#AuxSons is a collaborative, militant and solidary web media
capture-decran-2019-07-09-a-10-20-52-768x563 -

From Mayotte to Réunion, the body at every latitude

In 2018, the dri­ving force behind Kas­sav’, Jacob Des­va­rieux, put his weight behind the new scene coming out of France’s over­seas ter­ri­to­ries by invi­ting their pro­mi­sing talents to the Olym­pia. For this second part of our cycle dedi­ca­ted to the crea­ti­vi­ty of France’s islands, we look at the islands of Mayotte and Réunion.



Accor­ding to the anthro­po­lo­gist Damir Ben Ali, “for Como­rians, music is an effec­tive and pres­ti­gious means of communication”.

As you tra­vel around the island of Mayotte, the deep roots and constant pre­sence of Sufi devo­tio­nal prac­tices are clear to see. Spi­ri­tua­li­ty, pas­sed on in the Kora­nic schools, is honou­red in many forms : mou­li­da chengue, dakhi­ra and debaa sin­ging, etc. The lat­ter, a female musi­cal-cho­reo­gra­phic genre ori­gi­na­ting from the Rifayi and Qadi­ri reli­gious groups, is a res­pon­so­rial song of praise to the Pro­phet, accom­pa­nied by mini­ma­list, hyp­no­tic dan­cing that consists of sket­ching out move­ments with the upper body using slow and refi­ned ges­tures with the arms – orna­men­ted with jewels – and hands – cove­red in hen­na – which move in uni­son to the beat of the tam­bou­rines in per­fect­ly control­led undu­la­tions that evoke the waves of the ocean. Debaa, a won­der­ful event when eve­ryone gathers in a venue deco­ra­ted for the occa­sion (ban­dra ban­dra) and the arche­type of a matriar­chal socie­ty, has not lost its fer­vour at wed­dings and fes­ti­vals held in Maho­ran vil­lages – unlike other endan­ge­red dances such as wada­ha (the dance of the pestles). Yet it also cir­cu­lates away from the island, both in nor­thern Mada­gas­car and in Europe, where, thanks to its aes­the­tic reach, trans­ge­ne­ra­tio­nal nature and the pro­found res­pect its joy­ful beau­ty ins­pires, it has become the pres­ti­gious pri­vi­lege, a flo­ral and colour­ful syno­nym for its island, like the bright salu­vas in which its female ambas­sa­dors are dressed.



Howe­ver, we are cur­rent­ly wit­nes­sing the gra­dual folk­lo­ri­sa­tion of tra­di­tio­nal Maho­ran dan­cing for poli­ti­cal pur­poses : mbiui dan­cing on the Mayotte stand at the Paris agri­cul­ture trade fair, wel­co­ming tou­rists at the air­port, indi­ge­nous music and ins­tru­ments invol­ved in poli­ti­cal fes­ti­vals and events, for example. This ste­rile spec­ta­cu­la­ri­sa­tion is oppo­sed by heralds com­mit­ted to the mea­ning of tra­di­tion, like musi­cians such as the prea­cher of inter­cul­tu­ra­li­ty Miki­dache, the cus­to­dian of sha­ka­sha (an old slave dance) Colo Man­ga­ra, and the ubi­qui­tous far­mer and player of the gabu­si lute Komo, Mayotte’s most fol­lo­wed artist on Facebook.

The god­fa­ther of all these ini­tia­tives is Abou Chi­ha­bi, who foun­ded the only contem­po­ra­ry genre in the 1970s by refer­ring to this tra­di­tio­nal heri­tage : fol­ko­mo­ro­cean. Abou Chi­ha­bi also met Del Zid, Diho and Zama Colo in 2009. Their ambi­tion is to sti­mu­late a new musi­cal move­ment by playing the gabu­si lute and the dzendze zither toge­ther over cele­bra­to­ry mgo­dro rhythms, with ins­tru­ments such as the saxo­phone, flute and elec­tro-acous­tic gui­tar, navi­ga­ting bet­ween blues, folk and rock. Faced with the pres­sing issue of whe­ther Mayotte should become a French dépar­te­ment, contem­po­ra­ry Maho­ran music is also repre­sen­ted by the sub­ver­sive anti-colo­nia­list songs of the poli­ti­cal­ly com­mit­ted gui­ta­rist and poet M’Toro Cha­mou and the poli­ti­ci­sed reg­gae of Baba­di, Bob Dahi­lou and Wuba­ni Spi­rit, who call for insur­rec­tion against the vio­lence of a social and eco­no­mic cri­sis expe­rien­ced by many of their fel­low citi­zens, plun­ging them into disar­ray, alco­hol and drugs.

One thing is cer­tain, music and dance are inse­pa­rable in Mayotte : from debaa to urban dance, via mgo­dro, the spe­ci­fic rhythm of Maho­ran popu­lar music, the body is cal­led upon to take part in the par­ty spi­rit ! To coun­te­ract a fee­ling of hel­pless power­less­ness, the body is in fact again being used on a new and pro­li­fic hip-hop scene in Mayotte, which has become the capi­tal of the genre in the Indian Ocean and is embo­died by Nixo, the new prince of afro-trap, San­go Sy, Garde Impé­rial and Bo Houss.

La Mar­seillaise has become La Mahoraise :

Along these lines, the Evo­lu­tion hip-hop col­lec­tive power­ful­ly unites for­got­ten young people along with Mozam­bique Chan­nel, allo­wing them to express them­selves, to dream. Like a life raft, hip-hop, the pro­test genre par excel­lence, has become a vec­tor for acqui­ring pro­fes­sio­nal skills (even to the extent of the 2016 vic­to­ry in one of France’s main natio­nal break­dance com­pe­ti­tions : Bat­tle of The Year in Mont­pel­lier) and a means of eman­ci­pa­tion for a new life out­side the vicious circle of vio­lence and misery.


On Réunion, new musi­cal trends are redra­wing the musi­cal map of the island, like the post-hard­core garage noise trio Pam­ple­mousse or the mys­ti­cal rock-afro-blues of Tap­kal, fron­ted by Anan­da Devi Peters, daugh­ter of the ico­nic poet and stel­lar wan­de­rer Alan Peters.

But Réunion remains unfai­lin­gly asso­cia­ted with maloya, an aggres­sive ter­na­ry blues, inhe­ri­ted from Mala­ga­sy and Afri­can slaves and on UNESCO’s Intan­gible Cultu­ral Heri­tage list since 2009. Maloya still has a sense of adven­ture, howe­ver, and has been enri­ched by the blen­ded col­la­bo­ra­tions of its roving artists, such as the famous group Lin­di­go. Led all over the world by the cha­ris­ma­tic Oli­vier Araste, from South Afri­ca (and the elec­tro-tro­pi­cal sounds of Skip & Die) to Ango­la (with the queen of kudu­ro Pon­go), via Cuba (and the rum­ba of Los Mune­qui­tos de Matan­zas), the group creates a noma­dic maloya, but one still roo­ted in the tra­di­tion of ser­vis kaba­ré, cere­mo­nies in homage to ances­tors, once held in secret.

Réunion is pro­ving to be an island condu­cive to the dis­co­ve­ry of musi­cal other­ness, to crea­tions that bring with them the colours of Créole, such as Rou­gai­verde, a pro­ject envi­sa­ged by Eli­da Alme­dia from Cape Verde and Tiloun from Réunion itself. Two types of island music, two rhythms inven­ted and dan­ced by slaves in oppo­si­tion to the same colo­nial yoke.

But even before see­king ins­pi­ra­tion in other lands, maloya rene­wed itself from within by asso­cia­ting itself with the island’s long his­to­ry of elec­tro­nic music. Zong were the first group from Réunion to use machines to create a local blend, fol­lo­wed by Jako Maron, ano­ther acti­vist from the ear­ly days of elec­tro­nic music on the island who chose to sample the voice of Danyel Waro and mix it with a tech­no beat imi­ta­ting the swaying of the kayamb. The Fes­ti­val les Elec­tro­pi­cales was foun­ded in 2009 and now acts as a ral­lying point and mou­th­piece for the new Réunion scene.

From Maya Kama­ty, daugh­ter of Gil­bert Pou­nia, to Car­lo de Sac­co, front­man for Grèn Sémé, from Labelle’s cap­ti­va­ting remixes (Natha­lie Natiembe, Bachar Mar-Kha­li­fé…) to those of Do Moon, the list of those expe­ri­men­ting with evol­ving elec­tro­nic maloya sui­table for trance keeps get­ting longer.


Poli­ti­cal rock poe­try rubs shoul­ders with dub beats, tech­no house floo­ded with trap and sha­ma­nic music in a dream­like jour­ney with unex­pec­ted offshoots.

A recent pro­ject : Jean-Didier Hoareau’s Trans Kabar also work on an elec­tro-rock rea­ding of Réunion’s mys­ti­cal rites car­ried out with “fonn­kèr”, an ener­gy that lends itself to trance.

Although the grea­test voices of maloya have tra­di­tio­nal­ly been male – Gran­moun Lélé, Fir­min Viry and Danyel Waro – a new gene­ra­tion of eman­ci­pa­ted and unbrid­led women are begin­ning to speak the uns­pea­kable and break island taboos. Maloya has become a com­pa­nion to an intros­pec­tive, nar­ra­tive music which, to awa­ken consciences, finds its cathar­tic signi­fi­cance by addres­sing both mind and body.

Kaloune is one of these : accom­pa­nied by her mbi­ra, she moves bet­ween prayer, decla­ma­tion and sin­ging, construc­ting a new Réunio­nese lan­guage and inven­ting a contem­po­ra­ry form of ora­li­ty that is both freeing and vigo­rous­ly feminist.

Turn the memo­ry of its ashes to the burn, make screa­ming tear itself apart and insist silences speak”, this is the cre­do of ano­ther visio­na­ry artist, Ann O’aro. Her poe­tic parables in Creole – the car­nal lan­guage of what is for­bid­den – serve up a strip­ped, vis­ce­ral blues against a back­drop of maloya. The theme is incest, per­pe­tra­ted by her father, a violent pri­son war­der who com­mit­ted sui­cide when she was 15. It is by sin­king into her memo­ry – using music as an out­let – that she manages to evoke a post-trau­ma­tic huma­nism. Her voice is both asser­tive and crad­ling, anger erupts ; the body, in all its states, conjures up her demons and revi­sits the mad­ness of sava­ge­ry in a mani­fes­to of inti­ma­cy, spi­ral­ling and wan­de­ring after the outrage of a dese­cra­ted child­hood and a plun­de­red body.

There is only one key­word : resi­lience, vehe­ment­ly and without concession !

Sandrine Le Coz

Sandrine Le Coz



After graduating with a degree in modern literature and a Masters in anthropology, Sandrine Le Coz is currently completing a doctorate in social anthropology at the EHESS in Paris.
Her PhD research focuses on professional networks structuring the distribution and commercialisation sector of world music. Beginning in Australia, with the Australasian World Music Expo in Melbourne, her fieldwork is focused on what are commonly known in the music industry as markets and trade shows. Through a multi-site ethnography, she proposes to define the relationships between the various key players and the impact of their decision-making power during selections or the awarding of prizes by juries. Helping visibility and attributing “artistic value”, as well as the issues raised by the reproduction of coercive hierarchical relationships, lie at the heart of her analysis of a creative process that grapples with globalised and exponential economic competition.
In addition, she also works in the field of world music as a journalist, film maker, artistic director, scriptwriter, production, communication, broadcast and programming assistant for various institutions such as Hermès (since 2018), events and festivals, including the Festival de l'Imaginaire (2016), the Festival des Musiques Sacrées de Fès, the World Sacred Spirit Festival in India (since 2017) and the Al Kamandjati Festival in Palestine (2018).

Please choose how you want to receive news from our online media platform #AuxSons by Zone Franche
You can use the unsubscribe link included in the newsletter at any time. Learn more about managing your data and your rights.