Maloya : Reunion's musical soul

Intangible cultural heritage of humanity

Since 2009 Maloya has featured in UNESCO's very select Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Maloya, which comprises music, singing and dancing, is at the heart of the island's traditions, which continue to be passed down from one generation to the next. Visiting Reunion Island is also an opportunity to discover this moving art form which captures the soul of Reunion that its people are so proud of.

A culture defined by the ordinary man

Since 2009 Maloya has had the honour of featuring in UNESCO's very select Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. A powerful recognition of this seductive art form, blending music, singing and dancing. It was created out of the desire to express sorrow and the revolt among the African and Madagascan slaves in Reunion's sugar plantations. Its name comes from the term maloy aho, which means "to speak in Madagascan".

It has a long history of being passed down from generation to generation, mainly to honour ancestors; it then blended with other influences and expanded throughout the population of the island, where it is very popular. It is part of the island's cultural, and even political and social identity. Numerous demonstrations take place to the beat of Maloya, a medium for giving a voice to popular demands and complaints, thus it is synonymous with integration and mixing.
This is because this musical genre has been able to evolve when it comes into contact with new sounds. In the past it was a simple dialogue between a soloist and a choir, accompanied by percussionists. Then texts and music became enriched with other influences: poetry and slam; rock, reggae, jazz and even electronic music. In this way djembés, synthesisers and drums are added to traditional instruments: the roulèr (bass drum), kayamb (a flat rattle made from sugar cane reeds and filled with canna seeds), pikèr (a bamboo cylinder that is beaten with two sticks), sati (a metal box that is beaten with two sticks) and the triangle.

The vitality of this art form is always impressive. Its legacy is assured by 300 bands on the island, some of whom are renowned worldwide, and through specialist teaching at the Reunion Conservatoire.  Together with Séga, the island's other iconic musical genre, Maloya contributes to the festive ambiance which has built the reputation of this little island paradise perched on the Indian Ocean.