Music of the Month

Ann O'aro
Buda Musique (
Review by Andrew Cronshaw

cd cover If you’ve heard any maloya music from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, the chances are it brings to mind a characteristic rhythm played on percussion, and probably an image of today’s best-known maloya musician internationally, Danyel Waro, energetically shaking his rectangular flat kayamb shaker.

Well, most of this, Ann O’aro’s third album, isn’t at all like that, even though she’s toured with Waro, and his son Bino is the percussionist in her band. Her two previous albums, Ann O’aro and Longoz, do have much of that distinctive maloya rhythm, but they increasingly show the individual path she’s taking. Longoz debuted the trio of her, Bino Waro and an unusual use of trombone, played by Teddy Doris. Bleu continues with that line-up, expanding to a quartet with the electronic manipulations of new member Brice Nauroy.

The album begins with the title track, an instrumental. A piano pattern is joined by a leisurely trombone melody that’s taken up by the piano, and the two interweave in increasing complexity, with subtle pattering drum and occasional cymbal splashes, peaking with some unexpected electronic modification before a return to a simple piano ending.

“In Utero Militari” follows, and it too is a surprise. A swooping, echoed trombone over a threatening deep drone and explosive percussive sounds - the sort of meaty texture that reminds of the late Scott Walker’s latter, defiantly individual non-pop work. O’aro’s voice joins, serene, silky but strong. The other songs are in Réunion Creole, with translations to French given in the booklet, but this one’s mostly in French, and begins:

J’ai herité des oiseaux morts
L’enivrement de leurs catacombs
De leurs yeux perçant tout le noir
De leurs yeux débordés

That doesn’t translate easily into English, but, like all her lyrics here, it’s dark stuff. A summarising booklet note in English describes the song as: “…referring to the prose of the dead, the dies irae, day of wrath.” Half-way through, the sound lightens to just a repeated piano motif, taken up by the voice, stilling to a vocal narrative that suddenly launches into the reverb and things get faster and urgent, with O’aro’s vocal reaching extremity of wildness at the end.

“Lanbordaz” sung sweetly, in free rhythm, over sparse piano, gets the English summary note: “Whether we are Sisyphus or a dung beetle, life is nothing but the weary repetitive drive of a death wish that we try to dilute.”

Things don’t get much brighter anywhere in the album, but her singing and the music, while expressing gloomy lyrics, are things of a minimalist beauty. “Kalu” floats over a drone and ripping, scratching sounds that intensify to threat. “Saple,” while hardly traditional in form, is recognisably maloya in style, with syncopated thumping and shuffling percussion and stabbing, dancing trombone and intermittent chorus vocals.

She opens “Lak Otab” singing over a bed of her own overlapping multitracked voices, then thumping percussion and smearing trombone join, and the energy and density build before a sudden end. “Bouyon Lo Rosh” is unaccompanied, the free-rhythm vocal moving to conversational chattering and shouting before returning to lyrical rubato. In “Vane Lo Sir” trombone stabs support the vocal, which is at first solo then multitrack doubled, with kayamb shuffling quietly. Her liquid piano figures accompany melodic trombone, joined later by percussion, for “Les Ailes Du Cafard” (“Cockroach wings”), an instrumental except for a wordless vocal line.

The English note for the calm eight-minute closer “Lacrimosa” goes: “What if the Virgin Mary, stood before the cross, regretted never having been able to say no?” Its lyrics are quite short; much of the the middle is instrumental as it moves to a trombone solo that subsides to a growl before taking up again with the piano, and the track ends with a wordless lamenting vocal.

Bleu is an album far from the usual, far from what’s generally thought of as maloya, and indeed music that wouldn’t immediately be identified as from Réunion. For both Ann O’aro and the music of Réunion, it’s quite a step, and an interesting one.

cd cover
Bleu is our selection for Music of the Month in June, 2024.
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