Something unique about the lush, cavernous tropical French island of Reunion is its polyglot fingerprint on the southwest Indian Ocean region, with all its multiple flavours in cuisine, music, sun, sea, and dramatic volcanic mountain craters.
One group that is spreading a dynamic musical fusion representing both traditional and contemporary cultures of the ‘austral’ or southern Indian Ocean peoples is JOZEFINN’ AUSTRAL VIEW (JAV). It’s brainchild and musical director, guitarist Jean Pierre Jozefinn’, conceived the project in 2008, but it was through the Reunion cultural organization, Artistic Window for Tradition and Cultural Action, that JAV could take off with its own signature group in 2013.
Various collaborations followed between France and Madagascar which enabled this pan-austral project to bring together artists from Reunion (France) and southern Africa, namely South Africa/ Mozambique/ Madagascar and explode rhythms and harmonies that leave one mesmerized.
Supported by various Francophone organizations in France and Madagascar, and making waves at world and local music festivals, JAV has imprinted its multicultural and polyphonic foundations in its first impressive album recording, “Trapdanza” (2016).
Building on Reunion’s principle rhythmic styles of ‘sega’ and ‘maloya’, one hears overlays with South African mbaqanga, Madagascar gospel which also reflect Zulu music, and the Arab/African/European/Indian influences that mark the historical music of this small island, going back to the slave and indentured servant era of French colonialism. This Indo-African feast of sounds cannot really be named, says the group, when I caught up with them after a day’s rehearsal for upcoming music festivals in Reunion in December 2017. “We don’t want to ‘box in’ our music, but just call it ‘pan-austral’ fusion, because each of us acts as a cultural ambassador from our countries.”
Marimba specialist, Bongani Sotshononda, brings moving isi-Xhosa vocals and rhythms from South Africa; well-seasoned drummer Frank Paco from Mozambique also adds melodic vocals as does all band members. From Madagascar, Andry Michael Randriantseva holds songs together on piano and trombone, and from Reunion, double bassist Jacky Boyer rounds out the band’s strength with his compatriot musical director, Jean Pierre Jozefinn’.
“The rhythm of sega and maloya, two main musical idioms in Reunion, has no name. Rather, we like the syncretism of these traditional musical repertoires found in Reunion, including marrabenta, nicketsche, salegy, tsapiky…. Combine these with South Africa’s mbaqanga, and Mozambique and Madagascar rhythms which are similar to Zulu ones, and one arrives at a no-name polyglot of beats and sounds. We call ours pan-austral polyphonic.” Amidst this exciting polyglot, Euro bebop and jazz inflections are found throughout, particularly in ‘Shap Shap’ and ‘Saint Michel’, followed by a happy melodic swing as in ‘Learn to Love for Peace’ with melodic Afro-beat interplay between percussionist Paco and Sotshononda’s marimba. This is a masterpiece of improvised fusion. The marimba excels in the funky “Ebony Swing” and the Xhosa-sung “Indlala Yini Na” which opens the album.
Jozefinn’s guitar and Randriantseva’s synthesizer hold a groove in ‘Mangrove’ that echos through the energetic rhythms fused from this panaustral, four-country comraderie. “It represents rivers from various sources running into one mangrove swamp, nourishing as they flow. This is what we are as JAV,” says Jozefinn.
JAV is searching for sponsorships to support this concept which is expanding more and more through such popular music festivals as Reunion’s best attended SAFIKO Festival and the Capetown International Jazz Festival, to name a few on the JAV biography. The band members consistently participate in educational mentoring and workshopping at schools and colleges in Reunion, for instance, recently at the college at Bernica in St. Gilles Les Hauts, but want to expand their presence throughout the pan-austral Indian Ocean communities and beyond.
This is a unique group to watch, as panaustralism ripples and surges through Afro-Indian Ocean musical veins, bringing joyous cultural reunions to our shores!