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It’s a Kabosy

It’s a Kabosy

by Paul Hostetter

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

Madagascar is a huge island about the size of Washington, Oregon, and California combined. Situated 180° around the earth in any direction from these three states, this single-language country lies in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. I shall probably recount more about music from Madagascar than about construction details of this delightful little instrument for this simple reason: the kabosy’s musical raison d’être exceeds in interest the technical complexity of the instrument itself. Nonetheless, it’s worth a long look because, like most things Malagasy, there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.

Despite obvious superficial appearances, Malagasy culture is not particularly African at all, but is an extraordinary mélange of Polynesian, Southeast Asian, Arabic, African, and, more recently, European influences. (Madagascar was a French colony until 1972.) Like the legendary flora and fauna of that far-away island, Malagasy culture and music bear but a passing resemblance to culture elsewhere on the planet. Fortunately there are numerous recordings now available of just about every stripe of this remarkable musical culture. A discography follows.

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