The Electro Maloya Experiments of Jako Maron

Navel-Gazers #33 is an interview with Jako Maron who is going to talk to us about his album The Electro Maloya Experiments of Jako Maron, released in 2018 on the Nyege Nyege Tapes label. This music - I’m tapping my feet to it right now - is unlike anything ever covered on Navel-Gazers before… in fact it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Although it’s rhythmic, an album of “beats” from beginning to end, these aren’t the usual rhythms I’m used to… there’s a certain jump to it which is either down to subtle syncopation or layering or some combination of both. Of course that’s intentional on the part of Jako, who conceived this music over a period of six years as an electronic rendering of indigenous music from his native Réunion, a small island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. It’s an art form called “Maloya” - banned by the French state throughout the 1970s - in which players (according to liner notes) “paid tribute to ancestors and mediated between the living and the dead”. But it’s not only the rhythms, their rich heritage and the way they’re collated which draw me in here. It’s also a marvellous tapestry of textures: warm, analog tones from modular synths and drum machines which often sound more organic than electronic. Let’s tap along while talking to Jako…

AC: Thanks for joining me Jako! So first of all I wonder if you can tell us about Maloya music, and music in general on Réunion island.

Jako Maron: There are two kinds of traditional music on Réunion island - Maloya and Séga. Maloya is the heritage from the African slaves, Indian workers post-slavery and also with some Madagascan influences. Maloya is based on drumming and singing and it’s a kind of blues, all about complaint and crying, pride, black pride, ancestral spirit honour.

The Séga is a folkloric music which is more… musical - I mean played with guitar, bass, accordion, trumpet… joyful feelings. This is the stereotypical music you’d think of from a tropical island: local people dancing, singing on the beach in the sunset under coconut trees. But anyway if you dig on the Séga style you can find some pure "chef d'oeuvres” like the songs of Michou such as Maloya ton tisane - that’s a Maloya/Séga thing. Or Ti L'Afrique’s Soul Sock Sega. Réunion island and Mauritius island share the Séga tradition.

AC: So how did you get familiar with these styles? Did you ever play more traditionally? Tell us about your history prior to this album, the musical environment you grew up in and what drew you to electronics.

Jako Maron: I came quite late to Maloya. I started on music doing hiphop and ragga. On the path of looking for an original sample loop to make beats, I started dinging on local music but it was not evident how to do so as Séga and Maloya are triplet music, 6/8, 12/16 and most Séga is major scale music. So it took me a long time to figure out a way to do it.

I'm neither a Maloya player nor a Séga player. I just play a bit of keyboard, with only one hand. I'm completely and totally on computers and machine programming and patching. I love experimenting with electronic machines and modules, using effects, distortions and delays on sounds. That’s what I call electronic music, and then I turn or bring these experimentations on the Maloya field because I think it’s the best way I can achieve something original and honest that I can share with other people.

Sometimes I start from a Maloya bass or melody that appears in my head (and discover it was just a song I heard before, you know...) and I try to play it or to place it in an electronic context.

So I started at a certain time to really feel and love Maloya because somehow it was close to bass music and funk and blues and I could feel the connection with my island, its history and my own. Maloya really resonates with me. It doesn't need lyrics, the music is the message. I love trip-hop and used to be a DJ Krush fan… I love instrumental music, just some repetitive beats where I can put my dreams and thoughts on it. Although I’m not talking about house music, just quick on-the-beat, that’s not my thing.

I try to reinterpret Maloya with electronic means and styles without losing what makes real Maloya:
  • a big bass drum
  • pattern repetition
  • energy driving the song
  • minimalism
  • respect for the Maloya groove - on a drum machine it's called the “swing" but for triplet music, it's a different swing.
AC: You mentioned that you often start with a familiar Maloya song in your head. Are any of the pieces on your album based on very specific Maloya songs? It would be interesting to hear them and compare!

Jako Maron: The beat of my track Maloya Valsé chok 1 from ‘Les Experiences Electro Maloya de Jako Maron’ is inspired by the song Tir malol by the artist Danyèl Waro, from the album Gafourn. There are different types of Maloya, and Maloya Valsé is one of them, so I put my focus on this song of Danyèl Waro’s, to try and do this style of rhythm. But instead of using traditional drums, I used some 909 sounds to do it and I have added my Elektron Machinedrum with some 4/4 beats to make some polyrythms over the Maloya Valsé.

The bass on the track Malabanndélé is inspired by this song from Danyèl Waro. My bass and the singer seem to say the same words/sentence but on different notes. I did not do it on purpose, I realised it after.

Danyèl Waro is a great source of inspiration. My main idea of doing what I do came from a flash / revelation I had during one of his concerts in the Palaxa hall in Saint Denis town. The drums were so powerful, the singer was over the top, it just hit me on the head forever.

AC: I can hear the connection! The same 6/8 beats…

It’s great to see the video for Maloya Valsé chok 1, directed by Vincent Fontano. It seems he is a frequent collaborator of yours, could you tell us about those projects (such as Blaké)?

Jako Maron: I used to make music for theater plays for different people, and with Vincent Fontano it's now like the 5th collaboration on theater creations. I created the music for his short movies too - Blaké was the first one. Vincent Fontano writes dark deep drama and Blaké is a carpark night security-agent, walking through the cars in the underground carpark and talking, sharing his thoughts about his job and his dreams. I created 7 pieces of music/ambiances for the movie then I decided to extend these ambiances to make a full album and it became Blaké, somin la nwit. It's a journey in this underground carpark then somewhere above, in Saint Denis town, mixing the dreams and nightmares of the carpark night security-agent until the morning just before the sun rises with the track Gran matin ti brune.

AC: How about collabs with other musicians? Do you know many other artists with a similar style or sensibility to yours, on Réunion or elsewhere?

Jako Maron: On my other project called Kabar Jako I play with Zan Amemoutoulaop (Bann Roulerkiller), a traditional Maloya percussionist. We have a Maloya electro live band and there is a Maloya singer too, Axel Sautron. This project is ready now with an album "Kabar Jako". I've just released one track Béloubo dann somin and you can check out the video clip here.

There are several other artists…

Loya (aka Sebastien Lejeune): he makes Maloya electro and he explores the music of all the other islands and countries around Réunion island.

Jeremy Labelle: He makes electro Maloya experimental ambient and beyond.

Boogzbrown (aka Yannis Nanguet): He makes really nice delicate Electro Maloya, like his paintings.

AC: I’m loving the Kabar Jako video, great to see the live percussionist!

I’ve listened to “The Electro Maloya Experiments…” several times and I always assumed it was a combination of electronics and live percussion, but it sounds like you’re saying that album’s all electronic? You fooled me! How did you achieve such an organic sound? Any drum samples?

Jako Maron: I use a sample loop of a Kayan which is a big flat shaker, and I use a loop of a Sati which is a kind of hi-hat… but I have transformed its sound with FX so it doesn’t sound all that metallic now.

I’ve really tried to make the electronic bass drums sound like the Rouler - the traditional bass drum - not only in the sound but in the groove and the rhythmic phrase/pattern. There is a track that’s actually based on a drum loop sample, track 10 Kaféléktro larivé - the Maloya drum loop is used with distortion and filter FX and the loop is revealed gradually as the track goes on.

The rest uses Kayan and Sati sample loops. Nowadays I try to use less drum-loop samples but I have many many tracks which use them.

The groove is the secret. I have looked closely into the Maloya sample loop to find where the micro-timings are and applied it to the machine. Otherwise it will sound robotic and cold. But at the same time, for some elements like a bass-line, I can keep it straight to add the electro power to the track.

AC: Yeah I dig the micro-timings you’re talking about. Really subtle!

How have people reacted to your music over the years? What do people say? Your album is quite popular on Bandcamp, has Nyege Nyege Tapes helped you gain exposure? Where do you think the listeners are - Réunion, Africa, Europe?

Jako Maron: My music is not mainstream so I don't expect everybody to enjoy it or for it to be played on the radio. But those who are more open and curious might be interested in it… such as Aphex Twin who played my track Valsé shok during his concert on April 2019 in Mexico.

I know some painters who like to listen to my sound while painting. Many people from other countries tell me that it's inspiring. I always believed that there was an audience for my work but it was all about finding a way to promote it and having a chance to get people to listen to it. And the chance for me was Nyege Nyege.

In Réunion I’ve had the chance to work with people who understood my work and helped me but the audience in Réunion island is much more mainstream. Now with my project Kabar Jako, because of the singer Axel and the percussionist I’ve had many occasions to meet Maloyers, people who play traditional Maloya and many of them understand my music and they see in it an evolution of the traditional Maloya so it means the tradition is alive and evolving. But once again the Maloya audience sometimes just wants the traditional sound.

For the experimental side I think it's more Europe, for the dance side (there is one I'm working on as a DJ set, have a look at my “boiler room” in Uganda) it's Réunion, Africa and Europe.

The fact that my music is Maloya electro is, for some people, a complete no-go because for them it's just bizarre world music.

But there are more and more music producers like me who were previously reflecting the global worldwide culture which is essentially American and Western culture, now they want and try to reflect their original regional culture. I think if I were from Madagascar I’d make Salegi electro, if I were Japanese I’d make Taiko hard tech or something… and so on.

AC: We’re about to wrap up here but your comment about the regional culture reminds me of one other topic I wanted to ask you about. Maloya is described as “mediation between the living and the dead”. So I’m interested to know whether this is part of an underlying religious or spiritual tradition on Réunion?

Jako Maron: A bit of both. For me it's more of a spiritual thing insofar as music can elevate your mind and bring people to the trance while dancing. But for others it’s a kind of religion with real and precise rituals and ceremonies like animal sacrifices, burning incense and offerings to the spirits. The religious side is linked or comes from the south of Madagascar, as you can see in some videos of "service kabaré" (here, here, here, here).

The Madagascar flag is everywhere and the song invokes the Malagasi spirits but you won't find these ceremonies (or Maloya) in Madagascar, only in Réunion island. There’s kind of an old transmission and reinvention of ritual but really I just don't know. I just see that it's there, it’s alive and exists. It's not written in any books of history but it could be the last traces of a heritage brought to the island with the slave trade and from the very first Madagascan settlers on Réunion island.

AC: So then in terms of “ancestral honour”.. out of curiosity do you come from a musical family?

Jako Maron: No I don't come from a musical family.

AC: Now that is a surprise!

Well Jako this has been a very interesting one.. thank you kindly for talking to me. Your music is unique and totally excellent, so I’m honoured.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to mention, or final thoughts for our readers?

Jako Maron: Jako Maron: My latest news is that the track Béloubo dann somin is out now! go listen to it and watch the brand new video clip:

track: Béloubo dann Somin
band : Kabar Jako

And I'm playing solo live at the Dours Festival on the 13th of July, and in other places in Europe around around the 13th of July (Paris, Amsterdam).

Check my Instagram to stay tuned. Thanks!

Jako can be found at his website

Image credits

1) Still from 'Béloubo dann Somin' video directed by Gwen "Lenz" Bertaut
2) Still from 'Maloya Valsé chok 1' video directed by Vincent Fontano
3) Mikael Thuillier
4) (Same as 1)
5) (Same as 1)
6) (Unknown)

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