Tarika | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Spearheading the recent interest in Madagascan roots music, Tarika--literally, "the group"--and their former incarnation, Tarika Sammy, relate to their traditions in the same way that Taj Mahal plays the blues: their approach is both folkloric and revisionist. The difference is that music from Madagascar, an island located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of east Africa, still sounds exotic, while the blues is so thoroughly familiar that we don't even notice its sway most of the time. Tarika, a mostly acoustic quintet led by sisters Hanitra and Noro, artfully combine disparate island traditions into a sumptuous whole. Madagascar's diverse ethnic heritage--a blend of Polynesian, Arabic, and African settlers along with Portuguese and French colonists--partly explains the music's broad stylistic terrain. The immaculate vocal harmonies recall Indonesian traditions, while the bubbly guitar suggests a Kenyan influence. Indigenous instruments like the valiha (a bamboo zither), the marovany (a double-sided box-shaped zither), and the jejy voatavo (a dulcimerlike instrument with a large gourd serving as a resonator) are integrated with Western instruments to produce an intoxicating sound--airy but percussive harmonies, complex melodies, and an insistent but subtle rhythmic drive. Tarika's ability to suffuse tradition into original material--most of which details everyday life in Madagascar--is particularly striking, and the fact that the group is led by women remains remarkable even in a changing world. Saturday, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 525-7793.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/photo/Jack Vartoogian.

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