its biodiversity. If we start attacking national parks, what else is going to be left?
Do you hope to connect with Americans who are having similar "jobs vs. environment" debates over oil pipelines and natural-gas fracking?
We're hoping to connect to Americans on that kind of level, and I think through music is the best way to get an audience to listen to us and find some solutions.