Madagascar in a tram depot with Antsa

© Saskia Vanderstichele

She has spent the past thirty years in Belgium, a country that she did not even know existed when she was growing up in Madagascar. But Talike Gellé has never regretted the fact that life’s coincidences, as she describes them herself, led her to Brussels. Moreover, she has never stopped singing.

With Tiharea, her best-known band, she performs songs that she started to write when she was thirteen in the remote village where she grew up, and she has since recorded three CDs. But she has also been involved in musical projects such as Blindnote, Women Care, Oblomow, and Les Perles d’Amour. The Hide & Seek Festival (19 > 24/8) booked Antsa, which with mandolin player Gilberto “Seva” Moravelo and guitar virtuoso Charles Kely unites three regions in southern Madagascar. They will soon be injecting the hypermodern technical space of an enormous Brussels tram depot with rhythms and traditions from the country of their birth.

“Our message is that despite all the misery that may befall you, you should never forget to live,” she says. And yet she does not shy away from a number of contested issues, such as polygamy and male circumcision. “Out of fear of what ‘the others’ will say, many people do not dare to oppose outdated traditions, but then of course you never make any progress. I try to raise awareness, and I don’t call myself feminist but feminine. We should raise our women in such a way that they can raise the next generation better.”

Gellé inherited her love of music from both her father, an accordionist with a French grandfather and a penchant for chanson, and her mother, a nurse who sang at traditional ceremonies. “But actually I inherited it from the entire village. Everybody sings in the region where I grew up. When we are sad we sing Beko blues. Stories that were transmitted through song formed me more than any particular school. Traditional funerals were the events where we would really get to know our neighbours because illiterate singers would come to the village to gather information about the deceased and would then use it to make and sing songs.”

And yet knowledge of the oral traditions is gradually fading even in Madagascar, which is why Gellé has started an archiving project. “We are busily collecting tape recorders and cameras so that we can go and talk to village elders and save a number of traditions from oblivion. Even in the village where I learned throat singing, they now ask me where I learned that. It is a vocal technique that cattle herders in the savannah need to communicate with one another. I used it primarily to communicate with my friends on the opposite bank of the river.”

HIDE & SEEK FESTIVAL: Antsa 21/08, 20.00, Marconi Tram Depot

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