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Since 1993 Tarika have established a reputation for themselves on the world music circuit, and become successful enough to be called Madagascar's biggest musical export. The five-piece band (whose name translates simply as "the group"), led by singer and percussionist Hanitra Rasoanaivo has managed to stick to its instrumental and rhythmic roots, while still being relentlessly experimental. The group really began in 1983 when Rasoanaivo acted as translator for some British musicians who were in Madagascar to record local musicians. She introduced the foreigners to Sammy Andraimanahirana, then, along with her sister Norosoa, formed a band with same, called Tarika Sammy, who appeared on Current Modern Music of Madagascar (Globestyle) and the Henry Kaiser and David Lindley compilations A World out of Time. After one complete album, Fanafody, the band split, with Andraimanahirana returning to folkloric sounds under the Tarika Sammy moniker, and the sisters continuing as just Tarika, using traditional Malagasy instruments, the valiha (tube harp), marovany (box zither), and kabosy (small local guitar) in addition to guitar, bass, and percussion, in a beefed-up sound. While in Madagascar musicians rarely make a living from their art, Tarika saw the possibilities for the future, and relocated to London, which proved receptive to their sound when their debut, Bibiango was issued in 1994. Lyrically it addressed issues usually left undisturbed in Malagasy society, creating a stir at home. In Europe however, relentless touring and music that was exotic, attractive, and rhythmically beguiling helped them find a loyal audience and develop into a critics' favorite. For a second album they undertook the ambitious Son Egal, a concept record which melded their sound with Senegalese music, provided by members of Baaba Maal's Daande Lenol. It told the story of a 1947 uprising in Madagascar, when the population attempted to overthrow their French colonial masters, who reacted by sending in Senegalese troops, forming an ongoing enmity between the two African countries. The record, produced by Afro Celt Sound System leader Simon Emmerson, was an attempt to heal that breach. Intense and politically charged, dealing with the sensitive issues of racism, colonialism, and corruption, it also boasted more sophisticated sound and writing, as the band spread its wings as a creative force. Acclaimed by reviewers, it went on to win the AFIM Indie Award for Contemporary World Music album. Tarika lightened up a year later with D (Malagasy for dance), which saw them providing some originals and covering '60s and '70s Malagasy hit singles, providing a sampler of dance styles from the Big Red island. Relaxed and joyous, it stood in sharp contrast to its predecessor. In 1999 they signed with Wicklow, the label formed by Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, and began work on Soul Makassar, their most adventurous work -- musically and conceptually -- to date. Recorded in London and Indonesia, and including guests Sabah Habas Mustapha and former Small Face Ian McLagan, it explored the Malagasy heritage, which lay not in nearby Africa, but Indonesia -- some 1500 years before, Indonesian emigrants had first settled in Madagascar, and some of their customs and instruments remained virtually the same. The original intention of releasing the album in summer 2000 was scuppered by the demise of Wicklow. It eventually appeared in January 2001 in Europe on Sukay, and April in the U.S. on Triloka. ~ Chris Nickson