Over the past couple of months, I've been listening to a range of musical artists from Réunion and I've put together this playlist of the songs I liked most, so you can get a flavour of what Réunion has to offer.
1. Mon île by Jacqueline Farreyrol
This is a beautiful song with lyrics that could have been written by the Réunionnais tourist board! It's very much a traditional ballad, in French style and was first performed by Farreyrol on local television in the 1970's. It describes the beauty of Réunion and celebrates the positive unity of the people who live on the island - a really good anthem, which I'm sure has been sung at many a party!
I found this video on YouTube, which also has the lyrics, so you can hear for yourself.
Here are some of the lyrics, which I found interesting, as they also mention Réunion's relationship with France:
Tu as réunis dan ton coeur
des gens de toutes les couleurs
Comme un défi au monde entier
pour le pire et pour le meilleur
Tu as choisis comme âme soeur
le pays de la liberté
You have reunited in your heart
people of all colours
Like a challenge to the entire world
for better or worse
You have chosen as your soul mate
the country of liberty
2. Koundy by Firmin Viry
At the other end of the cultural scale from French chanson is maloya the music of the former slaves - very much rooted in African traditions and similar to the music of Madagascar. Maloya uses percussion instruments like the caïambe and string instruments like the bobre, a kind of musical bow which is very similar to other instruments found throughout the south of Africa.
Maloya is the music of the sugar cane fields and through its rhythm you can picture the workers busy cutting and stacking the sugar cane, calling out to each other in repetitive phrases, as they while away the working day.
The French authorities were so threatened by the power of maloya that they banned it in the late 1950's, at a time when African independence movements were in full swing. It wasn't until much later, in the 1970's, that singers like Firmin Viry championed this musical tradition, now recognised by UNESCO as part of the list of Intangible cultural heritage.
I've embedded this video from YouTube, so you can hear maloya with your own ears.
3. Soleye by Granmoun Lélé
Another great maloya singer is Granmoun Lélé who was born in Réunion in 1930 but, sadly, passed away in 2004. I like this video because you can see the music, singers and dancing. As well as being the music of work and protest, maloya has its roots in a spiritual tradition and I think this really comes across in the songs of Granmoun Lélé.
Like other maloya artists, Granmoun Lélé sings in Kreol - unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to find any translations of the lyrics of these songs, although with a knowledge of French you'll get the gist of the odd sentence here and there!
No blog post about the music of Réunion would be complete without reference to Danyèl Waro, a native of the island with a great passion for Kreol language and maloya. Danyèl Waro is probably more well-known in France and outside Réunion than any other maloya artist and he seems to do quite well on the world music scene.
Waro's music sounds quite bluesy and reminds me of the music of the southern United States. I think this is a deliberate technique of linking African traditions with the music of African-Americans.
This video from YouTube shows Waro playing the caïambe at a concert in France.
5. Bato Fou by Ziskakan
I really love the music of Ziskakan, who mix maloya with European-style instruments and a distinctive Indian beat. They've been around since the late 1970's and have played all over the world - Paris, New Delhi, London and the United States.
6. Flèr Malèr by Ousa Nousava
More easy-listening than frenetic African drums, I nevertheless enjoyed listening to the group Ousa Nousava - their name is Kreol for where are we going (in French, Où allons-nous).
7. Alon dansé by Baster
I'm not sure if I fully understand the difference between maloya and séga - although maloya seems to be specific to Réunion, whereas séga is more widespread across the Indian ocean islands. Séga also seems to be a lot more 'chilled' and I really liked this song, by Baster which I think means Let's dance.
Baster's music reminds me a lot of the music of Caribbean countries like Barbados and I'm sure there is a musical connection between Réunion and French Caribbean territories like Martinique and Guadeloupe.
This video from YouTube is a live performance and, although the sound quality isn't perfect, it's great to see everyone dancing and having a good time!
8. Zalouzie by Lindigo
Lindigo is a more modern maloya group and I really liked this song from their recent (2012) album Maloya Power. It's interesting to note the presence of the accordion in this track - definitely a French influence, as traditional French music has some great examples of accordion-playing!
9. Mi Ème a Ou by Faham
I was actually a fan of Faham long before I started blogging about Réunion - I came across their music through a fantastic world-music magazine called Songlines. Faham has four members, three from Réunion and one from Mauritius.
They all grew up in La Creuse, in the French region of Limousin and there is a very well-known scandal around children from Réunion who were brought up in Limousin, a kind of 'stolen generation' like the case of the Aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly removed from their parents.
I think Mi Ème a Ou means 'where are you taking me' and I assume it's a reference to this stolen generation, who were brought up in France, far from the island of their birth. Faham is a type of orchid found on Réunion and I see a reference there to an exotic flower which is transported far away from its origins.
10. Ti Fleur Fanée by Georges Fourcade
I thought it would be appropriate to finish with Ti Fleur Fanée, the unofficial anthem of La Réunion. It's been sung many times by many different people down the years, but I found this wonderful video on YouTube which features the original singer Georges Fourcade and shows some really old footage of the island.
The song dates from the 1930's and the title means Petite Fleur Fanée or 'Little wilted flower'. I guess it captures a lot of French colonial nostalgia for the colder climate of Europe, as opposed to the heat of Réunion, where the little flowers wilt?
I hope you've enjoyed this playlist - if you have any other favourite songs from Réunion, please post links to the videos in the comments below.