A few weeks ago, I had the chance to sit down and have a chat with Christine Salem, a famous Réunionese musician. After exchanging pleasantries, we chatted about maloya; one of Reunion’s local music styles, and I learned a lot.
For example, I learned that maloya was bought here from Africa during the time of slavery. Despite slavery being abolished in 1848, maloya was banned by the government until 1981.
Christine explained that it was outlawed because maloya music is trance music, it calls upon the singer’s ancestral spirits. At the time, Reunion was under strict Christian laws, and maloya was considered devil music! Anyone caught playing or singing maloya would face physical abuse, jail-time, and even having their instruments burned.
I found this shocking at first, then Christine reminded me that the European and African cultures at the time were very different. Namely, the African religions were heavily animistic, whereas the European religions were more monotheistic.
So, maloya was banned for more than one-hundred and thirty years. I asked Christine how a genre under so much pressure, could stay alive for so long. She told me that maloya was played during secret ceremonies during this time. Songs and instruments would be passed from parent to child. Thankfully, all of this is behind us, as maloya was classed by UNESCO as Réunionese intangible heritage on October the first, 2009.
As for musical instruments, Christine’s band play the usual maloya instruments like the kayamb, the rouler and the sati, as well as some African ones: The djembe the kinkeni and the sambang.
Christine plays the kayamb in her band, she told me that the kayamb is made of sugar cane flower stalk. Before being sealed, jequirity seedsare added inside. This gives the kayamb a very distinctive sound. The rouler is a drum made from a wine barrel with cowhide stretched over the top. The sati, is simply a small sheet of steel that is hit with sticks.
Christine started to become interested in Réunionese history at a young age. At school, she was told that her ancestors were Celtic, not African! Since then she has been researching her family tree, and discovering her roots through her real ancestors.
The chance – L’occasion
Slavery – L’esclavage
Banned / Outlawed – Interdit
Caught – Attrapé
Thankfully – Heureusement
Heritage – Patrimoine
Stalk – Tige
Sealed – Rebouché
Jequirity seeds – Grains du pois rouge
Wine barrel – Fût de vin
Cowhide – Cuir
Sheet of steel – De la tôle
Family tree – Arbe généalogique