102 minutes, 2004, France / Madagascar Producers: Marie-Clèmence Paes, Cesar Paes, Raymond Rajaonarivelo, Directors: Cesar Paes, Raymond Rajaonarivelo in French and Malagasy with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
Few musical groups have expressed so eloquently or consistently the aspirations of their people as the Malagasy septet Mahaleo. This film celebrates this intimate relationship as the group prepares for its 30th anniversary concert in 2002. The seven members of the group have not become professional musicians but have maintained their roots in the community. They are working to develop their country as a neurosurgeon, a sociologist, a general practitioner, community regional developers and a parliamentary deputy. Their daily contact with the people and with their daily joys and despair, doubtless account for the unprecedented popularity of their music. Co-producers Marie-Clèmence Paes, Cesar Paes, and Raymond Rajaonarivelo each in their earlier films Angano... Angano and Quand les etoiles rencontrent la mer showed how the breath-taking Malagasy landscape gave birth to the island’s founding myths. Similarly Mahaleo shows how the repeated hopes and disappointments of the post-independence period have generated the island’s modern myths, the songs of Mahaleo.
Madagascar is an island of exotic beauty, unique flora and fauna, remote location, and a hybrid people mixing Africans, Malays and Arabs speaking a melodious language which seems to have originated in Borneo. This can all help us forget that it is also one of the world’s poorest nations with an income of less than $100 per person. Since independence in 1960, it has been in a near constant state of exhausting and demoralizing political upheaval as one regime after another has betrayed its promises and enriched itself at the expense of the people.
After independence, Philibert Tsiranana established a neo-colonial order which provided the French and other foreigners de facto power. In the spirit of 1968, young activists led a revolution in 1972 which eventually resulted in the socialist regime of Didier Ratsiraka - who even published his own ‘little red book.’ Mahaleo formed out of this social ferment and its songs played a role in the mobilization of the Malagasy people to revolt. With time, this Marxist regime inevitably became corrupt and tyrannical and a new republic was instituted in 1991. In 1998 Ratsiraka was re-elected this time on a neo-liberal (that is pro-capitalist) platform. In 2002, when this film was made, he was successfully challenged by Marc Ravalomanana, a kind of Malagasy Berlusconi, a demagogue and tycoon with a monopoly over many sectors of the economy. Through all this Mahaleo has never been the voice of a political party but always remained the spokesmen for the average Malagasy.
Mahaleo contains eighteen of the group’s most famous hits: songs about migration from the countryside to the capital of Tananarivelo, nostalgia when working overseas, men who leave their wives and children, love ballads, and a soldier’s guilty conscience. All of their songs call for solidarity among ordinary Malagasy. This is what Mahaleo shares with several other titles in this collection: it eschews a top-down view of the world with grandiose development strategies and philosophies such as those favored by the World Bank. Instead it favors modest grassroots programs which empower the average peasant or city worker from the bottom up. As they sing in When the Belly’s Empty:
Solutions are as many as grains of sand So let’s quit talking and take a stand. What’s to be done to heal the pain The wound is deep but lets act again. Why not travel this road as friends together With respect and love to help each other Together we’ll tend this land of ours And freedom will begin to flower. Let’s keep together to help the land prosper.
"The songs from the group of seven musicians still resonate in Malagasy life. And this closely observed film is similar to a very interesting docu-portrait of Madagascar."
"This enchanting and revelatory film introduces the world to Mahaleo, cultural ambassadors from the island nation of Madagascar. It celebrates the group‘s three decades together chronicling their life and work which deeply entwine the rich fabric of Malagasy history, politics and culture from the colonial period to the present day."
Liliane C. Koziol, University of California-Berkeley
"The beauty of Malagasy music with its mellow guitars and whiff of Polynesian melody, is given a political context in this colorful look back at the anti-colonial movement and various island crises since then. This wide-ranging documentary focuses on the eponymous combo whose members have gone on to other useful trades while keeping music as a center to heart-filled living."
"The group of musicians alternate love songs, galvanized anthems, melancholy ballads and militant political lyrics. An immense popular event."