“Our reality is deeply mixed but the conscience doesn’t always follow that. Up in the head there is always that desire to be pure, pure white maybe, but pure Indian or pure black as well. That is why I talk about bâtarsité. It’s my way of saying let’s look at ourselves, in the mirror, look at what we desire. We’re just as mixed in our blood as we are in our culture, despite appearances.” – Danyèl Waro
Arguably, there is no one alive who has done more to magnify the reputation of La Réunion and put the island on a global musical map than maloya singer, Danyèl Waro.
Danyèl was born on the 10th of May 1955 in Le Tampon, on the French colonized island of La Réunion as the fourth of twelve children to poor white parents. His father was a laborer who bought three hectares of land to cultivate.
“Our house was cramped, and I shared my bed with my four brothers, but I had acres of field to run in to, so it wasn’t too bad.”
Growing up in an austere environment in Le Tampon, music was not so much a part of the household with the transistor radio in the house serving mainly to relay news. However, young Danyèl (born Daniel Hoareau) was drawn to the medley of music on the island, from Tamil drums to Creole songs. But it was not until he was eighteen that Danyèl heard maloya.
At that time, the French had banned maloya, fearing the power of the genre of music to unite the poor white farmers, Indians and blacks and leading to a revolt. In his adolescent years, Danyèl discovered the music of French balladeer, Georges Brassens from his sister’s collection. He was enthralled by Brassens’ sound which influenced his formative years.
“I was standing next to Viry and his family when he was getting his roulèr ready, heating up his skins, getting ready to go on stage. Seeing them play provoked a physical reaction in me. I immediately wanted to take that music into my heart and soul.”
In 1973, while working as a volunteer during the Fête Témoignage organized by the Parti Communiste Réunionnaise (PCR), Danyèl Waro witnessed an experience that would forever change his life. He saw for the first time a performance by one of the gran moun (great people) of maloya, Firmin Viry.
Danyèl subsequently joined Viry’s family troupe on an occasional basis, and soon assembled his own band made up of fellow agricultural workers. On December 27, 1975, Danyèl recorded his first gig under his own name and since then he has not looked back. He was 20, confused after failing his baccalaureate and intoxicated with maloya.
“Maloya nourished me during those years of prison. I had just discovered it when I was sent to Rennes. I didn’t sing inside, but I wrote a lot. I realized that I didn’t know La Réunion that well. I accepted prison as a retreat. I took stock.”
Shipped to France to do his military service the next year, Danyèl knew he would never wear a uniform, shoulder a gun and salute the tricouleur. His blatant refusal to join up on his arrival in the ‘motherland’ was punished with a 22-month time in prison at the Centre de Détention d’Écouvres in Rennes.
Danyèl made the most of his time in prison writing. He wrote poems, sent letters home, and composed songs – he even managed to complete a novel, “Romans Ékri Dans la Zol en Frans” which was published on his release in 1978.
La Réunion was already charged with the air of revolution when Danyèl returned in 1978, with a whole new generation proclaiming the Réunionnité and the need to break the old colonial mindset. But Waro chose rather to be an indépendantiste, moving away from the line toed by his party. Shedding the toga of hardline political activist and taking on an artistic one, he reformed his band and started performing regularly.
“The renaissance of maloya gave back a worth to all that African part of ourselves that had been devalued and hidden for centuries. We won back a piece of ourselves.”
Much change occurred on La Réunion following the French election that brought President Mitterrand to power in 1981. With sweeping reforms in France and its dominions, maloya emerged into the open and the music scene blossomed with the withdrawal of the restriction.
From then on, Danyèl’s career was on the rise and by the ‘90s, he was the clear leader of the new breed of maloya artists who began in the late ‘70s, touring places like Japan and Europe. Although Danyèl had decided he was a musician rather than a politician, he was a candidate of the Nasyon Réyoné Dobout (Reunion Nation Stand Up) party which won just 0.77% of the legislative elections in 1998.
“The place where I’m at peace is at home in Le Tampon. I have to feel calm to create, write a song, and find the right words.”
Danyèl has continued to produce beautiful maloya music, selling out concerts and releasing albums. In 2002, he starred in a documentary directed by Thierry Hoareau, titled Fier Bâtard (Proud Bastard).
Afro Tourism salutes this unique artist, poet, musical icon, activist, and national hero of La Réunion, Danyèl Waro.
On The Marble:
“Maloya has so often been lumped together with a bottle of rum, but that association doesn’t interest me… If you love what I sing, you don’t have to drink to appreciate it.”
“It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of being. For me, maloya is the flower that was absent in my youth, the tenderness that I missed, the love that I needed. But it’s also resistance, defiance, because maloya’s African soul reached out and touched everything that was suppressed and forbidden, and allowed it to feel whole, to harmonize itself.”
Did You Know?
- Danyèl Waro was born in Le Tampon, Reunion Island on May 10, 1955 with straw-colored hair, known in the local Creole parlance as coco rouge.
- His parents were poor white farmers with strong political views.
- Danyèl Waro had never heard maloya until he was eighteen due to the outlawing of the genre of music by the French authorities on La Réunion.
- His albums include: Garfourn (1987), Batarsité (1994), Foutan Fonkker (1999), Bwarouz (2002), Grin n Syel (2006), Aou Amwin (2010), and Kabar (2013).
- He collaborated with Olivier Ker Ouiro on Somminkér (2003) and with several artistes on Rest’la Maloya, a tribute to Alain Peters (2003).
- Apart from “Romans Ékri Dans la Zol en Frans” he has also published: “Garfourn” (1987) and “Démavouz la Vi” (1996).
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