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Hearing René Lacaille for the first time is like discovering Serge Gainsbourg adrift in the Indian Ocean – while a blast of his accordion suggests that French band Les Negresses Vertes might be floating around with him too. Hailing from La Réunion, Lacaille’s music is one of the island’s biggest and most prized exports. Mapou tells you why.

Named after a type of sugar cane, Mapou dances its own exuberant path between a disparate range of influences. Partially instrumental, the songs are sung in Creole in the raspy tones of Gainsbourg. French and English translations are also given, along with brief details of each song’s imagery. And while a flexible accordion dominates, the percussive rhythms that underpin Lacaille’s music are drawn from home and abroad. ‘Cos Côté’ (Come Closer) exemplifies how complex these can be: taking old African patterns dating from slavery, Lacaille beats them out on his body before drums and Malagasy flute join in.

Lacaille is attentive to his island’s musical and social heritage and his career, including study in Africa, shows a definite intention both to link up with other cultures and to separate what makes La Réunion special. Mapou, with its songs about the good things in life – mandoz (rum), food and love – seems to have its own answer already.

New Internationalist issue 373 magazine cover This article is from the November 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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