The Truth: Track by Track

Explore the tracks on the 1995 Malagasy album

The Truth (Ny Marina) by The Justin Vali Trio merges Madagascan island roots with shades of urban life, creating a new vocabulary for traditional instruments.

Drawn from the original album notes by Sir Ali, we explore the 1995 album track by track.

Malagasy intro

Recorded under Box Railway Tunnel. A short a cappella reprise of the melody that closed Justin’s last record provides continuity and opens this latest audio expedition…


Ny Marina

The Truth

‘You’d better be truthful and not tell lies… A liar is easily recognized even from far away. You just can’t hide your damaging words- they are written on your forehead…’ This song might usefully be considered as a kind of Malagasy Do The Right Thing. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics bounce off a jaunty rhythm with a melody that’s typical of the island’s music. In many ways this song captures the celebratory nature of this group itself. It’s also a call for peaceful tolerance, integration and co-operation. This title track establishes the album’s message: be true to yourself, do your own thing and you’ll get where you want to be: you don’t need to step on others to make it.



Malagasy Rap

Long before rap emerged from the Bronx and wrapped itself around the globe, it had existed in Madagascar. For hundreds of years the cowherds of the big island, accompanied by their hand-made kabossy (small rhythmic guitars), rapped to their zebu. ‘Sova’ is an intensified and updated Malagasy rap that brings Justin, his songs and his timeless island closer to the sounds of the modern world.




A solo played on the unique ancestral valiha whose strings are actually carved out of its bamboo body. Accompanied by Justin’s tapping toe, this is the first ever modern, up-tempo recording of this soothing sacred instrument. Joy for your heart and beat for your feet.



The Wanderer

Rambala is the nomad, a legendary Malagasy wanderer, who travels from north to south, east to west. He absorbs and uses whatever pleases him wherever he goes. Despite a catchy melody and a simple appearance, this song apparently contains contradictory roots and influences- from South Africa to South America and a hefty dose of South-East Asia- that reflects the history and make-up of Malagasy culture today. Consciously close to traditional Malagasy music, this early composition of Justin’s represents his musical outlook and personal ideology perhaps better than any other of his works. It’s the group’s signature tune whatever they play.




When, after ten years’ absence, Justin returned to the village of his birth, his father- a valiha player and local wise man –blessed his son with the ultimate benediction, wishing him pure good fortune and a pure soul. Based on those paternal words, Justin wrote this song and set himself goals on a higher plane. Naturally it is a deeply spiritual song. The three voices and their string instruments shimmer and vibrate, while Carlo’s bass frame drum supplies the thunder and the sub-bass rumble.



The Sacred Mountain

In the southern part of Madagascar stand the most curious-looking mountain ranges. Their rare and fragile nature has meant it is prohibited for anyone to enter of even approach. They are under the strict international protection of the UN and can only be viewed by helicopter. The Malagasy have their own reasons for not going near the area. They believe that the souls of the island’s original inhabitants are still there, hunting down invaders. Inspired by these uniquely Malagasy natural phenomena, Justin sat down and performed this pulsating song on the thinnest valiha available, apparently setting new records for speed and virtuosity on the instrument.



Malagasy Voodoo

The ghosts wailing over the extremes of southern of Madagascar are known as ‘bilo’ and are said to be a powerful force that have caused the most incredible incidents. Possession ceremonies associated with this belief have always been accompanied by hypnotic marovanies (the wooden double-sided zither or wooden valiha). Using the rhythms and dialects of the region as a source, Justin wrote a suite-like song, in keeping with the ritual tradition. The result is mesmeric from the opening attack by a rotating kabossy to the powerful ensemble conclusion.



An unusual juxtaposition of the oldest and the newest of Malagasy musical forms, this song opens with sacred singing in a religious setting and then slips into some sort of ragamuffin reggae groove, with childlike poetry hustled along by Carlo’s versatile tambourine. Incidentally, electricity makes its sole appearance on this song: Justin’s solo is performed on a pedal valiha.


Ray Sy Reny

Mum & Dad

Doudou, the trio’s Romeo, is in fact a very responsible father. As the eldest son he also keeps an eye on all other members of the family, some of them, including himself, living in far-flung concrete jungles like Paris. His composing skills on this tune contribute much to this album, but above all it’s a showcase for Doudou the guitarist, his unique playing style, extraordinary tuning and touch. Riding the smooth rhythm of Clemrass’s bamboo percussion, Doudou’s guitar provides a running commentary of the island’s diverse tribes and landscapes. The journey begins in Majunga, Doudou’s home town, and then winds up on to the high central plains via the south and west. A tune that’s sometimes very rootsy, sometimes very jazzy, but always very ‘Gasy’.


Manga-Ny-Lanitr’i Gasikara

The Blue Skies Of Madagascar

‘Though Madagascar is a poor country, though life is difficult and the sun burns down hard, the skies are always blue and the faces are full of smiles’. This patriotic homage to the heavens is a soundscape in various shades of blue. ‘The Blue Skies Of Madagascar’ spotlights the different voices of the gnarled white ancestral valiha that Justin loves so much. In the soft, pale-blue morning mood, we are presented with a classy Malagasy bolero. The loose New Age-y format allows the whispering valiha to unleash all of its emotion and the melodic potential of this amazing solo tool is explored to the full. The bright ebullient second sequence emphasizes the valiha’s capacity for rhythmic accompaniment. Carlo’s contribution throughout is crucial. His Sicilian frame drum conjures a hissing dreamy atmosphere in the first phase, and his home-made multi-rhythmical tambourine provides the perfect kit drum sound in the second part. A snapshot of Madagascar’s luxurious blue skies.



The Open Roof

This very eighteenth century British-sounding duet was one of Justin’s first ever songs for the valiha. He bows to nature; her beauties and wonders, and her might. For him, this is a typically Malagasy air but who knows- it could very well have English roots. In a event, this number was spontaneously proposed and recorded early one autumn morning just as the recording session began- when Justin’s gaze could finally be diverted from the rolling green hills of Wiltshire surrounding the studio.


Vato Malaza

The Ancestral Rock

When Justin was a teenager living in his rural village, a virus attacked all the poultry in the area and prevented them from laying eggs. Then one morning a chicken laid an enormous egg. This chicken was Justin’s His grtandfather told him that this gift meant that his destiny was different to that of others. He told Justin that he should take the egg to the sacred mountain, offer it to the ancestral rock and pray. Justin did so. Two months later, a folklord group asked him to join them and tour Europe. He left with them but didn’t return with them and since that day has made his home Paris. (‘Rambala’, a documentary profile of Justin, includes a scene of pilgrimage to the same holy, ancestral rock). Transcending music, this track is a haunting invocation of the everyday supernatural. That is why it’s brought to life by the red metal valiha, Justin’s rarest instrument which came his way purely by chance. The rich, raw and expansive sound and texture of this instrument are quite unreal.




A late-night take of ‘Sova’, recorded under the Mill Lane railway tunnel in Box, England, driven by handclaps and the bass frame drum.


Bongo Lava

The Broad Mountain Range

The brightest star in Madagascar’s musical constellation is called Rakotozafy. An incredible songwriter and undisputed master of the valiha, he developed his own distinctly personal style, rhythm and instrument. Although he slipped this mortal coil tradically young, he left a huge legacy for his country and for future generations of valiha players. You could say he was the Charlie Parker of the instrument, pushing it beyond the accepted bounds, taking it into a new dimension. Needless to say, he is Justin’s idol and mentor. Much more than a source of reference or inspiration, Rakotozafy imbues Justin with the energy for constant artistic evolution. This multifaceted number blends samples from Rakotozafy’s tunes and playing styles with Justin’s own songs and technique, creating on explosive cocktail that will have anyone’s head spinning


Malagasy Folk Dance Medley

In traditional style, the Malagasy national dance ‘Afindra Findrao’ opens this party selection dedicated to the population of Madagascar. Justin’s additional lyrics and vocal arrangements enter the fray. The tempo picks up with the celebratory rhythm of salegy, and the party starts to really swing. From one song to another, one rhythmic variation to the next, the medley builds to a climax, ringing with the closing refrain, ‘Raivo..o..a..e..ou..’

By Oran Mullan

Published on Thu, 25 April 13

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