The Justin Vali Trio

Hailing from Madagascar, The Justin Vali Trio is Justin Rakotondrasoa, Doudou (Romeo Tovoarimino) who plays the acoustic guitar, and Clemrass (Clement Randrianantoandro) who plays the kabossy and also provides percussion with Malagasy maracas. They were joined for the sessions for their album The Truth by Carlo Rizzo, a southern Italian master of the tamborine and frame drums.

Key to Justin’s success has been his skill on the valiha (pronounced vah-lee). It’s the national instrument of Madagascar, but pretty much unknown outside. The instrument was originally imported from Indonesia and South-East Asia. The valiha is basically a bamboo harp with strings stretched across the length of the cylindrical body and tethered to gourds at either end.

Justin Vali’s technique is different to other players throughout history. He plays with his fingernails rather than his fingertips meaning that the instrument is not smoothly caressed in the traditional manner. Playing with his nails flavours the dynamics and changes the character of the valiha entirely.

This was a technique that was born in Madagascar, but raised and matured in Paris. In the French capital, Justin created a blend of modern and ancient sounds; the nostalgia for memories of home combined with new experiences of his urban life. The result is a dazzling mixture of rhythms, time signatures, moods and textures, in an acoustic setting that avoids the clichés of contemporary African pop music.

With his unplugged trio, Justin has dressed his forefathers' music in the fineries of the modern world.

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