In May 1959, the national anthem of the very young Republic of Madagascar was officially presented to the people. But as with flags, it will not be unanimous and will be the target of violent criticism. The story behind the choice of this patriotic song.
as reported from Antananarivo
On October 14, 1958, Madagascar, though still a colony in France, entered a new era by becoming a republic, the first in its history. Therefore, the power that is in place quickly decides to equip itself with characteristics specific to this new regime. Several competitions are launched to define a flag, a motto, but also a national anthem.
In early 1959, a call for projects was launched on Radio Tananarive. Malagasy citizens are asked to send a recording of the song, melody and lyrics that they would like to have, and that they would like to raise to the national anthem. Criteria – some of which are quite technical – are imposed on candidates.
Criteria for standing out from Marseillaise
“The anthem should be able to be played with an instrument that could be used anywhere in Madagascar. Like the flute, for example, which is an instrument that can be found even in the depths of the bush, ”explains Tsiory Randriamanantena, historian and director of the Madagascar Photography Museum. “The second criterion stated that the melody could be transcribed into music theory” – a legacy bequeathed by the Protestant missions in the 18th century – so that it could be read and played all over the country.
Another criterion said: that the hymn represents the whole island, both in terms of lyrics, rhythm and melody. “And finally,” emphasizes the historian, “the ultimate criterion, it was necessary that the words of this psalm evoke peace and harmony, in contrast to La Marseillaise (the French national anthem, note), which at the time was considered a war song.”
“Ry Tanindrazanay Malala ô” controversial for its establishment
In three months, 68 anthem proposals were sent to the ad hoc committee specially formed to select the song. In April 1959, the members made their decision: it was Ry Tanindrazanay Malala ô, translated into French as “Ô beloved land of our ancestors”, who was elected. The melody is by composer Norbert Raharisoa; the texts are the fruit of the writing of the famous highland priest, Pastor Rahajason.
On May 1, 1959, on the occasion of the inauguration of President Tsiranana, the hymn was heard for the first time in the enclosure of the Mahamasina Stadium in the heart of the capital. In the streets of Antananarivo, leaflets are distributed with the printed words so that the population can adapt it as quickly as possible. The radio stations broadcast the new Malagasy patriotic song in a loop. But the Big Island is not yet independent. It is a republic, certainly autonomous, but still “a member of French society”. As required by the Protocol, therefore, the Malagasy anthem is automatically followed by a Marseillaise. And it is in this context that the first criticism sounds.
“From the first day, the anthem is poorly received. Firstly because we learn that the composer, Norbert Raharisoa, has lived in France for a long time and that it is from France that he composed the melody. And that constitutes an unstoppable argument for the critics of the anthem, who regard it as disconnected from the realities of the country. Secondly, this tune is criticized for being “mixed”, for being influenced by French music schools, for not being 100% Malagasy. He is criticized for his lack of harmony. Worse, we do not pretend to recognize the Malagasy rhythm in it, ”Tsiory Randriamanantena continues.
The organization of the competition was criticized
But it is also the conditions and organization of this call for projects that are problematic. A recorded version was requested from the candidates. At that time, however, it was difficult to access the technical tools that enable such performance. Only the richest can afford this madness. Radio Tananarive then volunteered to record the candidates’ soundtracks. But several testimonies report that several of those who were able to take the trip to the capital were not received by the radio station.
The composition of the ad hoc committee – 100% male – is also being discussed. If the six politicians come from the six provinces, eight of the nine technicians who specialize in musicology will come from the capital and come from the Merina ethnic group. “Many therefore believe that these members are not representative of the whole island, which tarnishes the image of this competition, organized in haste and at the greatest discretion,” the historian concludes.
Critics who will persevere
In the early 1960s, the critique tempered by the roar of independence resurfaced before fading for about fifteen years. In 1975, the Ratsiraka regime and the Malgachism policy brought back the possibility of an anthem change. The idea was abandoned and only reappeared in 1992, when politicians proposed replacing Ry Tanindrazanay Malala ô with another no less famous song, Madagascar Tanindrazanay !, hymns from the MDRM party, at the time at the Hit-Parade of music, which most listened to by Madagascar. After discussions, the idea is discarded.
“Ry Tanindrazanay Malala, Ry Madagasikara soa, Ny Fitiavanay anao tsy miala, Fa ho anao, ho anao doria tokoa.”,
“O beloved land of our forefathers, O beautiful land of Madagascar, our love for you will not be weakened and will remain forever faithful to your cause.”
62 years after this controversial election, the same melody and the same words continue to resonate all over the island at every important event in public life.