The republic of Madagascar, like many former European colonies in Africa, is covered with footprints from around the world. It was first settled by Malaysians and Polynesians in the third century, but in the following years Arabs and Swahili-speaking Africans diversified the population; later still the Portuguese, British, and French came tramping through. Each group brought its own influence to bear on the increasingly polyglot local culture. The accordion, for instance, came to Madagascar when the French invaded in 1896, bringing some of the same elements it lent our own Cajun music. Today one of Madagascar's foremost accordionists is Regis Gizavo, and on his lone album, Mikea (Shanachie), an elaborate duo performance with French percussionist David Mirandon, one is struck by the way his exuberant, full-bodied playing so closely resembles Louisiana zydeco--though his pop-flavored melodies and multitracked vocal harmonies sound straight off an album by the South African group Jaluka. Gizavo has spent most of this decade in France, where he's played with artists as diverse as pomo Afro-Caribbean punks Les Tetes Brulees, overripe Corsican superstars I Muvrini, and Cameroonian crossover legend Manu Dibango. But while Mikea is glossily produced, it's otherwise free of generic world-beat trappings, and even though I find Gizavo's singing unimpressive, his writing and playing are something else. This is his Chicago debut. Saturday, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 773-525-7793. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Gregoire Avenel.