HALLER: We should all
have in our heads a little soundtrack event for momentous chance
findings. I'm recommending the very unexposed tubular bamboo zither as the
Eureka sound effect for the objet trouve. I've been charmed by a whole cd of this sonic
joy, found while rummaging in the ground zero area of a financially blasted
music distribution warehouse.
Known in its
cultural home of Madagascar as the valiha, this is a surprisingly complete musical tool. Like
a guitar, it does chorded wonder and solo magic, though its particular sonic gemutlichkeit
has the brittle attack of
a dulcimer. It is more versatile, however. I'd say it was less pristine and
unearthly than a harp, and it lacks the aristocratic nostalgia of the Central
European zither. The sound is what you might expect from a handmade version of
The use of
bicycle brake cables around a cylindrical bamboo tube resonator gives each
plucked sound an irregular decay and a beautifully lopsided feel, like a
ramshackle cart on a bumpy dust road or the flutter of many wings. Since the
strings are finger-played by both hands, the variety of sounds responds to an
immense range of tactile approaches.
origin, its development on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar meant an
exciting collision with African rhythms and jazz elements. This is the kind of
joyful material you hope to find when music rummaging.
There is a kind
of finding that artists know well; a happy accidental kind of find that occurs
when you are searching for you know not what... and then suddenly! Cue the
valiha. It's just right.
know how you can often have the object in your hands and still not know its
beauty. The covers of great found records are often quite unappetising, like this
German-pressed CD put together by musicologist Birger Gesthuisen - Madagaskar
3 Valiha (Feuer Und Eis
FUEC 712) - with its insipid-toned watercolour of a barefoot cowboy in a desert
apparently playing with a dick the size of a rolled-up beach mat. It wasn't
cock-rock. This is, indeed, how the valiha is played, with one end of the tube
braced in the loins and with both hands caressing its proud verticality.
The fight is on
to save the instrument on its increasingly violent island home. Hanitrarivo
Rasoanaivo, leader of the Malagasay group, Tarika, has helped set up the Valiha
High, a school that aims to use valihas to charm the young away from street
corner video stalls showing violence and porn - a phenomenon that has even destroyed
cinemas on the island.
A valiha costs
40,000 Malagasay Francs or £5 ($8) - enough money to feed a whole family in
Madagascar for four days. With a little help, these well-meaning musicians can
develop talent, artistry, and satisfaction amongst the island's young, and keep
valihas playing among the sounds of giant hissing roaches and festive roaring
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