Without a doubt, Digdig is a record of nearly irresistible charms, and the good feeling contained in the music is more than infectious, it’s actually quite contagious. The music was born on L’Ile de la Réunion, a sugar island resting in the Indian Ocean, lying west of Mauritius and east of Madagascar. The island’s shimmering, shifting rhythms are introduced to the Western listener by the musical partnership of Reunionais accordianist and guitarist René Lacaille and American musician Bob Brozman. Without resorting to exaggeration, the music of La Réunion per Lacaille and Brozman’s Digdig moves from tantalizing to alluring to captivating in very short order.
To say this is an island groove of maloya and sega would hardly scratch the surface. In the creole spoken in La Réunion, Digdig means “tickles”. There are unusual accents that are pleasant surprises to the unaccustomed Western ear. What seems to be happening musically is an already mesmerizing time structure of 6/8, but the music takes on a life of its own because it can be heard differently by the same listener.
The rhythm pulses and shifts. If you pay attention to the second beat you hear the piece one way; start listening to the third (which you will do whether you know it or not) and the music changes into something else while you’re listening to it. So this music literally tickles the listener’s imagination. Brozman says this rhythm pulse provides incredible freedom for the musicians while they’re playing as well, and their combined sense of dizzying liberation is also quite infectious.
Did I spoil the magic trick by trying to explain it? Of course not. This music is similar to the way tropical light plays tricks on your eyes when you’re staring at a sugar cane field. The core percussion is a low throbbing drum; the gentle shaker sound is from the kayamb, made from sugar cane flower stalks filled with seeds, while a triangle provides accents on the upbeats. Other percussive affects such as bongos and claves drift into this layered music.
By the third track, the listener realizes this is genuinely a style of music like no other. The seduction takes serious hold with “An Dio”, a sophisticated instrumental in maloya style. Brozman’s dazzling National steel slide and Lacaille’s fluent gut-string intricately dance about each other. Of maloya and sega, the maloya is the older more African-sounding form as the harmony is modal and devoid of Western chord changes, as evidenced in “Oh! Lé Là Ô”.
“Place D’Youville” represents the sega, which is a reflection of musette, the musical influences picked up from the colonial French in terms of European diatonic scales and song forms. “Ti Guitar Là” a delirious fast duet between accordion and charango (a South American guitar) breathes friendly tropicality and will put a smile on any face. “K Ba” has elements of a traditional Madagascar sound, which may have traveled following the trade routes, and is a joyous piece of music.
As in the energetic flirt-piece “Mam’zelle Rico”, the songs are sung by Lacaille in creole in what a non-francophone like me might hear as cabaret style, especially when he adds his breathy accordion to the heady mix as on “O.P. Syncopé”.
Will I encourage you to have some fun by listening to this record? Yes, go have some fun. Once Digdig found its way into my CD player, the record has stayed there for days on end. The music moves me through my daily life, from home to car to work and everywhere in between, creating an environment of bright blue skies overhead and warm spring sun on my shoulders wherever I happen to be. Hearing this is like experiencing the happiest accident or an occasion of delightful serendipity. The music on Digdig evokes a gentle slightly intoxicated feeling of pleasurable amazement, like all is really well with the world. And I swear there’s this occasional sweet scent something like frangipani. It wasn’t until yesterday that I read a reviewer’s caution that Digdig is seriously addicting, and I don’t seem to mind if it is.
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