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Madagascar's Toko Telo Has A Synergy All Its Own

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Toko Telo is a group of three artists from the island of Madagascar. Each member has had a distinguished career of his or her own. Reviewer Banning Eyre says their debut album together, called "Toy Raha Toy" or "Here It Is," has a synergy all its own.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOKO TELO SONG, "RAHA HITA")

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Only one guitarist in the world plays with this kind of fleet, darting lightness and precision - D'Gary, the self-styled fingerpicking genius who burst on the scene back in the '90s and has been dropping jaws ever since.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAHA HITA")

TOKO TELO: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Here, he leads a folk power trio with vocalist Monika Njava and accordionist Regis Gizavo. Sadly, Gizavo died suddenly at age 58, just as this beautiful album was reaching the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAHA HITA")

TOKO TELO: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: All three of these artists come from southwest Madagascar where, beyond the coastal beaches, the territory's a little like the Wild West, a land of cattle rustlers and mineral mines and tough characters of the dry savannah. Though they've mostly spent their days in Madagascar's highland capital or abroad, their concerns in these songs remain in the place that they grew up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAHA FA ELA")

MONIKA NJAVA: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Here, Monika Njava recalls the trials of her childhood, from the very real fear of violent cattle thieves to her shyness about wearing a skirt because her legs were as thin as cornstalks. But despite it all, sings Monika, I miss my past life in the village.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAHA FA ELA")

NJAVA: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Listeners familiar with D'Gary's recordings will recognize some of these songs, like the wistful "Mpiarakandro," a song about herders riding home to a family meal at sunset.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MPIARAKANDRO")

NJAVA: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Monika Njava's vocal imbues one of D'Gary's signature songs with refined elegance, and Regis Gizavo shows himself one last time a consummate accompanist. In addition to his own extensive solo career, Gizavo played with a who's who of international musicians. But on this album, everything feels personal. These three artists are deeply in sync. And with "Toy Raha Toy," they've created perhaps the best introduction yet to Madagascar's utterly alluring folk music.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOKO TELO SONG, "TOY RAHA TOY")

MCEVERS: Banning Eyre is senior producer for Afropop Worldwide. He reviewed "Toy Raha Toy" by Toko Telo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.