During your holidays in Reunion Island, you will surely hear one of the two major indigenous music genres of the island: Maloya.
The origins of this music date from the time of slavery. It was mostly played during religious rituals and then became a way for the slaves and indentured workers to express their melancholy and suffering.
However Maloya does not originate exclusively from Africa but also incorporates some elements of traditional Tamil music. Compared to Sega, which is also played in Seychelles and in Mauritius, Maloya is mostly played in Reunion Island. Just like American Blues music which African slaves also invented, Maloya is based on a call and respond structure.
The instruments of Maloya
Maloya is played mostly with traditional percussion instruments:
The Roulèr is a big drum on which the drummer is seated. He can vary the tone of his music using the position of his feet.
The Kayamb, also called Maravanne in Mauritius can be described as being a big rectangular rattle. The sound it makes is just like the waves of the ocean.
The Bob or Bobre, is a bow with one string on which the musician strikes with a metal rod.
Nowadays, the djembé, the triangle, the guitar and even the computer have been incorporated to the list of instruments used to play Maloya music.
The clandestine survival of Maloya
From its origins until the 80’s, Maloya was played in a clandestine manner. The slave owners were the first to forbid the music because of the occult practices that were associated with it. At the end of the 50’s the colonial administration once again forbade Maloya, in an attempt to censor the inhabitants of Reunion Island and prevent them from communicating about a potential secession from France.
The music survived clandestinely and was played far from houses and public places in spite of the fact that the possession of traditional instruments like the Kayamb, the Roulèr and the Bobre was then a severe crime. However, the music became fashionable again with the release of a disc from the Firmin Viry group.
In 1981, the prohibition of Maloya was officially lifted. Nowadays the most popular Maloya singers and groups are: Daniel Waro, Firmin Viry, Baster, Gramoun Lélé, François Guimbert, Ziskakan, Lo Rwa Kaf, etc. and Maloya has been added to the list of the intangible heritage of humanity of UNESCO in 2009.