Listen to valiha music, official instruments of Madagascar


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Manao ahoana tompoko!

Lived in Madagascar for a year and this sound pulls on my heartstrings, pun intended. Beautiful people, gorgeous music.


Paddy Bush played one on his sister Kate’s track “Love and Anger”. Beautiful, ethereal sound.


I’ve been fooling around with my own variations of the valiha. First one made of a cardboard tube with screws to adjust the pitch rather than the individual bridges the traditional instrument uses. Then I made one out of a plastic tube and flanged screws with a hole in the flange usually used for hanging drop ceilings or insulation. The model I play most now is much smaller, made from a cylindrical cookie tin, capped at both ends with a 2x4 wooden disk with brass screws I drilled holes in to take the traditional string material, unraveled bicycle brake cable, that I can tune with a screwdriver or a dime, as I made sure it would fit the slot in the heads of the screws. It’s not very loud but I can cup it in my palms and play to my heart’s content. An acquaintance who works on organs keeps threatening to give me a length of organ pipe to make another one but I am not holding my breath.

My understanding is that the tuning is a bass F and then to the immediate right C and to the immediate left C# proceeding on both sides up a whole step between each string. I have 15 strings on my reconfigured valiha which gives me an octave plus an extra C#.

It’s a lovely little instrument.

There are also box valiahas which you put on the floor and play seated. Some, I have read, can have as many as 36 strings. I haven’t made one of those. Yet.

Recollecting from the Past: Musical Practice and Spirit Possession on the East Coast of Madagascar by Ron Emoff is a good book about the Malagasy music tradition and the CD series A World Out Of Time, Malagasy music collected by Henry Kaiser & David Lindley is a great introduction. My own introduction to the valiha was an album I found in the International section of a record store probably in 1973 which I bought simply because of the cover photograph of this instrument I’d never seen before: Folklore de Madagascar by the group Ny Antsaly with arrangements by the valiha master Sylvestre Randafison (look him up on Youtube). I still love the music on that record and, perhaps, someday will learn how to play it on my own version of the valiha.


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