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Razia Said: Musical, Magical, Malagasy
By Nana Nkweti

Chanteuse Razia Said was born in Atalaha- a small town on the eastern coastline of Madagascar. This lush island nation- filled with a mix of Austronesian, East African, Arab, and Indian influences- is fertile ground for musical metissage. Razia credits her own mixed ancestry- an Afro-Arabic mother and an Indian father- for an openness to diverse cultures that lends itself to her music- a heady blend of jazz, R&B and traditional African rhythms. Her childhood was filled with the sounds of the valiha and her favorite Uncle strumming his guitar in the shade of mango trees. With his encouragement, she began singing for the family and the village at the age of ten. And so her lifelong love of music began.

Fresh from a trip back home to Madagascar, La Malgache of New York sat down with The AFRican to talk about what she foresees in her melodic future.

A warm woman- quick to smiles and laughter, Razia spoke fondly of her recent trip and the inspiration she drew from the motherland. Her 2004 video for the song Magical- from the eponymous debut album- was shot on location in her village- a tight knit community that is more like family.

"There is like 4000 people so we all know each other. It's great- for a kid it's great to have such a small, sort of snugly kind of surrounding and wherever you go it's your cousin or your second cousin or something like that. And each time I go back I discover more cousins and I'm like wow where is that. The whole town is my family."

This last homecoming was her first since the 2005 release of her CD. She mixed pleasure- a visit to her grandmother- and business- newspaper interviews and promotional engagements at TVs, radio stations and even the American cultural center. There was a jam session with an assortment of Malagasy musicians at the cultural center and as journalists and cameramen looked on Razia found herself pleasantly surprised at the attention.

"I just kind of found myself being known in the country which is a great feeling because you do things here and it's a totally different thing and you bring it back there in the country. And to see that people appreciate that you're trying to do something out there-they feel like part of them is with you out there. That was the best feeling that I had when I was there."

The Malagasy musical vanguard embraced her and she found herself with a plethora of future collaborators. Many of them artists whose music she admired- like Njava a family quintet of Malagasy singers - were interested in working with her. "So the funny thing is that I come to Madagascar- I live in New York and I perform mostly in New York- when I arrive... because I am based in New York they think I'm like a superstar over there. It's really funny- I mean all of a sudden I have these best musicians wanting to absolutely be involved in my next project,"she mused.

This next project completely embraces the Malagasy rhythms of her roots-incorporating traditional instruments -like the marovany and beats- an intricate 12-8 salegy rhythm. "It's very, very special these rhythms in Madagascar. It's hard for someone that is not born in these rhythms to actually adapt to it and produce the sound," she said. All the players in her current band are from Madagascar- helping realize her vision of creating an authentic Malagasy album with an edge. She is even singing some songs in Malagasy.

"Even though I don't speak it fluently- if someone does the translation for me- I still make it sound Malagasy. Like I ask them 'does that sound real- sounds fake?' They say 'no,no,no- you actually sound like a Malagasy girl,'"she said, laughing.

The album is still taking shape and direction as Razia works with her band mates. They hail from different regions of the country bringing their ethnic influences to bear on the sound being crafted. Razia herself was taken by the Malagasy musical variety. "There are so many different variations -I was fascinated. It was the first time that I actually went back with such a musical ear and eye. Trying just to capture what's going on over there and bathe in it so that I could bring back as much as I could," she said.

And bathe in it she did. In the works is an IP- four demo songs that give a taste of the album- that she can shop to potential record labels. It is a very different approach from the independent production and guerrilla style marketing of her first album. She remembers soliciting record stores-CD in hand- asking them to carry her album. She faced a number of hurdles. "I think the first album was kind of a little bit more difficult for people to place as far as well- is this pop or is it world? Where is this exactly? They always love to have categories- so it didn't really fit in one category. So the second album is gonna fit much more in one category and so hopefully I'll find distribution," she said.

Still, she would recommend independent production to up and coming African artists she said. Highly enjoying the freedom to experiment it afforded her. Her life has been a grand experiment- a lesson in taking chances and liberties. After five years of studying for her Pharm. D. -at her education-oriented family's urging- she graduated. Yet started modeling, acting and ceaselessly singing.

Meeting her husband, a musician himself, gave her the courage to make the final leap into music full-time (well mostly- this practical African woman still practices as a pharmacist one day a week). She had been stockpiling her original compositions and lyrics for years. She and her husband decided to do an album together. "It kind of gave me the push like oh I'll have someone to support my thought of making an album-and will do it with me. It definitely gave me the strength to make the jump," she said.

She has made many jumps in her life- traveling and living all over: from a move to Gabon as a child, a boarding school in France, a summer home in Bali, to a pharmacy internship in New Caledonia. All these leaps have influenced her music. "I think that the world is becoming totally frontier-less and the music is going with the same beat,"she said. Traveling in India last summer she was taken by the beat of tabla drums and is now infusing them into her music.

"The whole globalisation of the world it's inevitable. It's gonna be much more of a mix in art in general- in music definitely. And I think that this is a movement and I feel like I'm part of it just because I was lucky enough to live all these different influences."

Her music spans the world and that is truly Magical.

For more information on Razia Said and her music, visit www.raziasaid.com

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