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Made by Ratovo
Canadian Museum of Civilization

Audio Excerpt

Music: Radafison, Madagascar, recorded by M. Desroches, 2000, LRMM, U. de Montréal

  Valiha - CMC no. 1999-217 / Photo: Harry Foster


The vali, as it is commonly known in Madagascar, is considered the country's national instrument. A bamboo tube with strings running lengthwise around its circumference is the most common form of the tube zither. The valiha displayed here is made of wood and has metal strings that are tuned by inserting two small bridges under each one and varying the space between them according to the note desired. Although the instrument can be held in different ways, the slit must always face the musician.

In the past, the valiha was played only during ritual ceremonies. In the highlands of the Merina region, it accompanied rites honouring ancestors to gain their favour. It was also played during possession ceremonies among the Bara people, as well as in the northern part of the island, where a musical genre called osika was performed during certain magical and religious rites. Today, the use of the valiha has spread to secular music. Village musicians play traditional music on it, and young musicians in urban areas associate it with various types of popular music. One of oldest instruments in Madagascar, the valiha has become the symbol of the island's cultural unity.