Germain Randrianrisoa, known throughout Madagascar as Rajery, has overcome an extraordinary disability to become one of the country's foremost musicians--he lost all the fingers of his right hand when he was less than a year old.
He ascribes this loss to witchcraft and a specific event when, as an 11-month-old child, he was taken to a wedding celebration. There he was given a piece of poisoned meat and, shortly afterwards, his fingers shrank and eventually 'dropped off'.
When he was 14, his parents, who were also musicians, sent him from his home in Analamihantona to Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, to go to school. It was there that he became determined to play the valiha. The valiha is a diatonic, tubular harp made from a large hollow bamboo stalk that these days is usually strung with bicycle brake cables. The valiha could be described as Madagascar's national instrument although musicologists will tell you it originated in Indonesia.
At first, Rajery was extremely reluctant to let anyone know that he was attempting to master this instrument. Perhaps he was particularly self-conscious because of his disability--usually valiha players use the fingers of two hands.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
But, in the way he describes it, although he hid his attempts at playing, a chance encounter with a band leader--who saw him walking down the street with his instrument--changed his life.
The bandleader ran after him and told Rajery that he needed a valihist in his band. Despite Rajery's protestations that he could not really play, he was persuaded to come along to a band rehearsal.
The band, which went by the name Tsilavena, adopted him as one of their own and Rajery developed his playing technique, picking the melodies with his left hand and strumming with the stub of his right hand.
It wasn't long before he got the chance to perform a solo. Rajery decided to play one of the classic songs of the valiha repertoire, 'Afindrafindrao'. "I got on the stage and began playing the song," he recalls, "and everyone began to laugh. Everyone was mocking me.
"I kept playing my valiha. I was trembling. I wanted to leave the hall, but a voice told me that I must finish the song. So I didn't look at the people. I looked at the strings on my valiha, and I finished the song."
After finishing his performance he struggled to decide whether or not to continue with his musical career or abandon the valiha. After much soul-searching he...