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Sammy Andriamalalaharijaona

Merina People

Antananarivo, Madagascar

Sammy Andriamalalaharijaona (that's really is his name!), is a luthier, mufti- instrumentalist, and the former leader and artistic director of the globally success Madagascan band Tarika Sammy, probably the most notable contemporary Madagascan group to achieve international exposure in the 1990s. 

As an multi-instrument player, Sammy makes and plays (and is passionate about) every Madagascan instrument. 

Back in May 2016 & Jan' 2017 in Madagascar...

If on the night of Sammy’s conception his fathers Pergoet had got a flat, all the tyre shops were closed and taxi-buses stopped for the day, and he never made it home that night, the Small Island Big Song album would have a huge hole in it, Sammy features on almost all the songs, drawing from a wealth of Madagascan instruments he has not just mastered but made himself.


So as he is inseparable from his music, we thought sharing the instruments would also be highlighting his spirit and contribution.

We were fortunate to spend two weeks with Sammy on a road trip around central and west coast of Madagascar back in May 2016. We had countless memorable sessions in varies locations. We even came back to Madagascar half year later to be able to update him with some more recordings. Here are some great memories we had.

Valiha - Tubular harp in bamboo or wood 

The uniqueness on Madagascar’s animals and nature is also reflected in it’s instruments, when the Seafarers landed on Madagascar from Borneo about 1,000 years back they brought with them an instrument, the Pagang which evolved into the ones this amazing country is now renown for, the Valiha and the Morovany. In the rainforests of Borneo we found the Pagang still survives and you can hear Sina Do’o Ilah play it on Alena Murang’s song – Pemung Jae.


The Valiha, as the story goes when push bikes arrived in Madagascar some genius had the idea of replacing the Pagang’s split bamboo strings with the unwound brake cables, so the contemporary Valiha was born. It is Sammy’s first instrument and as a Merina musician the one most related to his heritage. We recorded Valiha with Sammy in a riverbed on route to Morondava, on the veranda at his home, in the laneways of Tana’ as the kids played football, in a Merina Village and at our favourite pad in Tana’ Lillia’s B&B, you can hear it featured on Ka Va_ai Mai Koe I Tou Rima Ena, Lea Seekau, Terika Sammy and Senasenai a Mapuljat.

Marovany - Zither on wooden parallelepipedic box

The Valiha’s nephew the Marovany, with the strings set either side of a box rather than around a bamboo tube, is another classic instrument from Sammy’s collection which we decided was best recorded half way up a mountain on a 40deg day in the sun, on a rock in the sun Sammy listened to Bunun singer Umav improvising to her song, he was amazing.

Kabosy - Rectangular lute with percussive sounds

Wherever you go in Madagascar you can be sure to be no more than hearing distance from a Kabosy, sounding as grass roots and handmade as they look, their the folk instrument of choice. Sammy just had to walk into a village strumming away to attract an audience, have a look at the expression on the Ampefey kids watching him, so loving the music the knowledge he shared, he also grabbed those moments to share the story of the instruments and in doing so make people proud of their heritage. That was such a great session at Itasy Village on Lake Ampefey, Sammy played overdubs on Naka Warawara To-o and Ka Va_ai Mai Koe I Tou Rima Ena, he also got all the kids singing. It was pretty funny too trying to keep a village quite as they sat behind the cameras watching Sammy record, you can see grain being thrown into the shot to attract the rooster.

Jejy voatavo - Zither consisting of a stick with a calabash at its end 

Gotta love the Jejy what three strings a gourd and Sammy can make you feel is all thumbs up! The Jejy has an African influence in design with the gourd, and is associated mostly with the Bestilio and Bara people of Madagascar. An hour out of Tana’, Percy checked with Sammy what instruments he brought with him, “what! no Marovany, no Kabosy and no Jeyjy! An hour later we were carrying instruments definitely from another planet to the car, and so happy we made the trip back. The Jejy, gotta love the Jejy what three strings a gourd and Sammy can make you feel is all thumbs up! The Jejy has an African look in design with the gourd, but is mostly associated mostly with the Bestilio and Bara people of Madagascar. Have a listen to Gabagaba to hear it, I just asked Sammy to play some hook lines, to use as samples, but it ended up becoming the feature.

Other Malagasy instruments he makes and plays:

Jejy lava - Musical bow

Lokanga bara - Violin of the bara ethnic group in the south 

Sodina - Bamboo flute

Amponga - drum

Kaiamba rambo - Stems of dried herbs tied 

Korintsana - small can with seeds

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