Maloya’s sixth anniversary as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural World Heritage

Maloya - © IRT/ Studio Lumiere
Focus on

Published on 02 October 2015

On the first of October 2009, Maloya was inscribed by UNESCO into the roll of Human Intangible Cultural Heritage, in recognition of the value and traditions Maloya has for Reunion’istas. 

Maloya came to Reunion Island with slaves from the African mainland and Madagascar late in the 17th century and quickly established itself as a platform for both togetherness and rebellion among the slave population. Passed down from generation to generation, Maloya combines drums, a choir, soloists, and percussion, giving each its rightful place.

Maloya is played with traditional instruments such as rouler (bass drum), the kayamb (raft rattle), the piker (a bamboo cylinder beaten with two sticks), the sati (a metal case struck with chopsticks), and the triangle, abandoned by musical cousin Sega for the benefit of string and wind instruments. Maloya is characterized by a tempo marked by ternary rhythms.

For decades, the Maloya was officially banned, and only in 1982, was the censorship lifted. It has now become the major expression, culturally and musically, part of a greater Reunion Island identity which is practiced now by over 300 bands. Originally confined to the big sugar estates, Maloya is now evolving into more and more varied versions in the texts, as well as instruments with the introduction of the djembe or synthesizers. 

Performed on stage by artists, it competes today with rock, reggae, jazz, and electronic music, and inspires poetry and art on Reunion Island like few others.