New Video: Introducing the Global-Spanning Sounds of Mayotte’s M’Toro Chamou

 

Located in the Comoros archipelago off the coast of Southeast Africa, between Northwestern Mozambique and Northeastern Mozambique, the Department of Mayotte is a French overseas region, which consists of two islands — the main island of Grande-Teerre (or Maore), a smaller island of Petite-Terre (Pamanzi) and several islets around the two.

Initially populated by people from nearby East Africa, Arabs, who brought Islam came later on — and by 1500, a sultanate was established. In the 19th century, Mayotte was conquered by Andriantsoly, former king of Ibonia (which was in modern day Madagascar), and later by the neighboring islands of Moheli and Anjuoan before being purchased by France in 1841.

With a decisive referendum on the independence  of the Comoros region in 1974, the people of Mayotte voted to politically remain a part of France. Another decisive referendum vote in 2009 led to Mayotte becoming a French Department on March 31, 2011 — and an outermost region of the European Union on January 1. 2014. Although the islands are a politically recognized French territory, the majority of its inhabitants speak Shiamore, a Sabaki language closely related to the languages spoken in the neighboring Comoros Islands, not French. Kibushi, a Malagasy language, which features two dialects — Kibushi Kisakalava and Kibushi Kiantalaotra is also spoken by a significant portion of the population. Interestingly, according to a recent census report, a majority of the population aged 14 and older say that they can speak French — with varying levels of fluency.

As a new department, the island region currently faces some enormous problems: as of this year, its annual population growth is at 3.8%. Half its population is less than 17 years old. Unemployment is at 35%. 84% of its inhabitants live below the officially recognized poverty line. And as a result of an influx of illegal immigration from its neighbors, 48% of its population are foreign nationals. As you can imagine, much like everywhere else on the planet, things socially and politically on Mayotte are rather turbulent.

Over the past few years, the Mayotte-born singer/songwriter and guitarist M’Toro Chamou has created a unique sound and musical style that he’s dubbed Afro M’Godro Rock, which meshes the traditional M’Godro, Shigoma and Chengue rhythms of Mayotte with more Western sounds — primarily rock and blues. In fact, he’s deeply influenced by BB King, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, Ray Charles and James Brown, among a host of others. Thematically, his work exhorts people to come together as one rather than being torn apart by politics. Interestingly, his most recent album Sika Mila, which translates into English as “Preserve Your Culture” thematically focuses on the rapidly charging Mahoran culture while spreading messages of hope and unity to a fractious people.

Chamou’s latest single “M’Godro Rebel” is a breezy and anthemic song centered around shimmering acoustic guitar, brief bursts of emphatic electric guitars, propulsive polyrhythm and call and response vocals. And while deeply rooted in traditional sounds, the song finds Chamou’s sound and approach nodding at Bob Marley-like reggae both thematically and sonically. As Chamou explains in press notes, the song is about the discrimination and oppression that limits the people of Mayotte and Black people everywhere.

Directed by Lenz, the gorgeous shot and recently released video for “M’Godro Rebel” finds both the director and the Mayotte-born singer/songwriter purposefully highlighting the beauty, wealth and strength of African people: the video begins with Chamou and a cast of beautiful black people of all shades wearing 18th Century Rococo — or late baroque — style clothing, in opulent European-inspired settings that makes the first portion of the video seem indebted to the work of Kehinde Wiley. In the West, we rarely see Africa or Africans in such a proud, powerful fashion, let alone other Black people across the Diaspora — and it is defiant, boldly Black as fuck. During the video’s second half, we see the same cast wearing the vividly colored designs of South African designer Laduma Ngxokolo. The video says that Africans have a proud, rich history and an important place in the modern world. Simply put, everything about the video is black excellence.