Music of Reunion Island

Are you maloya or sega ?

Traditional music and dance passed down from generation to generation

Love, the difficulties of everyday life, "la di la fè" (gossip), the beauty of the island... focussing on these topics, for decades maloya and sega artists have been enriching a cultural heritage that is experiencing something of a renaissance. Prohibited until the 1970s on account of containing demands for cultural recognition, and practised in secret, since 2009 maloya is now listed as 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO. 


On the bare earth at the "bals-poussière" youth events, in the kabars (folk festivals) and during musical festivals, just the first few notes of maloya are all that are required to intimately grasp the full depth, the dark past and the rebirth of the Creole spirit. Having arrived on the island at the same time as the black slaves brought from Africa to work in the sugar cane fields, maloya still holds onto its African roots and is played on instruments that do not differ greatly from those of its origins: the roulèr (a large drum, on top of which the musician is seated), the bobre (a musical bow with a calabash acting as the resonator), the kayamb (a percussive instrument made from wood and sugar cane stems filled with seeds), and the pikèr (bamboo, which the musician hits with two sticks).

The tempo is short and punctuated, the bodies of the dancers follow the rhythm and the words bear the history of the island: invented by slaves as a means of glorifying their ancestors, but also to sing away their painful daily lives, maloya has continued this tradition into the contemporary era. This is what makes it possible to speak of the difficulties of life and love, but also of the devastating beauty of the island, the feelings of bitterness... the colonial administration, and later the Republic, banned maloya until the 1970s, believing that it risked invoking a desire for independence from mainland France.

Maloya was thus played in secret, until the release of the first vinyl by the group Firmin Viry in 1976. Observing the festival celebrating the abolition of slavery (held on 20 December on Reunion Island), it is clear that it is now widely played and danced! Danyel Waro is the figurehead of radical maloya, whereas the late Granmoun Lélé (who died in 2005), was the most prominent singer of traditional "maloya kabaré". Maloya has fused with other influences, found merged with jazz in the music of Sabouk, with electronic music in the music of Ti Fock or Leila Negrau, with protest music in the case of Gilbert Pounia and his band Zizkakan, drawing on reggae influence in the music of Thierry Gauliris and the group Baster, whose song In ti mamzel ("Mi conné in ti mamzel/Mi aime a elle" [My love for her]) is the local love anthem! Widely listened to far beyond the shores of Reunions, maloya has received respect alongside the other musical trends in world music and, since 1 October 2009, has been listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.


Sega, the other major musical genre of the island is the music of celebration, of seduction and of sensuality: much like biguine in the West indies, featuring ancestral African rhythms and having developed in sync with the various waves of immigrations, combined with the rhythms of the quadrille, the waltz, the polka... A popular folk genre, sega is undeniably the music of celebration! Among its heroes one can mention Maxime Laope, who passed away in 2004 as well as Granmoun Lélé, who died in 2005, or even accordion player René Lacaille. Far from being stuck in a time warp, maloya and sega never cease to inspire new bands, who do not hesitate to introduce electronic accents: the site runmusik is as such an essential portal for anyone who wishes to follow the local music scene! Furthermore, Reunion Island boasts 25 concert halls, 7 concert cafés, significant music festivals such as Leu Tempofestival in Saint-Leu, Electropicales in Saint-Denis, the Danse Péi festival in Saint-Paul or Sakifo in Saint-Pierre: at these events, artists from mainland France, international artists and péi (local) artists ensure that listeners enjoy unforgettable evenings !