About Kilalaky

Posted on February, 18 2013

Being a Vasaha, or outsider, was tough at times. But there were ways to overcome it.
We would be going to numerous villages, some where the people feared us, the children ran from us and the villagers we greeted in Malagasy would not reply, at other times we would go to villages just around the corner where the village en masse would approach us to shake hands with us individually, where our buckets were taken from our hands and filled for us at the river and leave with gifts of chickens in wicker baskets. Every village was completely different. Sometimes it was hard and strange.

However there was a common thread amongst all the villages and the levelling ground for everyone, white people included. This thing wasn't food. That was a very depressing aspect of the cultural exchange, no this thing was called Kilalaky. Now this is a type of music totally unique to the Bara people of Madagascar. Everyone listens to it all day long and dances it to it all night long from their transistor radio type devices. The music is tied in so strongly to their sense of identity that to say someone is a bad Kilalaky dancer is like saying someone is a bad Bara man.

The first village called Ihorononda had a massive party on our arrival with Kilalaky dancing. Everyone would dance around in circles, kicking up dust and mimicing the moves of the front person, whipping their hair back and forth. I joined the end of a line and started to pick it up. In Ivohibe every party was either a Kilalaky concert or a national holiday with Kilalaky themed music set. The group were all at a party for the gendarmerie and I stayed a bit longer and joined the Kilalaky throng and was educated in all the correct Kilalaky do's and don'ts, and since that day onwards it was town knowledge that I was a lover of Kilalaky. Not a word spoken on my part. People would point their fingers at me and shout out something I didn't understand and the word Kilalaky. I couldn't reply. I liked Kilalaky. Which was mostly true anyhow. But the people decided for me that this music was my music as well. So over the next two months I lived in a haze of Kilalaky beats.

We had a world environment day in a village in the south, and there my love for Kilalaky was known by many people and I was taken to a Kilalaky concert in the pitch black, with only the stars above and the sounds of the acoustic Kilalaky, the thundering of dancers' feet and the laughs. Then I had a kid with a transistor radio follow me around all night playing the three Kilalaky songs he had. And he kept popping up in different areas of the region and shout the work Kilalaky at me and laugh a lot. He also showed me where to buy good coffee and schneff berries in this town called Maropaika.

The reason I think that this obscure music/dance/cultural icon is important to include here is that for me, it was how I removed the barriers between my inherent weirdness and the villagers belonging to the land. For the Bara, Kilalaky was the centre of social life, friendships were made and lost, old rivalries entrenched, new romances formed, even dare I say outsiders let in and accepted a bit more. I feel it's important when living in a village with people you can't share much in terms of language with to find other ways of showing friendship and creating common ground. Kilalaky highlight our similarities, not the differences. Music is a powerful force.

Volunteer Jordon Traill, WWF Madagascar 2012
Home-made Kilalaky drum-kit.
© J.Traill

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