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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Music to Help the Forests of Madagascar

Air Date: Week of
Ten percent of the profits from Razia Said's CD go to Reforestation efforts near Masoala National Park. (Photo: Razia Said)

On the African island of Madagascar, the vast majority of plants and animals are endemic, found no place else on Earth. But deforestation is diminishing these riches at a rapid pace. Musician Razia Said talks to host Bruce Gellerman about the music she wrote to raise awareness about the problem in her native island.


GELLERMAN: Three hundred miles off the southeast coast of Africa is Madagascar. It’s the fourth largest island in the world; smaller than Texas but larger than California. Seventy percent of the plants on Madagascar and 80 percent of the animals are found no place else on Earth. It's biologically rich because it’s remote and has a wide diversity of forest habitats. But the island nation is economically impoverished and the forest resources are rapidly being removed. In just 20 years, Malagasy forests, equal to the size of Connecticut, have been cut down. Musician Razia Said is from Madagascar. She’s recorded a CD about the destruction of forests in her homeland. It’s called: Zebu Nation.

SAID: The zebu is a cattle that is very common in Madagascar and means a lot of things for the Malagasy people. The zebu represents the connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead. We eat the zebu, as well. It’s the daily meat of Madagascar, so it has a lot of different layers of meanings.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn" from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011).]

GELLERMAN: Well, your album is basically an impassioned plea for preserving the forest of Madagascar.

Malagasy musician Razia Said (Photo: Razia Said)

SAID: I realized that there was not much that was done about that. I decided to do something about it, so I decided to write about this environmental, you know, disaster that we’re going through in Madagascar.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011).]

SAID: One thing that is going on is slash and burn agriculture. You know, people are burning the forests in order to fertilize the soil, but after three crops, the soil is totally impoverished from its nutrients. At the end it becomes just some soil that is eroded. It’s a huge, huge problem in Madagascar because this is something that people have been doing for generations.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011).]

SAID: There’s also the big problem of poverty. We are one of the poorest countries in the world, so it’s very difficult to make people understand something when they have to figure a way to live on a daily basis and how they’re going to feed their children the next day.

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Slash and Burn” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011).]

GELLERMAN: Some of your trees are worth huge amounts of money – you’ve got ebony and rosewood. These are very exotic and very expensive trees.

Lowland Rainforest in Masoala National Park, Madagascar. (Photo: Frank Vassen)

SAID: Yes, very expensive once it comes out of Madagascar, but actually people are getting it for pretty cheap from Madagascar. So this is - this is the other layer of the big problem in Madagascar which is illegal logging. They’ve cut everything that was outside of national parks and they’re going into national parks.

You know, can you imagine if people go to Yellowstone, and get into the park and just start cutting the trees? People would be totally like outraged here in the States, I’m sure. In Madagascar, I’m trying to make people realize that these trees are worth much more than whatever they’re getting. But then again, you’re facing the same problem, which is they think about what’s happening today and tomorrow but they’re not thinking about much more than that.

GELLERMAN: Is that the reason that you wrote and sang the song on your album ‘Mifohasa’? Did I pronounce and say that correctly?

SAID: Yeah, Mifohasa. Mifohasa, which means Wake up!

[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Mifohasa” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011).]

SAID: This is what this song is about: let’s stop cutting this wood because these forests could bring so much more to Madagascar because Madagascar is known for its biodiversity and for its beautiful endemic species, and if we cut these trees, we’ll have no more animals living in them. We’ll have no trees, we’ll just become a desert.

GELLERMAN: All of your songs have been translated to English in the liner notes and it says ‘Don’t let anyone pretend to have the right to use them to fulfill their own greed.’

Madagascar is home to 33 different species of Lemur. They are all unique and live nowhere else on earth. (Photo: Frank Vassen)

SAID: Yes, absolutely.

GELLERMAN: Who are you talking about?

SAID: Specifically now, this case of Gibson, you know about the illegal wood. But it’s not just Gibson, you know…

GELLERMAN: Gibson Guitar?

SAID: Yes, Gibson Guitar. We have a lot of wood that had been exported to China. The people in Madagascar are not seeing really much money from this wood. They are getting paid two dollars fifty a day to go get some wood in the middle of national parks that they’re dragging through miles and miles to get them to some port where they leave Madagascar illegally. It’s horrible.

GELLERMAN: We should say, though, that Gibson Guitar Company has said they deny the allegations, that they have anything to do with illegal logging.


GELLERMAN: We have a video of a concert of some Malagasy musicians who held a concert there in support of the rainforest.

SAID: Yes, this is what I did in October, I organized this concert. It was next to the national park of Masoala. People have been going into the park and cutting some trees. The concert attracted about ten thousand people.


SAID: It felt like it was not right to cut that forest. They showed us some wells and they started saying, ‘can you believe there was no more water in these wells; there were cobwebs.’ We tried to explain to them, you know, when you don't have any more forest, this is what happens, you know, it just dries up.

Razia Said in concert (Photo: Razia Said)

This is on the northeast corner, where I come from, of Madagascar. When I grew up I used to walk along that park because my grandfather was doing some agriculture, some coffee, some cloves, in that area. So it’s something that is really, really close to me. And, when I went there… now, I’m getting emotional talking about all of this - when I went there a year ago and I started speaking to people, introducing myself and they remembered my grandfather because, you know, he’s gone since. And they say ‘Oh, my God, you’re the granddaughter of this person,’ and they say, ‘Please do something to help us - do something to help us.’

GELLERMAN: I want to ask you about this song ‘Ny Alantsika.’ Did I say that right?

SAID: Ny Alantsika, Ny Alantsika.

GELLERMAN: What does that mean?

SAID: It’s nature’s lament, you know, what’s happening to our nature, and if we’re not careful, we’re not going to have anything left for future generations. Nature is begging for help.

GELLERMAN: Can you sing it there? I know that we’re not set up to do this but I just want to hear you sing.

SAID: (LAUGHS) Well, I don’t have any instrument around here but, okay…


[MUSIC: Said: Razia “Ny Alantsika” from Zebu Nation (Cumbancha Records 2011).]

SAID: I think that there is something to be done, and we need to do it fast. You know, Malagasy people cannot do it on their own and I will not say it enough: we really need your help.

GELLERMAN: Boy. Razia, thank you so very much.

SAID: Thank you.



Razia Said’s Home Page

Click here for a petition against illegal logging in Madagascar


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