Mikahely, a well-known musician from Madagascar, recently made his home in Vermont. And while he’s settling in to a new country, he’s also acclimating to smaller stages.
On a recent Saturday night, Mikahely is kicking off his set at Radio Bean in Burlington. He tips his head back, closes his eyes and sways as he strums a valiha — a traditional Malagasy instrument made out of tall bamboo.
“It’s a very national instrument in Madagascar," he said. "A lot of people have it hanging in the house."
There’s about a dozen people in the audience tonight in Burlington, which is a small crowd for Mika. On YouTube, videos show him playing to a crowd of hundreds at an outdoor music festival — everyone singing along.
Back in Madagascar, Mika was one half of the popular music duo Mika and Davis. The band brought a traditional genre of music, called basesa, to a larger audience. Mika calls it an antidote to the French pop that’s so pervasive in Madagascar.
“We start very simple music and organic style,” he said.
The band is why he’s here — sort of. He met his wife at a Mika and Davis show. She’s American and was in Madagascar doing the Peace Corps. She recently started a Ph.D. program at UVM, which is what brings them to Vermont.
Mika says it would be easy enough for him to play traditional American music, but the Malagasy songs have been passed down through his family for generations. Playing them is second nature for him.
“Sometimes when I play, I don’t know what I gonna play,” he said. “But my finger is gone, and I think it's connected to my heart.”
Mikahely’s next show is Friday, Feb. 1 at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington.