World Music Matters

Madagascar's Kristel takes Europe by storm

Audio 10:40
Kristel on stage with her brother Ben Kheli
Kristel on stage with her brother Ben Kheli RFI/Sarah Tetaud

Hurricaine Kristel swept into Paris this week. The pop-rock band from Madagascar is fast becoming the voice of a young generation ready for change and opportunity. RFI caught up with the explosive frontwoman, Christelle Ratri, in concert at La Bellevilleoise in the capital to talk about rock music and her band's debut album Irony, co-edited through the RFI Talent programme.


23 year old Christelle Ratri formed the pop-rock band Kristel in 2014 with guitarist Ben Kheli (her brother) and drummer Andry Sylvano (now her husband).

A family affair with the electrifying female bass player at the helm.

Her raucous voice has invited comparisons with a young Nina Hagen.But she also masters smoother, bluesy tones and takes the odd, welcome, flight to planet Bjork.

Kristel's debut album Irony released on 30 August, co-edited by RFI
Kristel's debut album Irony released on 30 August, co-edited by RFI Youri Lenquette

She and her brother were born into a musical family: "My dad, uncle, cousins all played music," she told RFI, "but only jazz and blues".

"Rock music makes me feel good, gives me energy. When I heard [American guitarist] Steve Vai for the first time it was like wow, a revelation."

Carving out a career in rock music on an island dominated by valiha and acoustic guitar wasn't easy. But they were spurred on by Gilles Lejamble from Madagascar's very own garage combo The Dizzy Brains and the late Marc-Antoine Moreau (producer of Amadou & Mariam, Jupiter, Songhoy Blues...).

A remarkable debut performance at Antananarivo's Libertalia Festival in April 2017 drew international interest and the backing of Libertalia Records - the only label in Madagascar to promote bands abroad.

The irony of life in Madagascar

They've now released their debut album Irony, sung entirely in Malagasy. Some of the songs speak of love, but many evoke the situation in Madagascar where only a quarter of the population have access to electricity.

"They steal from us and at the same time act like they are helping", she sings on the title track Irony. While Feno (Enough is Enough) tells of "begging children and the rich do not even care/half naked girls and the thieves are doing their job".

"The situation in our country is ironic," the singer explains. "Madagascar is rich, beautiful, but the people are poor. It's our duty to tell that to the world."

Madagascar is holding elections in early November but Kristel expects little from politicians. "You have to start with yourself," she says adding that the younger generation will be the force for change.

"I have a son, I want him to have a better future. I think everyone wants a better future."

Madagascar's future may be uncertain, Kristel's is more than promising.

Watch the band at France 24 here. Kristel perform at Quai Branly, Paris, 14 October.

Follow the band on facebook

Check out RFI Talent (in French)

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