Ziskakan, the band from the Reunion Islands, gave Saarang easily the most popular of its three mini-proshows. With their unique sound and instruments infusing elements of traditional Maloya, sega, Indian drums, reggae, jazz and pop this band from the Reunion Island stole a lot of hearts and made a packed SAC move to their music. The band consists of Gilber Pounia (lead vocalist), Pascal Manglou (on the electric guitar), Gerard Clara (vocalist and drummer), Jean Raddiga (on the keyboard), Gerard Parame (on the drums) and Rouben Savariaye (plays tabla and drums). T5E caught up with their lead singer and the man behind Ziskakan, Gilbert Pounia ahead of the show. With his remarkable uncomplicatedness, heavily accented English and quick wide smile, it made for a very interesting chat. Here are a few excerpts.
T5E: So what’s the story behind the formation of Ziskakan? How and when did it come together?
GP: Ziskakan in Creole means ‘Until when?’ It began as an Association of poets, writers, musicians to liberate the language and preserve traditional Maloya music (slave music) which was looked down upon by government. Creole as a language has a rich history. It is a 200 year old language which was rooted in a blend of cultures and ethnicity from myriad places like Madagascar, Mauritius, India, France, China and Morocco. However, the language was looked down upon by the French administration and prohibited from public use. Slaves were banned from gathering and playing Maloya, which is traditional Creole music. Ziskakan began as an underground cultural and political movement to promote Creole and Maloya.
T5E: How far has the movement come?
GP: The battle isn’t the same. We started out playing in sugarcane fields and people’s homes and now we have come to tour the world. Creole is now everywhere, on television, on radio. It has been officially recognized by the government. Though our ‘war’ is over we still sing to support our language and want more people to appreciate it.
T5E: Could you tell us about your Indian connection?
GP: I am a fourth generation Indian. When I was a child I often thought about India and wondered how it would look. Now I am in a position to visit here often. We have played several times in India, at Delhi, Haridwar, Pondicherry and now here at Madras. I have several Indian musician friends who have played with us including violinist M.Subramnaian and flautist Pt.Hariprasad Chaurasia.
T5E: What are the influences on your music?
GP: I have admired a lot of music over the years. Jimi Hendrix is a big favourite. We are also influenced by traditional jazz and reggae but our music infuses the distinct sounds of Maloya, our own unique roots and remains well and truly our own. Except for the guitar, almost all of our instruments are traditional and mostly hand crafted. We have tablas, a dholak, a Rouler (a big traditional African drum), Kayamb (made of sugarcane with round beads of corn inside), a Piker (bamboo wood based percussion instrument), and a Derbouka (a Moroccan goblet drum). I also use my Ravaba, an instrument my friend made for me. which is a percussion fitted with two strings made from lawn mower wires.
T5E: Could you tell us about your albums?
GP: We have recorded 12 – 13 albums so far. Our latest one is Madagascar and is dedicated to the island and its people. Ziskakan was rewarded as Best Group and Artist of Africa at the 1994 Kora Awards for its work and musical creation, and as Best Group at Les Cesars de la Musique in 2007 for the album Banjara. We recently made a video for “Banjara” which was shot in the Thar Desert. You can find our music here